Alumni Voices: A new era of humanitarian action

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Bhavya Srinivasan
Aid workers in masks hand out kits to migrants in masks
Aid workers distribute food and water to migrants leaving the city due to COVID-19 in Jaipur, Rajasthan.
Photo: Mukesh Kumar Jwala |

The Alumni Voices series is a platform for J-PAL alumni to share their work as it relates to major events, in their own words.

In this inaugural post, Bhavya Srinivasan (former Senior Finance and Operations Manager, J-PAL South Asia ’14) discusses her work at Start Network to build a stronger humanitarian system for COVID-19 response.

Start Network is a systems change organisation who currently works through a membership of over 50 humanitarian organisations, ranging from large international organisations to national NGOs. The vision of the network is for a new era of humanitarian aid which will ultimately save more lives; and our mission is to drive and catalyse the change that is urgently needed in three ways:

  • Shifting humanitarian financing from a reactive to a proactive model
  • Creating a more balanced system that shifts power and decision-making to those closest to the frontline
  • Facilitating collective innovation to solve humanitarian problems locally and globally

A key feature of this vision is to have a distributed network of networks. This infrastructure is fundamental in achieving our ambitions of a proactive, innovative and localised humanitarian system that can better meet the needs of people affected by crises across the world.

My work has focused on building this infrastructure of national and regional networks, who we refer to as hubs. To define it simply, a hub is a collective of humanitarian organisations that collaborates on programmes, policy and decision making. In order to answer some fundamental design questions for this network model, we launched an 18 month ‘Proof of Concept’ in November 2019 with a portfolio of five “founding hubs” - that represent a diversity of contexts, operating models and constituencies. The five hub locations include Pakistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guatemala, India and the Pacific Islands.

The COVID 19 pandemic has exemplified the need for building this new enabling culture and infrastructure to help make humanitarian response more local, more responsive, more effective. The five hubs launched a paper that reflects the undeniable need for reform in our response to COVID-19 and beyond, that should fundamentally re-shape humanitarian action of the future, and centres around seven calls-to-action for the Start Network and the wider humanitarian sector.

Read the paper - Crisis at a time for new dreams: A call to action by Start Network Hubs for a localised COVID-19 response.

Start Network has also responded to COVID 19 through its existing financing mechanisms—Start Fund (Global and Bangladesh) and the Migratory Emergency Response Funds (MERF). Building on our experience running pooled fund mechanisms, a COVID-19 Fund was launched to anticipate and respond to critical virus related humanitarian needs in low-income countries.

However, while the world is focused on COVID-19 other humanitarian crises and natural disasters have not stopped. We will continue to advocate for the systems change that is urgently needed to ensure the humanitarian system is able to meet the needs of people affected by crises and reduce needless suffering.  

Authored By

  • J-PAL logo

    Bhavya Srinivasan

    Network Development and Innovation Manager, Start Network