Issue 51 - Article 5

Working with local organisations in Jordan

September 26, 2011
Kate Washington, CARE Jordan
Mapping community resources

The influx of thousands of Iraqis into Jordan after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and again after the escalation of sectarian tensions in 2006, has significantly increased demand on basic public services. The international community’s response to this refugee crisis has focused on providing humanitarian assistance, including cash transfers, non-food items, medical care, psychological counselling and support, targeted psychosocial activities and vocational skills training. Under a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Jordanian government, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) provides cash assistance to the most vulnerable Iraqi families and protection services, in addition to supporting medical and social services through local and international NGO partners.

This article explores the relationship between CARE International Jordan and local Jordanian charitable organisations in the provision of humanitarian assistance to Iraqi refugees in urban areas of Jordan. The specific focus is on the challenges that arose in providing emergency humanitarian assistance for Iraqis between 2008 and 2011, the strategies developed to address them and the implications for INGOs seeking to provide similar support in the region.

Targeting assistance to urban refugees

Providing assistance to an urban refugee population rather than a camp-based one poses particular challenges, and requires different targeting strategies, including extensive information campaigns and outreach work; the provision of services in multiple locations; the provision of services to both host and refugee populations; and the development of partnerships with local Jordanian community organisations. In development and humanitarian discourse ‘community-based organisations’ are understood to have an advantage in targeting the most vulnerable in a community. These organisations are assumed to have strong community outreach and awareness of local needs and coping strategies, an established relationship of trust with the community and a ‘known’ name and geographical proximity to vulnerable communities.

CARE began providing targeted humanitarian assistance to Iraqi refugees in 2007, primarily through partnerships with local Jordanian charities. CARE conducted a comprehensive mapping of over 30 Jordanian charities, from which 14 local partners were selected. A comprehensive assistance package was developed, including seconded social workers who conducted needs assessments and provided information on services and how and where to access them, material assistance (including mattresses, heaters, hygiene kits and clothing coupons), vocational skills training and psychosocial and recreational activities. Small grants were also awarded for pilot projects and community initiatives.

Working through local partners

CARE field staff worked with local partners to train and assist them in conducting community needs assessments, developing project concepts and proposals, strengthening internal financial and administrative systems and distributing material assistance. Through working with local partners CARE increased the number of Iraqis able to access services, increased the proportion of women accessing services, considerably reduced the amount of money Iraqis had to spend on transport and created new links between Jordanians and Iraqis living in the same communities.

he-51-box-1Some of the difficulties encountered included an initial lack of outreach to Iraqis; local partners used the partnership and the funding it provided as an opportunity to improve their own facilities and extend services to their own communities, with Iraqis a secondary priority. There was also a lack of agreement between CARE and partner CBOs over the number of Iraqis to be assisted, In some cases CBO partners had agreed that 50–70% of project beneficiaries would be Iraqis. However, when they could not immediately find Iraqis who wanted to participate in training, for example, they expected to be able to include members of their own community or even CBO staff as beneficiaries.  the nature of needs within communities and how best to address them and the support expected from CARE. Many Jordanian charities are not community-based organisations as we would understand the term, but rather community-located organisations with a top-down/welfarist approach to assistance that does not allow for the participation and representation of the community. Many smaller organisations have very limited capacity. Their staff come from the communities they serve, and have many of the same vulnerabilities as local beneficiaries.

