2020 was a year of great upheaval. The year will be recorded in history for the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic which swept the globe causing overwhelming humanitarian and economic devastation in its wake.
Across the world, the pandemic exposed and exacerbated so many existing challenges, inequalities and injustices. Addressing the power imbalances present in humanitarian and development work has always been at the heart of the Core Humanitarian Standard on Quality and Accountability (CHS). The CHS aims to shift the focus of aid work to the priorities of communities and people affected by crisis by amplifying their voices and ensuring they can hold organisations accountable.
We must acknowledge that the pandemic did not diminish, but in many ways further highlighted the issues at the heart of the CHS. Who holds power over decision making? How do we get access to communities to listen to their concerns? What can we do to better recognise and support the leadership of local and national actors? In what ways can the CHS be applied to ensure inclusive organisations and to challenge racism within the sector? How do we ensure we protect people in vulnerable situations from sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment? How do we create cultures of compassion and accountability within our own organisations?
These burning questions meant that 2020 only served to increase momentum for the mission of the Alliance. With the vast encouragement, energy and support from our members, donors and partners we met the challenges head on. Read on to explore the difference our Alliance of more than 150 committed organisations made last year to improve aid for people affected by crisis.
Despite all the challenges Covid-19 presented, CHS Alliance members and partners undertook huge efforts to make aid work better and apply the CHS throughout 2020. Whether through undertaking verification to show how we are meeting our CHS Commitments, or via individual practices that shift the culture in our daily work, we all know things can – and must – be better for the people we serve.
We look forward to leading the charge to make aid work better in 2021 and beyond.
Verification: establishing performance to improve impact
To truly meet the needs of people affected by crisis, we must strive to systematically work in the most effective and principled ways. For organisations committed to making aid work better for crisis-affected people, the Core Humanitarian Standard on Quality & Accountability (CHS) is the sector-wide standard for ensuring accountable and people-centred aid.
CHS Alliance runs the CHS Quality Assurance Verification Scheme that allows humanitarian and development organisations to measure their application of the CHS – how well they are meeting the Nine Commitments of the CHS made by organisations to the people they serve.
The Verification Scheme offers three different options for verification. A validated CHS self-assessment, conducted internally and validated by CHS Alliance. Independent verification and certification options are conducted by an accredited Conformity Assessment Body – currently the Humanitarian Quality and Accountability Initiative (HQAI).
Verification results lead to evidence-based improvement plans, so organisations can invest in the right changes and take action.
By the end of the year, the sector passed an important milestone of more than 100 organisations having undergone verification against the CHS either through self-assessment, independent verification or certification, with a total of 109 organisations verified by the end of 2020.
New Verification Scheme & validated CHS self-assessment tools launched
To ensure that a greater diversity and number of organisations take up CHS verification, in 2020 the Alliance launched an updated CHS Verification Scheme. This included new tools for self-assessment to make CHS verification more accessible to a wider number of organisations and stamps to recognise the efforts undertaken by organisations in their verification journey.
To keep the new Verification Scheme fit for purpose, we also introduced a new expert Verification Advisory Panel to oversee and guide the future of verification.
Total number of organisations verified against the CHS at the end of 2020
* This number includes the 16 ActionAid organisations that were involved in a group verification.
** This number excludes nine organisations that have completed two different verification options (e.g. a self-assessment followed by certification or an independent verification).
Newly verified organisations in 2020
Humanitarian Accountability Report 2020: turning data into knowledge
More than five years after the sector came together to launch the CHS, the 2020 edition of the Alliance’s biennial flagship Humanitarian Accountability Report (HAR) shone a light on the current state of adherence to the Standard by the organisations applying it.
Using information, data and experience gathered from more than 90 verified aid organisations,* the report uncovers which CHS Commitments are being best met and where more efforts are most needed. The report showed that dedicated aid organisations can tackle the toughest barriers to meeting the commitments they made to people affected by crisis.
