Press Release: National Conference on Empowering Local Civil Society ahead of the anniversary of the war in UkrainePublished: Feb 22, 2023 Reading time: 6 minutes
A week before the anniversary of the war in Ukraine, a National Conference on Localisation of the humanitarian response was held in Kyiv (17th February). Representatives from over 200 local and national civil society actors (LNAs), volunteer networks, international non-governmental (INGOs), UN agencies, donor governments and Ukrainian authorities participated. The Conference launched a joint statement and recommendations on empowering local organisations in humanitarian action, which had been developed through five sub-national workshops exploring the issues these groups face in Odesa, Zaporizhzhia, Dnipro, Lviv, and Chernihiv Oblasts from November 2022 to January 2023 .
At the Conference, strong statements of support for the Joint Recommendations were made both by local civil society and volunteers from across Ukraine, as well as by representatives of major donor governments, including the USA and UK, the United Nations, including the UN Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator and staff leading on the UN Ukraine Humanitarian Fund, major INGOs active in Ukraine and the Government of Ukraine; notably representatives from the Cabinet of Ministers and the Ministry of Social Policy .
Valentyn Bordun, Kryla Nadii (local medical volunteer group) said: “When the war started, decisions were made quickly. International organisations were on the ground and asking us how they could help. There wasn’t bureaucracy, just what do you need now? One year later we are seeing a decline in that direct communication and an increasingly complex bureaucracy. The volume of reporting is overwhelming. The logical thing would be to simplify what is expected and target support to local organizations and what they are doing. That is the kind of partnership and support we are hoping for.”
Šimon Pánek, People in Need (international NGO), said: “Rhetoric about empowering local community organisations in Ukraine needs to shift into practical actions to support them. This means changing how international funds are distributed and cutting down bureaucracy. Local groups and volunteers are busy saving lives. We should be enabling their work, not complicating it. Donors, UN agencies and INGOs should be held accountable for this. We need a more systematic approach to hear and act on honest, critical feedback from local first responders on the quality of partnerships and support provided to them.”
A Conference communique will be published soon outlining follow-up actions for donor governments, UN agencies and INGOs. Recommendations raised at the Conference included:
- establishing clear and measurable indicators to track progress on quality partnership and support to local leadership (eg a ‘UN Humanitarian Country Team Localisation Strategy’, which has helped to catalyse change in other contexts)
- adopting a consistent, fair approach by donors and international agencies to covering the core overheads costs of local organisations, not just short-term projectized grants
- strengthening support for volunteers; including more comprehensive insurance, resourcing of training and equipment for managing the risks they face and first aid, and travel expenses
- accountability for ‘Ethical Recruitment Guidelines’ to end the worst practices in international agencies poaching the staff of local organisations.
Additional quotes from the Conference include:
Oleksiy Palchenko, Angles of Salvation (volunteer network delivering aid and supporting evacuations) said: “We are working on the frontline of this war. Our volunteers that bring aid in the midst of shelling and they have to move fast. They don’t have time for all the increasingly complex forms, templates and spreadsheets when they are risking their lives. It is based on the trust of local volunteers who come from and work in these areas. They know the region, they know the roads, they know the community.”
Halyna Kravets, Revival of the Nation (Ukrainian women’s rights organization), said: “It’s been a year and now there’s increasing bureaucraticisation, which builds walls between local women’s rights organisations and their international donor partners. It is ironic that as the war becomes ever more intensive so do the reporting requirements of donors. Analytical tables and certificates we should provide; many of which are duplicative and take up lots of time. Many women’s organisations do not have sufficient legal or administrative staff, yet international funding operates on the assumption that they do. So we ask donors: Simplify your procedures. Listen to your local partners who come from and understand the communities affected by this war.”
Oleksiy Palchenko, Angles of Salvation, said: “Our volunteers are risking their lives driving old vehicles into areas under bombardment to deliver aid and help people flee to a place of safety. Yet whilst our international partners will pay for the fuel, it is a struggle to fund the replacement of broken wheels or other spare parts for that transport. Likewise volunteers are themselves displaced by the war and must find somewhere as a base, and yet the rents are being driven up. We need flexible funds to support this. Donors and international agencies should be allowing for at least a 10% or 15% contribution to overheads, not just providing these short-term, projectized grants.”
Anna Bondarenko, Ukrainian Volunteer Service, said: “Our organization supports volunteers across the country. Beyond short-term funds for the delivery of aid by volunteers, we need increased support to help them understand and manage the risks they face. Some have died, others are injured and others are held captive in Russia. Volunteers need training on safety and security, knowledge of first aid medical procedures, and how to avoid burnout and cope with the trauma they face. Our organisation is small drops in the ocean of need here. Longer-term funding is needed to strengthen these efforts.”
Fred Larsson, NGO Resource Center, said: “We have to shift away from a tokenistic, tick-box approach to localization. We need to seek true, genuine, and equal partnerships. We have to look at trust, long-term engagement and a transfer of knowledge in both directions. What does not work is just uncritically adopting capacity-strengthening models from other countries. We need to interrogate the effectiveness of how we support local organisations, and seek their feedback on the outcomes of those efforts. Better to support 20 local organisations in a meaningful way, than do 100 trainings but without any real impact.”
Howard Mollett, CAFOD (INGO), said: “As we reach the anniversary, the international community needs to shift away from vague statements about supporting local organisations in Ukraine to measurable commitments to act on this. Donors should be holding UN agencies and INGOs accountable for this. The Ukraine UN Humanitarian Country Team, which is the highest level of decision-making for aid agencies, should adopt a national localization strategy with clear indicators to track progress on the quality of partnerships and support to local leadership. Local organisations and volunteers have made their concerns and challenges known. Will donors and international agencies now act on them?”
 The Agenda for the Conference, detailing the six sessions and more than 30 speakers, as well as the Joint Statement On Locally-Led Humanitarian Action In Ukraine can be found here in English and here in Ukrainian.
 Among the speakers who presented their work on humanitarian aid policies at the seminar were: Marco Rotelli, Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA); Diana Long, USAID representative; Nazar Tanasyshyn, Deputy Minister of Social Policy of Ukraine; Nataliia Oksha, Deputy Director of the Department of Information and Public Relations, Head of the Secretariat of the Cabinet of Ministers; Daria Kasianova, Program Director of SOS Children's Villages Ukraine; Larysa Mahdiuk, Head of the Women's Consortium Ukraine project.