Over the past three years, Suma Sherma, a tireless health worker in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, has helped over 100 pregnant women and assisted some 40 births. 

Suma works for IOM, the UN Migration Agency, and its local non-governmental organization (NGO) partner, Mukti. The two organizations provide health care to Rohingya refugees and Bangladeshis living in Cox’s Bazar through their jointly-run clinics and mobile health teams.

As crises emerge and evolve regularly, humanitarian responses must be quick and context-based to be effective. Partnerships with NGOs have proven to be one way of achieving this. NGOs often specialize in particular sectors of humanitarian aid, and local ones have an in-depth understanding of the situation. By partnering with NGOs, IOM can tailor its assistance to the specific needs of the targeted population.

For instance, Mukti, the NGO Suma works for, was founded in the early 1990s to tackle illiteracy and poverty among underprivileged Bangladeshi women. Since then, they have expanded their area of work to health care. Around 16 per cent of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh are single mothers, 40 per cent are under the age of 17, and most have witnessed horrific atrocities in Myanmar. For IOM to shape its assistance to their needs, Mukti’s focus on women’s health and longstanding presence in Cox’s Bazar is invaluable.

Humanitarian Partnerships, including with civil society organizations such as Mukti, are a key element of IOM’s institutional humanitarian policy. Given the various ongoing crises and mounting humanitarian needs, effective responses depend largely on joint and complementary efforts by a variety of actors. 

As part of its continuous dialogue with civil society, IOM, in collaboration with the International Council of Voluntary Agencies, organizes annual Consultations with its humanitarian NGO partners. Held since 2015, the Consultations aim to strengthen joint IOM-NGO responses to crises, and present a unique forum for IOM and NGOs engage in policy, programme and coordination discussions. 

Starting in 2018, IOM plans to alternate the Consultations between its HQs in Geneva and regional hubs. The goal is to bring conversations closer to the field and increase the participation of local partners.

For the first time in 2017, the Consultations had a regional focus - the East and Horn of Africa. Organized in Nairobi, Kenya, the discussions were held under the theme of complementarity, coherence and collaboration.

In South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, IOM established the Rapid Response Fund (RRF) to help the humanitarian community respond immediately to natural hazards and man-made crises. The RRF provides training to NGO staff members and releases funds for emergency humanitarian activities. 
Through the RRF, IOM has been working closely with national and local NGOs, including two of the leading NGOs in South Sudan; the Lacha Community Economic Development and the Universal Intervention and Development Organization. Both organizations have the highly sought out capacity of being able to access populations in dangerous conflict areas.

Christina Bruwell, the Manager of RRF, believes that the Consultations help NGOs and IOM to share experiences and build connections, “South Sudan is impacted by all aspects of migration from migrating for educational opportunities to labor migration to forced migration. The IOM-NGO Consultations allowed national NGOs to share experiences with and connect to other organizations working in the region which is an important element of developing strong partnerships to support migrants."

During the Consultations, participants identified challenges faced by partnerships and recommended ways to better leverage IOM’s and NGOs’ respective strengths. They also pointed to opportunities to bring humanitarian and development efforts closer together to better address crises, shrink needs and reduce vulnerabilities. The Executive Director of the Lacha Community and Economic Development, Driuni Jakani, reminded his colleagues at the Consultations that “International organizations have greater technical capacity and national NGOs have the local knowledge,” meaning that “Together, we can build a more successful humanitarian response.” 

As a founding member of the Global Humanitarian Platform, a forum designed to bring together the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement, the United Nations and related international organizations, as well as NGOs, IOM has endorsed the Principles of Partnership, which promote cooperation based on; equality, transparency, result-oriented approaches, responsibility and complementarity. These values were highlighted by Chris Hoffman, Regional Disaster Management Director at World Vision, during the Nairobi Consultations, “Working together with NGOs, IOM isn’t seen as a fund manager but as a partner.”

NGOs are now increasingly co-leaders in different sectors – such as Shelter, Water, Hygiene, etc… – of humanitarian assistance. In South Sudan, World Vision co-leads two clusters, while national NGOs actively participate in cluster-specific Peer Review Committees that evaluate funding proposals. Hoffman recognized the benefits of this joint response during the Consultations, “Cluster co-leadership has been an opportunity to bolster our voice and to build national capacity to respond. As the co-leaders, we are equals.” 

Across the East and Horn of Africa, IOM has been partnering with NGOs. The Consultations were an occasion to bring the dialogue closer to the region. 

Children, mainly Ethiopian and some as young as six years old, cross mountains and deserts by foot to reach Djibouti. They are often victims of violence and sexual exploitation along the way. Despite having set out to find work in the Gulf states, the uncertainty and insecurity in Djibouti makes many of the children want to return home.

To go beyond assisting the children’s basic needs, Caritas Djibouti partnered with IOM who advocates for their rights and supplies them with an IOM Identity Cards. This partnership benefits from Caritas’ experience in humanitarian work and IOM’s relationship with the governments of Ethiopia and Djibouti. Once the children have arrived safely in Ethiopia, Caritas and IOM help them reintegrate.

Whether it is NGO’s ability to access people in dangerous conflict areas, their expertise in specific types of humanitarian aid, or nuanced understanding of the context they operate it, partnerships allow IOM and NGOs to capitalize on each other’s strengths. Without collaboration, the assistance provided would fall short of effectively helping people impacted by natural hazards and conflicts.