The HAR 2020 revealed that CHS Commitment 6 on coordination and complementarity is the closest to being fully met by verified organisations, while Commitment 5 on welcoming and addressing complaints is the lowest scoring.
Commitment-by-Commitment in-depth analysis of verification scores, findings drawing on multiple sources and recommendations for bold action make the report a compelling call for acceleration of raising the standard of our work.
Full CHS Commitment scores
Nine CHS certified organisations shared their stories of the change driven by verification. 18 sector leaders and subject experts authored challenging thought pieces. 79 leaders of Alliance member organisations signed up to the 2020 CHS CEO Pledge feature in the HAR 2020, demonstrating strong re-commitment to the CHS at the highest levels. Several CEOs also spoke out on the vital importance of the CHS at five years in a short film produced for the launch of the report.
* The number of organisations verified when work began on the HAR2020.
Spreading the news
Thanks to the enthusiastic support of our members and partners through the Raise the Standard campaign, nearly 300 attendees joined the virtual launch of the HAR 2020, with more than 4,000 people reading the report and its lessons online.
79 leaders of Alliance member organisations signed up to the 2020 CHS CEO Pledge feature in the HAR 2020, demonstrating strong re-commitment to the CHS at the highest levels.
Influencing policy, scaling up recognition
Increasing recognition of the CHS by the UN and Governments remained our key advocacy goal for 2020. Embedding the CHS in key humanitarian and development policy fora and processes increases commitment to, and ultimately adherence to the Standard.
2020 saw the Dutch Relief Alliance formally recognise the CHS as part of their membership requirements, making CHS self-assessment a mandatory requirement for funding.
In February, CHS Alliance commissioned a review of government donors’ due diligence processes, which was launched at a well-attended session at Humanitarian Networks & Partnerships Week (HNPW). The study outlines how the Alliance can support the Grand Bargain commitments of harmonisation and encourage more donors to recognise the CHS in their Partner Capacity Assessment processes. The Alliance progressed these discussions with donors at the both the Global CHS Exchange 2020 and the HQAI Donor Round Table later in the year.
The CHS is being recognised in the main policy initiatives shaping the sector, and we continued in 2020 to engage with the various workstreams of the Grand Bargain and the Inter Agency Standing Committee (IASC).
The Alliance worked closely to align the CHS with the IASC Accountability and Inclusion Results Tracker. This tool has developed collective-level indicators, aligned with the Nine Commitments of the CHS, ready for piloting in Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Palestine in 2021.
Catch up on the HNPW session
Accountability to affected people: Supporting members through the pandemic
As the world responded to Covid-19, it was vital that the views, rights and dignity of people affected by crisis were at the forefront of humanitarian and development work. Thanks to our members, in 2020 we produced and shared multiple resources, advice and tools to help guide all those committed to making aid work better through unprecedented times.
In March the Alliance responded quickly to the unfolding global crisis, producing a regularly updated resource hub on how to meet Commitments to the CHS in the pandemic, which proved to be our most popular resource to date – accessed more than 7,000 times by the end of the year.
This was followed by an Alliance organised expert-led panel webinar examining the role of ethics and accountability in the response to the pandemic, co-hosted with partners Sphere and Groupe URD.
Webinar on Accountability, Ethics & Covid-19
The Alliance also partnered with Sphere on their Applying humanitarian standards to the global Covid-19 response multilingual webinar series.
Complaint mechanisms & Covid-19: the importance of preparedness & community engagement
CHS Alliance and the Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam, funded by the Dutch Research Council, conducted research into how Covid-19 has affected complaint, feedback, and response mechanisms. The report underlines the critical importance of engaging communities themselves in the design of the systems. It was shared with members to support their efforts in providing accountable aid throughout the pandemic, and beyond.
Addressing accountability gaps for survivors & victims of SEA
We all have a part to play in protecting those affected by crisis from exploitation, abuse and harassment. Employees in the sector must be able to work in a safe, harassment-free environment.
