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Mainstreaming the Minimum Economic Recovery Standards CASE STUDY

Mainstreaming the MERS within Smaller Organisations: The Regional Peer-to-Peer Approach

LOCATION: Turkey and Syria

CONTEXT: Protracted conflict and displacement

Mainstreaming MERS: Why It Matters

The Minimum Economic Recovery Standards (MERS), developed through the joint efforts of more than 90 agencies and over 175 practitioners, represent an industry consensus on economic recovery for the humanitarian and development sector.

The MERS have become well recognized and accepted as an industry standard providing key actions, key indicators, and guidance notes to enhance the effectiveness of organizations working to support the economic recovery of crisis-affected populations.

The MERS are applicable to all types of economic and market-based programming for relief, recovery and resilience building across any sector. The standards highlight intervention consideration strategies across a range of topics enterprise and market systems development, asset distribution, financial services, and employment - in areas affected by conflict or disaster.

The aim of mainstreaming is to institutionalise change to create a new normal. To mainstream the adoption and use of the MERS across the humanitarian and development sector, the SEEP Network has been cascading knowledge and driving change through a multi-faceted approach tailored to the needs of different actors:

  • Individual learning opportunities for practitioners;
  • Tailored mainstreaming approaches for larger NGOs and UN agencies;
  • Peer-to-peer approaches catalysed through clusters and working groups to support smaller organisations and regional adoption;
  • Donor awareness building and adoption to support uptake and delivery of the MERS through applicable funding mechanisms

Catalysing awareness and use of MERS through the humanitarian cluster system

“Being introduced to the MERS at the cluster level gave us the opportunity to develop a common understanding of response and recovery issues that were challenging us and how we might address them differently based on global best practice.”

Saad Barood, Bonyan NGO

In early 2018, the SEEP Network partnered with the Cash-Based Response Working Group based in Gaziantep, Turkey to access organisations working with market-based programmes in the region in an attempt to build awareness and catalyse uptake of the MERS.

The knowledge dissemination model is articulated is as follows:

  1. A Working Group or Cluster receives new information on the MERS;
  2. Early Adopters pursue institutionalisation of the MERS within their organisation;
  3. Early Adopters share knowledge of the MERS through local implementing partners or peer-to-peer networks to improve programme quality and ability to apply the MERS in the field;
  4. Early Adopters use the MERS to influence donors on programme quality leading to integration of the MERS within future proposals thus indirectly influencing other NGOs.

Of particular importance is accessing smaller organisations working in crisis zones have limited time and resources to attribute to staff development and programme quality improvements. Finding these organisations and reaching out to them through regional cluster networks is often a useful first step into to starting the conversation on uptake of the MERS.

Delivering training through clusters or working groups also allows for a common understanding on programme quality to be developed across peer groups that often working in the same locations. Consequently, a greater appreciation of the challenges and changes required for interventions can be sought across peer groups and greater collaboration on intervention design and delivery discussed. This is important to ensure that crisis-affected populations are receiving the same quality interventions from different organisations working in the same area and to mitigate against the risk of interventions undermining each other.

The Early Adopter: Saad Barood @ Bonyan Organisation

“The MERS handbook is a ‘how not to do something silly’ dictionary. It’s logical and easy to navigate. When you don’t know what to do, you simply reach inside for the answer”.

Saad Barood works for Bonyan, a local NGO based in Syria and Turkey. The organisation specialises in relief and early recovery interventions across multiple sectors. Saad and his colleagues were not familiar with the MERS prior to an invitation to attend a MERS training event by the locally-based Cash-Based Responses Working Group. The training in Gaziantep was attended by 22 people from across 19 different locally based CBOs, NGOs and larger multi-lateral organisations.

Saad is neither a project manager nor markets specialist; he is an experienced partnerships manager. When presented with the MERS he realized its importance to his role. Being up-to-date with standards ensures that Bonyan Organisation’s programmes are designed and delivered to proactively meet quality requirements in order to gain a solid reputation in market system interventions; be able to compete for future funding; and, most importantly, better support crisis-affected populations.

In addition to his partnership management role, Saad is an entrepreneurship trainer and had assumed, prior to the training, that this background meant that he understood market systems principles sufficiently. However, Saad acknowledged that business skills are different to market systems analysis and design skills discussed in the MERS training, all of which are core to developing good market-based programme interventions.

As the training progressed, Saad started to identify issues within his organisations’ programming that he had not either been previously aware of or had not known how to tackle previously that could possibly be addressed by adhering to the MERS.

The Assessment and Analysis Standards highlighted the necessity of performing even a light touch assessment in order to inform any programme engaging with market systems. The MERS provided the rationale for analysis (even in a crisis situation) and minimum level of required for future proposals.

The Enterprise and Market Systems Development Standards created an awareness of the option of utilising ‘less direct’ delivery approaches for intervention in order to reduce the risk of market distortion and strengthen local markets. This has been a powerful change to Bonyan’s program design. Recent use of this learning for a UNDP-funded rehabilitation and infrastructure saw a shift in delivery approach with the community leading construction efforts and Bonyan facilitating the process and funding.

Spreading the word through local peer-to-peer networks

“We were asked ‘what are you going to do next?’ This was a call to action to take responsibility of our new knowledge, otherwise what is the point of training?”

Utilizing the MERS is not out of the reach of any program or organization. The ability to effect change within a short timeframe on a limited budget has been evidenced by early adopters who acknowledge the value of the MERS and have a mandate to enact change internally.

Since the initial training in May 2018, with ongoing support of the SEEP Network, Saad has:

  • Spearheaded retrospective assessment and integration of MERS into select Bonyan Organization program for piloting to build buy-in within his organization;
  • Addressed a key barrier to adoption in the region by translating MERS materials to Arabic; and
  • Organized and delivered two knowledge sharing sessions (in both English and Arabic) with peers externally to generate more interest in mainstreaming MERS within organizations regionally. Co-funded by GIZ, these sessions have been attended by 40 people across multiple organizations including donors previously unaware of the MERS.

Even a small change in knowledge can yield new ways of doing: using the MERS in Bonyan

An incumbent livelihoods project delivered by Bonyan Organization had worked with business owners to address their needs resulting in an in-kind donation of 190 electric generators to local businesses. This one-off surge in demand created local market distortion, inflating the prices of the generators.

The program team were aware of the implications of their program design but admitted that if they had used the MERS beforehand they would have identified that risk and known how to avoid it.

As a result, new programming will be assessed against the MERS with particular emphasis put on:

  • Assessment and Analysis Standards – to understand the market systems prior to distributions
  • Asset Distribution Standards – to improve any distribution interventions to reduce distortion risks
  • Financial Services Standards – to support design of other interventions to improve access to new assets outside of in-kind distributions (where appropriate)

Acknowledgements

The SEEP Network wishes to thank the following people and organizations for their support and partnership in Mainstreaming the MERS.

  • Mohamad Haddad, CARE Turkey and Sinan Aldemir, UNOCHA - for coordinating and hosting the MERS workshop for the Gaziantep Cash-Based Response Working Group;
  • Saad Barood, Bonyan NGO - for being a MERS Champion and sharing his experiences and insights;
  • Mohammad Mahrousa, Bahar Organization - for co-facilitation of MERS workshops for clusters
  • Katie Whitehouse - for authoring the case study.

Credits:

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