Sphere in the Middle East and North Africa

25 June 2015 | Sphere Project

Sphere in the Middle East and North Africa

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Twenty-five humanitarians from 11 countries in the Middle East and North Africa participated in the first Sphere regional practitioners workshop on 3-4 May in Amman.

The meeting identified a clear need for and commitment to building greater capacity to deliver aid in line with and adhering to globally recognised humanitarian standards. It also explored ways to take success to scale in applying Sphere standards as well as common challenges in using standards for humanitarian delivery, policy, coordination and advocacy.

Hosted by the Jordan Hashemite Charity Organisation, the workshop offered participants an opportunity to consult and network with members of the diverse community of Sphere practitioners in the region. It helped capture more systematically the experience and learning of humanitarians, focal points and trainers as well as their priorities in establishing a robust, inclusive Sphere network.

The workshop participants, drawn primarily from national NGOs and Red Crescent societies, along with international NGOs, humanitarian clusters and UN agencies, shared their experience in using Sphere in a variety of contexts through the use of case studies. They focused on challenges and solutions in using humanitarian standards for programming, coordination, advocacy and policy development. The case studies will be made available online as part of the workshop documentation.

Learning and highlights

Workshop participants noted a deep interest in the establishment of a Sphere network in the region. They agreed on the value and potential benefits of such an initiative which includes reaching a larger range of practitioners and organisations to deepen their commitment to humanitarian standards and conducting joint advocacy efforts to learn from each other.

A clear and sustainable structure for the Sphere network will need to be devised and adapted for the region. The current Sphere focal point policy will need to be reviewed to consider recommendations on how to strengthen institutional links and recognition of Sphere focal points and champions in the region. The role of the Sphere Project office in supporting the focal points was also discussed with priorities and options emerging.

Workshop participants emphasised the need to continue working on awareness-raising and capacity-building, particularly with national NGOs and community-based organisations. They stressed the need to solidify the approach to training of trainers (ToT) courses and quality certification of training programmes, as well as consistent post-training follow-up and refresher sessions in order to help humanitarians apply their acquired knowledge.

Advocacy with governments as well as with humanitarian coordination clusters needs to be strengthened. The work conducted by the Jordan Hashemite Charity Organisation to raise the awareness of Jordanian officials to humanitarian standards was mentioned as a successful example.

Participants highlighted that a number of Sphere-related activities are carried out effectively in the region and yet are not widely known. It was suggested that Arabic-speaking capacity in the Sphere Project office or in the region needs to be taken into account and that the communications work in Arabic should be strengthened.

When it comes to the Sphere Handbook, the value of deeper involvement of community-based organisations during the revision process was suggested. Participants also noted the need to review the distribution mechanism for the Arabic version of the Handbook.

"In a region like the Middle East and North Africa, where more than one-third of all estimated humanitarian need is currently located, the commitment of Sphere practitioners to train, enable, empower, advocate and influence is invaluable," said Sphere Director Christine Knudsen.

The fact that the workshop was conducted primarily in Arabic (with simultaneous interpretation) allowed for a frank exchange and deeper learning among practitioners themselves. The workshop demonstrated the potential in the region to strengthen the quality of humanitarian response and to influence practice and policy.

For Knudsen, while the discussions confirmed the need for awareness-raising and training on humanitarian standards, they also suggested these activities alone may not suffice, as if the link between training and practice was missing. "We need to explore this issue further, looking particularly at the role that turning humanitarian standards into policy may play," Knudsen said.

The Amman workshop built on similar gatherings of Sphere practitioners in Asia and will be followed by a planned meeting in West Africa. These events will contribute to a broad stakeholders consultation to define the structure, scope and added value of a robust, inclusive network of Sphere practitioners in line with Sphere 2020 strategic priorities.

Get to know Sphere practitioners in the Middle East (more profiles coming up):

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