To strengthen the CHS for protection from sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment (PSEAH), the Alliance, with support from the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office released updated versions of the PSEAH Index and the PSEAH Implementation Quick Reference Handbook.
Updated PSEAH Implementation Quick Reference Handbook
The Handbook provides a complete quick reference guide to implementing measures for protection from sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment (PSEAH) in an organisation or project. Each chapter includes a case study sharing how specific organisations tackled this important work.
The updated Index clearly states the safeguarding requirements for each relevant indicator of the CHS Verification Framework. Each chapter of the new handbook references the relevant indicators and requirements of the PSEAH Index and includes a new chapter on Sexual Misconduct in the Workplace.
These vital updates ensure that the CHS itself is up to date with current learning and developments with PSEAH and enables organisations verifying against the CHS to check the PSEAH requirements against each indicator.
Alliance Executive Director, Tanya Wood, gave evidence to the UK Parliament’s International Development Committee on abuse in the aid sector in September, highlighting how the CHS can play a key role in stamping out abuse.
By the end of the year, we started a new project with funding from the Netherlands government on closing the accountability gap for victims and survivors of sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment. Ultimately, this and all our work is driven by the need to put more power in the hands of the people we serve.
People at the centre: putting the human back into HR
People are at the centre of everything we do. We believe that to best serve those affected by crisis, humanitarian workers must be treated fairly and equitably, and also supported to do their jobs effectively.
The Covid-19 pandemic led the Alliance to take the usually in-person Humanitarian Human Resources (HHR) conference online, as a means of connecting HR practitioners during an otherwise isolating time, both professionally and personally.
2020’s conference focused on learning from the pandemic to redesign the way aid will work post-pandemic.
The innovative and interactive online gathering served a growing global community of HR practitioners, researchers, experts and people leaders collaborating to reflect and learn from each other as well as develop practical solutions.
HHR2020 in numbers
Other guidance produced by the Alliance on People Management in 2020 included the use of Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) based on increasing attention to their use in the sector. The guidance is designed to inform organisations about when their use is appropriate and lawful, and to ensure they are not used to cover up abuse
Culture change: Cultivating Caring, Compassionate Aid Organisations
Despite recent conversations about safeguarding, diversity and toxic cultures within organisations, we in the aid sector have yet to instigate widespread changes in our practice when it comes to how organisations treat their staff, care for ourselves and one another.
Throughout 2020 the Alliance initiated the Cultivating Caring, Compassionate Aid Organisations Initiative which looked at the intersections between mental health, people management and organisational culture using the lens of care and compassion.
The initiative explored thinking about aid worker wellbeing in a variety of different contexts. Working with our members, we elevated conversations about well-being within organisations and helped them to develop ideas about how they might tackle these issues.
Report: Working Well? Aid worker well-being and how to improve it.
Launched in January 2020, the report shared findings from a mapping looking at the intersections between mental health, people management and organisational culture using the lens of care and compassion. A “lunch launch” event held in Geneva with support from Plan International brought some of the experts identified in the report together to meet each other for the first time.
Continuing the conversation
The Initiative kept the conversation going through a year like no other, highlights included contextualised, cross-sector regional conversations. Using a new guide, facilitators carried out a series of conversations engaging in more than 50 organisations with 80+ participants across Africa, Asia, Europe and the MENA region. In April, a CHS Alliance webinar on “Leading aid organisations with care and compassion during COVID 19” featured four aid leaders with more than one hundred participants. A webinar hosted with BOND on “Building caring and inclusive organisations for mental wellbeing,” in August was attended by more than 80 people. A joint CHS Alliance, ICVA and PHAP webinar on “Organisational culture matters: Leadership, staff well-being and living our values” was held in December with 230 attendees.
