NGOs and Humanitarian Leadership

NGOs are widely recognized as key actors in an effective, efficient and accountable emergency response because they are frontline implementers for the majority of humanitarian operations. As such, the appropriate engagement of NGOs within humanitarian leadership is a critical component for success. Despite numerous evaluations of the cluster approach noting the value of NGO engagement, there is lack of qualitative data on the NGO role within humanitarian leadership structures. InterAction is conducting research in an attempt to fill that gap, and recently published a report, Collective Responsibility: The Perceptions, Expectations and Realities of NGO Coordination in Humanitarian Leadership.

In the latest research, InterAction examined the perceived and expected value of NGO engagement on and contributions to Humanitarian Country Teams (HCTs). Additionally, the research explored how NGOs leverage and lend their experience to the HCTs to improve the efficiency of humanitarian action. The report also includes findings on challenges faced by all HCT members – for example, the extent to which a staff member of an independent operational organization can represent his/her peers. The recommendations aim to strengthen a common understanding of the role that NGOs can fulfill on HCTs, as well as to reiterate expectations of the HCTs themselves.

Summary of Key Findings

  • NGOs participate actively within the humanitarian architecture without always being fully aware or understanding of it.
  • A Humanitarian Coordinator’s (HC) management capacities and ability to enable collective strategic decision-making are just as important as “leadership” skills.
  • Professionalism opens doors for the NGO humanitarian voice on the HCTs.
  • Diversity in HCT membership is valued but should not supersede effectiveness.


For more information, contact Caroline Nichols, InterAction's senior manager for humanitarian policy.