Critical observations on ALNAP NNGO report on Lebanon

Recently, ALNAP[1] has published a report titled: “We know our wounds: National and local organizations involved in humanitarian response in Lebanon”. As part of ALNAP’s national NGO research, the report aims to better understand the work of national non-governmental organizations (NNGOs) involved in disaster and emergency response in Lebanon through exploring their perceptions, their conceptual frameworks, and what priorities and commitments motivate and guide their decisions and activities.

ALNAP research is conducted in Colombia and Lebanon and claims to produce an in-depth qualitative study of the national and local NGO landscape. Clearly, the narrative captured in the report reflects the perspective of national and local NGOs working in the humanitarian and the broader development field. It resonates well with the development practitioners calling the donors and international agencies to consider (1) listening to local realities through the “ears of NNGOs”; (2) more context-sensitive and responsive interventions; (3) building partnerships with local NNGOs characterized by a two-way complementary relationship that ensure that programs are contextually effective, efficient and impactful, rather than the “one size fits all” top-down approaches; (4) collective integrative programming and action that engage local NNGOs in the design not only implementation of the interventions; and (5) integrating humanitarian support within a wider longer-term developmental approach since the NNGOs are local actors rooted within their communities to drive and gear future development once the reasons for humanitarian interventions cease to exist. The report, however, was a bit shallow in covering some critical elements raised by the NNGOs.

With an evaluative eye, I would like to share my preliminary observations/ review of the report and highlight some crucial elements and issues that should have been better addressed in the report/ research with the aim of improving the report and contributing to enhancing the quality of the humanitarian-related research in general.

  • Methodology, The report does not dig deeper or seek other resources to confirm and validate some of the critical findings and concepts (such as “fragmentation” and “state”) and historical perspectives (such as the historical and political views describing the so-called “fragmentation”). It is quite noticeable that the term “state” is used to mean “government”, for the latter constitutes the different entities that provide services to the population. In addition, selecting 11 NNGOs for the research from a pool of thousands NNGOs (hundreds of which are active in the humanitarian sector) is not only challenging. It becomes risky when the researcher’ selection criteria seem generic and the NNGO interviewees’ understanding – reflected in their narrative – of the sector is light.
  • The analysis framework is loose, which impacts the scope of the report and its credibility and hence usefulness. When addressing the socio-political dimension, the report sidesteps highlighting the state’s legislative framework. Ironically, this same “fragmented state” allows – given its legislations – for the emergence of one of the most a vivid and dynamic national civil society and organizations in the region.
  • Themes, it is unfortunate that the report did not cover crucial elements that relate to the strength and success of the national NGO community in general and inn the humanitarian sector in particular. The report does not account for (a) the wealth of experiences and learnings accumulated within the sector over decades of political and social instability; and (b) critical dimensions within the humanitarian sector – that are heavily highlighted in the relevant literature – namely monitoring and evaluation as well as the sustainability. It would be critical for a humanitarian-related research to capture them among others and reflect on the maturity of the sector and its key players nationally and internationally.
  • Emerging trends, though it was referred to briefly, the role of social media in the humanitarian sector deserves to be boldly addressed for it is driving the humanitarian efforts (and development efforts) in various part of the world.
  • Translation of the interviewees’ quotes seems not to be plausible.

The observations above raise serious questions on the awareness of those involved in the research of the dynamism and of the sector (humanitarian in specific), the quality of the research and its usefulness. It remains unclear how this report contributes to understand what humanitarian action in Lebanon looks like from a national NGO perspective. In short, the two research questions[2] are yet to be addressed!


[1] ALNAP is a unique system-wide network dedicated to improving humanitarian performance through increased learning and accountability (

[2] What are the NNGOs priorities and commitments? What motivates and guides their decisions and activities?

Mapping civil society in Lebanon: some critical observations

11050738_853256824730560_6776181994540508042_nI received like many other practitioners and interested in civil society the report “Mapping civil society in Lebanon” recently published by the Civil Society Facility South, funded by the European Union and conducted by Beyond Reform and Development. The report is definitely another serious attempt to understand the current landscape of civil society in Lebanon. It is an eye opener, yet it prompts questions rather than provides answers. (It is worth thanking BRD for putting the report to the public. This definitely reflect a high level of professionalism and transparency, but more importantly an indirect call for comment and feedback to better serve the policy-making process in Lebanon)

Driven by my interest in research and passion about CSO role in policy development/ dialogue, I am posting a contribution that aims at the better understanding the sector and its challenges. The post intends to be critical about the findings with the intention of enriching the discussion and shedding light on dimensions worth exploring in order to promote and find leverage for civil society to influence policy-making.

