New aid charity says modern 'business models' will save lives

by Megan Rowling | @meganrowling | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 2 May 2019 18:16 GMT

"We don't have to wait for someone to be starving on the front page of the newspaper," says Start Network head

By Megan Rowling

BARCELONA, May 2 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A turbulent world requires emergency aid to be agile, faster and more efficient, instead of waiting until a crisis hits the headlines, said the chief of a charity launched this week.

With financial backing from the World Bank, IKEA Foundation and donor governments, the Start Network aims to transform a humanitarian system that critics say has failed to support ballooning numbers in need due to conflict and disaster.

"We have business models now that allow us to respond when risks are shifting," chief executive Sean Lowrie told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "We don't have to wait for someone to be starving on the front page of the newspaper."

Global annual humanitarian funding - about $27 billion in 2017, the same as the world spends on chewing gum - only covers about 40 percent of needs and arrives too late, meaning "people suffer and die unnecessarily", he added.

The Start Network - which evolved from a UK-based coalition formed in 2010 - plans to set up a global financing facility, allowing aid groups to predict crises and act early as risks increase, minimising the damage.

As an independent organisation - with more than 40 aid agency members worldwide - it hopes to expand its work, getting more money into disasters and conflict zones quickly with innovative types of funding and delivery.

It has already tested drought insurance in Senegal, worked with Syrian refugees in Jordan to provide affordable medicines, and released money in anticipation of election violence in Kenya and a heatwave in Pakistan, among other things.

Lowrie said the Start Network aims to put into practice reforms that major donors signed up to at the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit but have been slow to invest in.

The United Nations-hosted conference promised to reduce the risk of disasters and pay more attention to local groups and communities on the ground in a bid to bolster a humanitarian system stretched by a 12-fold rise in funding needs since 2000.

The Start Network plans to distribute about 15 million pounds ($19.6 million) in 2019 through fast-flowing grants for under-funded emergencies. It will also offer loans to aid agencies to cover cash shortages until donor pledges are paid.

Combined with better use of technology, it wants to help wealthy governments experiment with new aid approaches by reducing uncertainties, such as using a "due diligence" database to fund local groups they are not familiar with, Lowrie said.

"The aid system is very risk adverse," he said, adding this had made it difficult to secure investment for the 2016 reforms.

The Start Network hopes its more modern approach "will create enough funding, spend the money in appropriate ways and save way more lives because the interventions will happen much earlier", he said.

($1 = 0.7666 pounds)

(Reporting by Megan Rowling @meganrowling; editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking and property rights. Visit

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