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  • Blog
  • 13 November 2023

Overlooked and undervalued: tracking funding to refugee-led organisations

Refugee-led organisations play a key but overlooked role in humanitarian action. How can new insights on their funding drive inclusive changes to enhance transparency, funding and advocacy?


Carina Chicet, Guilherme Monteiro

This blog draws on some of the initial findings and recommendations from the first report of an innovative, five-year research project investigating the quantity and quality of funding reaching refugee-led organisations (RLOs), led by ODI’s Humanitarian Policy Group, in collaboration with Development Initiatives (DI). For more detailed information and recommendations please refer to the full report.

Seven years after the Grand Bargain signatories committed to increase the proportion of funding to local and national organisations to 25% of total humanitarian assistance, findings continuously show a failure to not only meet targets but also to include key actors, such as RLOs, in humanitarian response. Recent analysis finds that just 1.2% of total humanitarian funding was directed to local and national actors, while research in specific displacement contexts sees even less going to RLOs.

Alongside other local actors, RLOs play a key role in humanitarian action and are best placed to articulate and flexibly respond to the specific needs of their communities. Despite this, the formal international refugee response generally excludes refugees from having a role in providing services, continuing to operate according to a provider-beneficiary binary that preserves neocolonial assumptions around who holds the expertise and who requires capacity-building. A lack of funding – and transparency around where funding goes – also hinders the ability of RLOs to respond to the needs of their displaced communities and to hold funders accountable.

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Funding to RLOs is almost impossible to track with very limited publicly reported data

Through primary data collection and tracking of funding reported to FTS and IATI, our research identified a total of US$26.4 million reaching over 800 RLOs in 2022, mostly channelled through intermediaries. This is very low when compared to funding to the overall humanitarian system: for example, in 2022 over US$6.4 billion was provided to UN-coordinated Refugee Response Plans.1 While not all funding reaching RLOs is captured due to limited data, this snapshot strongly suggests that RLOs are not only chronically underfunded but also caught on the periphery of the refugee response funding landscape.

What’s causing the large data and evidence gap around how much international humanitarian assistance is reaching RLOs?

  1. Not all funders track how much of their funding reaches local and national actors, including RLOs. Most funders interviewed for the research do not have the systems in place to start tagging and tracking the funding they disburse specifically to RLOs. Out of 72 funders contacted, only 22 were able to provide data on the funding they disbursed to RLOs in 2022. No government donors at all were able to provide data.
  2. Funding is not being reported to publicly available platforms, especially by intermediary organisations, despite transparency commitments made under the Grand Bargain. Through FTS and IATI we’ve only identified US$0.8 million that was disbursed to known RLOs in 2022. In the same year, around US$463 million was reported to local and national NGOs.
  3. There is no commonly agreed RLO definition, which leads to inconsistent and incomparable donor data. With no common definition, public platforms are also unable to tag RLOs to simplify tracking.

Better tracking would bring much needed visibility to RLOs

The lack of reliable and available data meant that tracking funding to RLOs for this research was only possible through months of primary data collection efforts. The resulting snapshot was limited to those funders who already tracked this data, albeit with significant gaps. Most notably there is a significant lack of transparency in funding from government donors disbursed directly and through intermediaries, including the funding passed on by UN agencies.

Publicly available data would allow independent and efficient tracking of funding that reaches RLOs and, by extension, it would contribute to improved transparency and accountability of the funding system as a whole, including advancing the commitment to fund locally led humanitarian action. Improved data would also allow RLOs and others to plan and coordinate more effectively.

How can donors and international organisations improve transparency around funding?

  1. The simplest way to improve transparency is for public and private donors to publish the funding they provide, including to RLOs, to public platforms such as FTS and IATI. Importantly, they also need to encourage their international partners acting as intermediaries to RLOs to do the same. A prerequisite for this is that intermediaries can internally track where their funding goes.
  2. A commonly agreed definition of RLOs would allow for improved internal tracking and creation of tags on public platforms, which can then be used to advocate for increased funding and recognition of RLOs as well as to hold donors accountable. Definitions are powerful, and there needs to be an inclusive process, led by refugees, to agree on a common definition.
  3. International gatherings such as the upcoming Global Refugee Forum provide opportunities to increase funding to, and visibility of, RLOs. This can happen through collectively monitoring progress on reporting and tracking, and by reinforcing commitments.

This research project is funded by the Robert Bosch Stiftung and Open Society Foundations and adopted a mixed-methods approach combining quantitative and qualitative data-collection methods, involving both funders and RLOs. You can read the executive summary of The failure to fund refugee-led organisations on the DI site, or download the full PDF on the ODI site.

This blog was also posted on the website of the recently launched Taking the Lead initiative. Taking the Lead is a network of RLOs, and one of their goals is around increasing direct funding to RLOs. DI a supporter of this work.