Refugee-led organisations: towards community-based accountability mechanisms
Foni Joyce Vuni, Buhendwa Iragi, Pauline Vidal
Refugee-led organisations (RLOs) have gained recognition as significant players in the local and global refugee response system. Refugees have long relied on each other for support, creating both formal associations and informal networks to meet their basic needs. However, it has taken the humanitarian sector some time to recognise the value of RLOs. The Covid-19 crisis demonstrated the importance of RLOs as they stepped up to provide crucial assistance to their fellow refugees at a time when humanitarian agencies were unable to operate at their usual capacity. RLOs and refugee-led networks are also increasingly participating in decision-making spaces and advocating for greater power and resources to be transferred to them. In this context, some RLOs have been successful in accessing donor humanitarian funding and have formed formal partnerships within the humanitarian ecosystem. For many RLOs, transitioning from smaller community-based networks to more formal structures is likely to present significant challenges. RLO leaders are already navigating dilemmas between kinship-based accountability to their beneficiaries and more rigid accountability requirements to their donors and partners. Accountability has been a key focus of the humanitarian sector since the 1990s, and has received renewed attention in the context of the localisation turn. However, there has been little discussion on how RLOs practise accountability and who RLOs are accountable to. As more humanitarian organisations and donors engage with RLOs, this article provides recommendations to humanitarian actors and donors on how to engage with RLOs while preserving RLOs’ autonomy and added value. Drawing from previous experiences in East Africa, this study urges the humanitarian sector to prioritise systems for community accountability rather than placing undue emphasis on donor accountability, in order to achieve better outcomes for affected communities.