The Startling Syrian Number You Haven’t Seen

by Jennifer Holt
Mayıs 16, 2018

There are many devastating numbers on Syria, and you’ve probably seen most of them. 7 years long. 400,000 lives lost. 6 million displaced. 5 million refugees.

Here’s an important one you may not have seen: 0.9%.

As the world continues to struggle to respond to the Syria crisis, donors and international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) are increasingly relying on Syrian NGOs and civil society originations (CSOs) to deliver aid. The conflict has become one of the most hostile in recent memory, making it impossible for most international aid workers to operate on the ground. Syrian organizations, however, are not only able to move around, they possess unique knowledge, skills, and relationships that have allowed the humanitarian response inside Syria to continue. As a result, it is estimated they are now delivering 75% of the aid.[1]

But, incredibly, they receive at most 0.9% of direct funding, and that figure could be as low as 0.2%.[2] This is largely due to their inability to meet the administrative and bureaucratic requirements of donors, even when they are uniquely positioned to cross the border and operate inside Syria.

As a result, donors are spending 99% of their aid budgets on organizations that are unable to deliver the aid, but do have the institutional capacity to manage paperwork. Even INGOs who wish to cultivate more partnerships with local organizations are often constrained by donor agreements that do not allow for proper funding of local entities. Inevitably, this produces layers of contracting and sub-contracting that ultimately reduce the amount of funding that is actually addressing the crisis.

This reflects a systemic problem in the aid industry that must be acknowledged and which needs to be solved. Not only because we may be limiting our reach to those most in need and wasting money in the process, but because risk intolerance is diminishing the Industry’s ability to achieve its intended objectives.

This is not limited to the Syria response. However, Syria is a striking example of the failure of aid because this crisis is taking place in middle-income countries with high-skilled workers and established infrastructure. Before the war started in Syria it was an advanced economy. That talent still exists, and is now leading many Syrian CSOs, NGOs, and businesses.

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There is no doubt that the Syrian crisis is extraordinarily complex – as is localizing aid. But Building Markets has found that challenges preventing further progress on the latter also stem from some basic barriers.

Like local small and medium-sized enterprises, a key obstacle preventing more donors and stakeholders from working with Syrian-led organizations is limited information on their capabilities – how they operate, what they need, and how best to support them.

With funding from Global Affairs Canada, Building Markets, together with our local partner Watan, conducted an in-depth organizational capacity assessment of 402 Syrian-led CSOs based in Turkey and Syria to help fill this knowledge gap, and to inform a training and mentorship program that is working to increase their competitiveness for humanitarian and development contracts.

As part of our commitment to transparency and information sharing, our team is pleased to share the findings from our assessment with you in our report – Enabling a Localized Aid Response in Syria: An Assessment of Syrian-led Organizations.

Alongside our program and this new report, we have also launched a platform to bring Syrian organizations greater visibility and access to funding opportunities https://syriancivilsociety.org.

Syrian Civil Society Platform

While localizing aid is fraught with challenges, it’s time to move away from conventional approaches, which favor international organizations, and often leave our most critical partners – local organizations – behind. International and local organizations bring unique expertise to the table and there is plenty of room for both – but funding and relationships should be more balanced.


Also in this series is our research on approaches to remote monitoring and evaluation (M&E). Improving M&E methods can help mitigate risk associated with localizing aid, allow for better, more efficient program assessments, and increase impact and outcomes. You can download the full report here.

Please feel free to contact us at [email protected] with any comments or questions.


[1] Els, Christian; Mansour, Kholoud; Carstensen, Nils. “Funding to national and local humanitarian actors in Syria: Between sub-contracting and partnerships” L2GP, May 2016. See: http://www.local2global.info/wp-content/uploads/L2GP_funding_Syria_May_2016.pdf

[2] See: https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/hrp_weekly_funding_status_180314.pdf

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