Four ways we can strengthen humanitarian aid

In the last three decades, rates of extreme poverty and childhood mortality have fallen while access to water and schooling for the most marginalized populations has increased significantly. These achievements are not complete, perfect or irreversible. Future progress requires humanitarian agencies … to reinvent themselves by boldly pursuing what I call the four “S’s”: scale, systemic approaches, sustainability and stewardship.

Scale: Because the people in need number in the billions, our programs must stretch each dollar to serve as many as possible.

Systemic approaches: While many people picture humanitarian work as the distribution of food and medicine, such immediate aid rarely gets at the systemic causes of problems. Hunger, for example, results from myriad factors.  That is why C.R.S. uses the integral human development framework for systemic interventions.

Sustainability: We must ensure that whatever gains are made will be sustained after a development project’s funding expires. Success in this regard shifts the emphasis from what an aid agency does to what the affected community can and will do. This means investing in the capacity of local groups.

Stewardship: While the overhead costs of nonprofits receive a great deal of scrutiny, it is not the sole metric of good stewardship. Low costs do not necessarily signal that a nonprofit or government agency is making the best use of its resources; this can be discerned only through evidence-based assessments of programs.

[Excerpt of article by Carolyn Y. Woo served as president and C.E.O. of Catholic Relief Services]

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