Embodying change podcasts
2020 marked the release of a new Embodying Change podcast series. Season one episodes were downloaded 1,000 times across the globe and feature conversations with experts in mental health, people management, mindfulness, staff care, human resources, duty of care, compassion and staff engagement surveys.
Embedding the CHS at every level: connecting & exchanging
We know meeting the Nine Commitments of the CHS takes determination, solidarity and seeing the world in a different way – this is why it’s so important we find a meaningful way to connect with each other.
In 2020, the Alliance rapidly adapted our plans to move our various events online due to the restrictions imposed by Covid-19. This meant we were able to meet and engage with more people than face to face events allows. We also scaled up our ability for our members to connect and engage. Some of highlights included:
The first global Annual CHS Exchange was held online in October. Moving online meant we attracted more than 600 people from across the globe, over three days, engaging in a number of discussions around the CHS, verification and 28 thematic workshops run by CHS Alliance members.
Throughout the year we also gathered more than 302 member representatives together through our five Communities of Practice (CoPs) to exchange learning, solve problems and explore new ideas, tools and techniques. While each community is organised differently, all provided members with the opportunity to connect, converse and share knowledge and opinions.
Watch the CHS Exchange highlights reel
Strengthening action through training
The CHS Alliance is committed to ensuring that all humanitarian organisations have the tools, expertise and confidence to integrate the commitments of the CHS into their work.
Due to Covid-19, the Alliance’s training programme underwent a substantial shift in 2020 moving entirely online. We continued to meet the demand for high quality and in-depth training workshops, especially around PSEAH and investigation trainings. We also took the opportunity to review the CHS training offer and began work to redesign the programme to be more targeted in supporting organisations to apply the CHS effectively.
In 2020 the Alliance ran the following trainings, both open and bespoke reaching a total of 209 participants across 37 countries:
- Introduction to the Core Humanitarian Standard
- SEA Investigations Workshop
- SEA Investigations Follow up Workshop
- PSEA & Investigations for Managers Workshop
- Training of Trainers on the Core Humanitarian Standard
Views from the learners
“I was really very impressed with the course. Very well organised. The facilitators bring really good experience. The fact that real actors were used made it very realistic. It was really an excellent course and I shall sign up for the refresher. Thank you!”
“Having an experiential learning opportunity to conduct a PSEA investigation from initial planning through to scoping the report has been fantastic. I learned so much from the wealth of experience of the facilitators and the other participants.”
“I feel much more prepared and well-equipped to handle interviews of sensitive witnesses and survivors.”
Introduction to the CHS e-course global take up
We also reached a further 7,185 people through our e-learning course on the CHS.
Number of Introduction to the CHS online learners, hosted online by Kaya & the Humanitarian Leadership Academy*.
*Participant numbers include those who have enrolled in the course, are in progress and who have completed it.
A united Alliance
The CHS Alliance is a global movement of humanitarian and development organisations committed to making aid work better for people. We believe organisations deliver higher quality, more effective aid when they are accountable to the people they serve.
Some of our members are among the largest humanitarian and development actors in the world working across several continents; others work locally and might be among the smallest. All are committed to putting people in crisis at the heart of what they do by implementing the CHS.
In 2020 we focused on supporting our membership through the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic as well as reinforcing engagement with local and national organisations – a core plank of the Alliance’s work.
+291 affiliates of global networks.
Welcome to our new members
In 2020 we welcomed 15 new full members, seven of these were national NGOs.
Updated complaints mechanism
CHS verification data continues to show the sector needs to do more to meet Commitment 5 – complaints are welcomed and addressed. For our part in this effort, Alliance launched an updated complaint mechanism in 2020. Find our new complaints mechanism online.
Since launching the new Complaint Mechanism, we received one complaint during 2020 that fell within the scope of the updated complaints policy. The complaint is under review as of the end of the year. The Committee also continued to follow up on one complaint from 2019 under the old policy.
Published by: CHS Alliance
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