HARGEISA, Somaliland — In March of 2016, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies launched a 6-month emergency appeal for funding to support the Somali Red Crescent Society in its efforts to provide relief in Somaliland and Puntland for the regional drought. This appeal was intended to support nearly 80,000 people. When the funding ran out, from December until March, there were no activities.
But the rains continued to fail and the crisis persisted.
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In March 2017, the appeal was updated to assist 150,000 people for 10 months. But as the crisis continued to deepen, a cholera outbreak hit the region, and another revision of the appeal was needed. In July, the IFRC revised it again to include almost 353,000 people, for 27 months, lasting until June 2018. If the crisis continues, which is expected, the appeal might need to be updated again.
The appeal, which covers health, livelihoods, WASH and nutrition, is for $10.5 million and is 44 percent funded. Funders include over a dozen national Red Cross societies. Some of the interventions include unconditional cash transfer programs and plow times for farmers.
In April, the IFRC brought onboard Dorothy Francis to revise the appeal. Francis served as as the operations manager for IFRC Somalia Country Office until November. Francis sat down with Devex in Hargeisa to discuss revising an emergency appeal and talking to donors about the needs involved with an ever-changing crisis. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Can you talk about your role as operations manager in Somaliland?
The first thing I did when I came in was to help craft and revise the appeal in order to broaden its scope. It meant spending a lot of time with the national society to see what they felt were their priorities now that things had changed, as the crisis had grown deeper. It meant looking at how big of a team we would need to respond to what was now a widespread crisis. This was in April and May. By June, we had a full staff and we had all the technical sectors that we needed. Then it was a matter of getting our heads around what big interventions were needed. Apart from that, one of my main roles was getting the donors on board, the people who are actually going to contribute to the appeal. I spent a lot of time building donor relationships.
How did you do that?
“It was a matter of going back to the donors and saying ‘we really need freedom with how we spend, because this is an evolving crisis.’”
— Dorothy Francis, former the operations manager for IFRC Somalia Country Office
I’d worked with the [IFRC] for such a long time, so I knew many of the donors. It was a personal reach out to most of them to explain what we are doing and reassuring them that the structures were there to guarantee a proper operation. It meant bringing them in, in some instances, to have a look at the operation itself.
It meant having donor conference calls on a broader scale, for not just the traditional donors, but for the wider donors. A lot of it was representation. Then it was reaching out to other actors in the country to document other ongoing activities, to make sure we are not duplicating activities. We then looked at that funding. We looked at what funding we had and what funding we had directed to particular sectors, because we have the issue of things being earmarked very tightly. Then it was a matter of going back to the donors and saying ‘we really need freedom with how we spend, because this is an evolving crisis.’ While it might be WASH as the focus now, that could very well change to shelter, or it could change to food. We need some flexibility around what we spend.
Was that a difficult conversation?
It’s still a difficult conversation to have. Because their back donors are insistent about what they want to spend money on. We’ve had a couple of donors who have given us some leeway in terms of what we can spend on. But it’s not to the extent we would like. It does hamstring the operation, it hamstrings IFRC’s operations in general. We find ourselves with a lot of money to do some things and not enough money to do other things. And some of those other things are simple things, like paying for the operational staff, which becomes a low priority to donors. But if we don’t have the proper staff, then we are not going to have a properly implemented operation.
“We are getting the donors to see that it has to be a holistic approach, it can’t just be babies. We have to be taking care of the whole families.”
There is always a desire to do things that are high visibility. For example, feeding babies [nutritional supplements] is something everyone wants to be seen doing. It’s sexy, so to speak. But providing tarps and buckets for nomads is kind of ‘meh.’ It’s not the sort of thing that looks sexy, but it is as vital a life-saving intervention as any. We are getting people to understand that. We are getting the donors to see that it has to be a holistic approach, it can’t just be babies. We have to be taking care of the whole families.
I then started looking at what the appeal needed. That meant sitting with the national society, sitting with the donors, and seeing what was realistic. That took a while. I think it was good for us to spend that time talking and figuring out what the capacity of the society was, what they wanted to do, what they felt they could do well, and what the donors agreed would be suitable for them to go and seek funding for. It’s not just that we want to reach a million people, we need to be sure that we can find funding for a million people so that we don’t disappoint the national society and possible beneficiaries.
How are you changing the mindsets of donors?
What we are doing is we are sitting more closely with donors when they are writing their funding proposals. For example, we’ve had two national societies that have actually come here to craft their proposals to their back donors. During that conversation, we can then say, for example, it’s great to be doing WASH here, but we also need to be looking at shelter because the same people that are getting the WASH are the people that actually need somewhere to sleep. Once they see that big picture, they are more willing to change the direction of their funding. That has worked to a large extent. And because of it, we’ve gotten really good funding for the appeal. OK, it’s not 100 percent funded, but it’s doing as well as we can expect given the multiplicity of disasters around the world, like Bangladesh, which is currently occupying the media.
In that initial appeal, what were you asking for?
In 2016, a very small appeal was designed, which was basically around a small amount of unconditional cash grants, as well as some water and sanitation activities. That was a $1 million appeal. Clearly it wasn’t adequate, and it wasn’t getting a lot of funding. In April of 2017, a second appeal was then launched, which pulled the figures up to $3 million, which was again focusing on WASH but also focusing a bit more on nutrition. But it was still not seen as adequate for the magnitude of the crisis. One of the first things I was asked to do was to increase the appeal to something that was more realistic and to kick off the fundraising. The challenge with that was that was there was this expectation that I could get an appeal revised within a couple of weeks and I realized that wasn’t possible — within two weeks of me arriving we had this massive cholera outbreak. We got completely sidetracked by cholera. That took two months to get our heads around.
After a couple months of discussions, we launched a new appeal for $10 million. That appeal is going well. At the same time, we were still battling cholera. It meant dancing through the raindrops in terms of making sure we are dealing with nutrition, making sure that people are getting water, making sure we are finding the cholera hotspots, making sure that we are treating the cholera patients properly and making sure that communities are ready to identify cholera early and treat it early, so that we don’t have everyone going to the hospital. It really became a complex operation. It meant bringing in a substantially large number of expats in to run the cholera treatment center, so that also meant the various security implications. While we are in Somaliland, a safe zone, so to speak, there is always the chance that we could become targets.
Update, Dec. 11, 2017: This article has been updated to confirm that Dorothy Francis is the former operations manager for IFRC Somalia Country Office.