  • Approach: The report seems to be too descriptive to the extent that it falls short of providing a critical analysis of the current situation of Lebanese civil society. There is a tendency in the report to present the findings without qualifying them and analyzing their relevance. In addition, the report tends to furnish a wish-list of “valid” recommendations that address serious gaps and resonate well with the CSO community and the practitioners. Yet they seem to be disconnected from the findings! The eminent question is: what are the bases of the suggested recommendations?
  • Scope: There are some conflicting messages. On one hand, the report describes its methodology as inclusive with a sample of 10% of the total registered CSOs; while acknowledging that the 10% represent the active ones (page 23). On the other hand, it concludes (page 47) that the “Civil society actors in this report are those organizations and groups contributing to civic participation and inclusive governance, as such faith-based and partisan non-governmental organizations are excluded from the study”. The report can’t claim to map the Lebanese civil society. Its findings however help to draw trends.
  • On the history of CSO in Lebanon: it would be advisable that the report adds the volunteering dimension to the evolution it describes. Findings suggest that the level of volunteering and its spirit tends to dwindle as we move into the post 2005 era. Most recently, the activism and policy influence dimension (post 2005) is paralleled with another “contracting-like” dimension! This is worth further exploration! It is observed that it is mostly triggered by the Syrian crisis and the influx of Syrians into the Lebanese territory on one hand, and induced by the shift in the international organizations attention and consequently their fund allocation. Many CSOs with no mandate or experience in relief work seized the opportunity were tempted to apply for funds, and got contracted to deliver services. This is a typical shift toward a “contractor” mindset.
  • CSOs governance and internal challenges: the report suggests many internal organizational and governance challenges, yet did not address the emerging “undemocratic” and “authoritarian” tendencies. It is observed that many CSO management board remains on board for long. It is worth addressing and analyzing such undemocratic practices that might have multiple causes mostly associated with a cultural paternalistic attitude, loose government monitoring and oversight, limited constituencies, lack of internal processes, and increasing opportunity to use a CSO as a money generating tool (with the emerging of the “contracting” mindset). Besides, among the intrinsic internal challenges are: the lack of trust, political and sectarian affiliation, inability to capture and manage knowledge, lack of professionalism, lack of transparency …
  • The external challenges: it is evident how the security situation is perceived as the most eminent external challenge affecting the work of CSOs. Yet, considering the political context a challenge needs to be further analyzed.
  • Legal framework: There is general consensus among scholars and practitioners that the Lebanese law of association is one of the most progressive laws in the region, though it is a 100 year old. The report acknowledges that, and calls for reforming the law. This needs further elaboration, as it might be a window of introducing stringent requirements by the government. It would more appropriate to call for redesigning the processes to ensure transparency among others… besides, the report refers to “unfavorable legal framework” as a challenge facing CSOs without qualifying this framework and what is unfavorable about it!.
  • Advocating for policy change: It is reported that CSOs failed to lobby and advocate for policy change because it can’t generate a general public opinion/ pressure. It is worth exploring other factors such as (1) the ambiguous policy processes, (2) the lack of coordination with media, (3) lack of trust in CSOs for political or sectarian affiliation.
  • Monitoring and Evaluation: There is a global trend to promote M&E and performance management, yet there was no reference to improve/ enhance the monitoring and evaluation functions of the CSOs, both internally at the level of the organization and its programs, and externally at the level of government’s plans and programs. This is a dimension that is worth exploring in terms of capabilities as well as a tool to influence policy. Besides, the report does not make any reference to the audit function within the organizations.
  • The recommendations: the report lays down a wish-list of recommendations that are needed to further empower CSOs in Lebanon. They seem to be valid, yet the link between these recommendations and the findings is not clear.
  • The general recommendations: they might need further attention and reconsideration:
    1. CSO involvement in policy development is primarily pending developing a CSO-policy makers partnership policy that describes the relationships, lays down the process and sets the requirements for such engagement
    2. What is the link between “result-based strategy” and the list of goals suggested? There seems to be a mismatch and lack of alignment. It is worth revisited.

I hope the above review triggers a constructive discussion to develop and promote a partnership policy that recognizes the engagement of the civil society in decision making at all levels in Lebanon.