Interviews with both CARE and partner staff highlight instances of misunderstanding and frustration. These seem to have arisen mainly from differing expectations of partnership, varying understandings of project concepts and in some cases different views of the purpose of the work. Examples include partners who expected to be given funding and to decide, unilaterally, how to spend it; or the opposite, where partners expected CARE to arrange and organise an activity and simply use the partners’ location as a service site. Another challenge CARE faced was that many of the terms commonly used by humanitarian actors are not understood by local partners in the same way (see Table 1).

he-51-tab-1All of the partners engage in charitable work, such as the provision of cash, food and material assistance to needy families and orphans, providing free medical days, after-school classes for children and running awareness-raising sessions on family health, women’s rights and other topics. These charities have a patriarchal/paternalistic role in their local communities; the communities’ function in most of these relationships is as a passive beneficiary, and they are not engaged in identifying needs or solutions. The constituent bases of these groups have developed over time and are usually composed of people from the same ethnic, national (usually Palestinian or Jordanian), tribal or family groups. As such, newly arrived Iraqi refugees were not automatically included in outreach or activities and many local partners found it difficult, at least initially, to identify and access Iraqis within their communities.

In other cases local partners did successfully develop with CARE services that targeted Iraqis, but were then perceived as favouring Iraqis over Jordanians and Palestinians. The majority of INGOs directing humanitarian assistance to Iraqis are filling gaps where government services do not extend to Iraqis, but are assumed to cover the needs of Jordanians. Local community members were frustrated when they saw Iraqi neighbours being recommended for assistance when no such facility existed for them.

There are four main reasons why targeting Iraqis proved so problematic. First, local communities are accustomed to being the prime beneficiaries of assistance from their local charity. Second, structured needs assessments and vulnerability criteria are not usually applied. The charitable giving of alms (zakaat) to the poor is an obligation under Islam and most local charities do this annually. Recipients are identified through personal contacts with the charity or after home visits made by members of the organisations’ board. Third, there is often no clear difference between the level of hardship faced by local people and by Iraqis. Fourth, the majority of international funding has been delivered in local communities where Iraqis make up less than 5% of the population.


To address these issues, CARE has designated specific staff members to ensure coordination and understanding between CARE and local partner staff. There is ongoing dialogue through a committee of partners working with Iraqis, and a committee has been established that meets monthly and shares experiences, best practices and challenges and identifies the supported needed from CARE. A CARE staff member attends the committee. CARE has also provided institutional capacity-building and mentoring support that focuses on developing the skills and knowledge of local partner staff in financial and administrative systems, developing assessment systems and vulnerability criteria, proposal development and funding and internal governance structures. Iraqi community mobilisers and outreach workers have been trained, and efforts have been made to ensure the more equitable provision of assistance to reflect the needs of the local community through more flexible funding agreements. Partnership agreements have been reviewed and revised in conjunction with local partners to reflect their concerns, and CARE regularly reviews its relationships and work with local partners.

CARE’s experience of working with local charities to provide community-based humanitarian assistance to Iraqi refugees holds a number of important lessons for INGOs seeking to work in Jordan or the Middle East more widely. Discussions with colleagues suggest that the structure of local organisations and their relationship to their local community is very similar in Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and Egypt.  In particular before entering into partnerships it is important that both parties are very clear about their expectations and discuss where and if there can be flexibility in funding agreements. Similarly, CARE’s work has highlighted the danger of making assumptions, especially around shared understandings of goals and priorities. In some cases this is exacerbated by translation issues and misunderstandings of core concepts and terms.

It is also important to understand – before formalising partnerships – the potential local partner’s motivation for engagement, as well as its goals and capacities and the extent of its community outreach. While mapping and capacity assessments may help with this it is essential that potential partners are included in identifying, developing and planning projects. Regular, open dialogue is vital to maintaining any partnership, especially one between an international NGO and a local entity. Dialogue should take place outside of formal monitoring and evaluation processes, since local partners often feel they are being tested and assessed, and may believe that opportunities for further funding may depend on giving what they think are the ‘right’ answers.

Finally, institutional change and capacity-building require long-term engagement and investment, which may be difficult to achieve in a humanitarian context. Nonetheless, INGOs are far more likely to enter into successful partnerships with local organisations if they have pre-established and ongoing relationships with them, or if the local partner is assured that the relationship will extend beyond short-term emergency funding.

Kate Washington is Capacity-building and Training Advisor, Refugee Programme, CARE Jordan.


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