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Bridge Builders: Strengthening the role of local faith actors in humanitarian response in South Sudan

A two-way model for sharing capacity and strengthening a localised response

Purpose of the report

This report outlines and analyses the implementation of the Bridge Builder Model. This is a two-way, capacity-sharing model aimed at bringing together local faith actors (LFAs) and international humanitarian actors to increase understanding, trust, coordination, and collaboration.

The model was developed by the Bridging the Gap Consortium (Tearfund UK, Tearfund Belgium, Tearfund in South Sudan, RedR UK, Islamic Relief Worldwide, Islamic Relief in South Sudan, the Joint Learning Initiative on Faith and Local Communities [JLI] and the University of Leeds) and piloted in 2018–2019 in South Sudan.

The overarching goal of the model is for a more effective and timely humanitarian response that best supports those affected by humanitarian crises, in part by integrating LFAs into the response. The model responds to gaps in localisation, where international humanitarian actors have not built partnerships with LFAs and efforts often run in parallel rather than being coordinated. The model provides capacity strengthening for both LFAs and international humanitarian actors, supported by a number of other activities such as small grants and mentoring for the LFAs, and networking workshops for the international humanitarian actors and LFAs.

The report highlights findings from our research and recommendations from the pilot of the Bridge Builder Model for humanitarian organisations and donors seeking ways to increase localisation in humanitarian response.

Structure of the report

Section 2 provides a background to localisation and LFAs, as well as giving an outline of the context of South Sudan. Section 3 outlines the main elements of the Bridge Builder Model, before Section 4 sets out the research methodology. The key findings from the research are presented in Section 5, followed by conclusions and recommendations.

Research methodology and context

The research team employed an ethnographic model to follow the pilot project closely. Two researchers were embedded in the project, attending and observing the training sessions, meetings and workshops.
Interviews with 47 research participants, both connected and external to the project, complemented the observation, along with analysis of key documents linked to the project.

LFAs are frequently marginalised from internationally led humanitarian responses, even though they are often front-line responders in crises. This is certainly true in South Sudan, a nation that has known cycles of conflict and disaster in its short history as the world’s newest nation. The project was piloted in South Sudan because of the high number of international humanitarian actors working there, alongside frequent efforts by LFAs to respond to the humanitarian needs of the population.

Overview of key findings

The model demonstrated significant innovation in capacity sharing to create a more localised response.
Key innovations included:

  • strengthening the capacity of LFAs through humanitarian skills training, which was spread out in three four-day sessions over the course of six months to mimic a project cycle
  • concurrent small grants for the trained LFAs so they could put into practice the skills they learnt at each stage of the training
  • mentoring for the trained LFAs while they were receiving their small grants, and training local mentors to continue the mentoring process beyond the end of the project
  • strengthening international humanitarian actors’ understanding of LFAs’ contribution through two training days that outlined why and how to work with LFAs
  • providing multiple networking opportunities where LFAs and international humanitarian actors could meet, such as ‘Linkages Workshops’ hosted by the consortium and additional informal networking opportunities

In implementing the pilot, an initial challenge was selecting and assessing LFAs as several of those interested in taking part did not meet the eligibility requirements, underlining the need to strengthen LFAs’ capacity. It was also a challenge to gain buy-in from some international humanitarian actors and therefore to have an impact in the humanitarian system more generally. Despite some challenges in the pilot, the model proved to be useful and effective overall.

The full report can be downloaded here and the PR, which is for immediate release, is now on ReliefWeb. 

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