The Grand Bargain in Practice: Mercy Corps’ holistic localisation benefits affected people in Syria

Published Date

To engage with local and national responders in a spirit of partnership and to reinforce rather than replace their capacities, Mercy Corps provided capacity building support to local Syrian NGOs. 

Mercy Corps SyriaNational and local responders are often the first to respond to crises, remaining in the communities they serve before, after and during emergencies. Grand Bargain Signatories are therefore committed to making principled humanitarian action as local as possible and as international as necessary, recognising that international humanitarian actors play a vital role particularly in situations of armed conflict. Mercy Corps demonstrated a strong commitment to the cause in 2019: 29% of all their subawards expenditure under humanitarian programming was by local organisations, totaling $8,398,073, and 52% of multi-year humanitarian programming prime awards included subawards to local organisations.

Their flagship localisation programme Investing in Syrian Humanitarian Action (ISHA) approaches localisation holistically by supporting local Syrian NGOs’ capacity to deliver humanitarian assistance in the immediate term, while building sustainable, local capacity and continuing civil society work in the long-term.

Real partnerships with local Syrian organisations

ISHA supported real partnerships that were locally driven, equitable, and respectful. Through ISHA, 22 Syrian civil society organisations directly implemented humanitarian assistance, reaching 378,188 affected people. But ISHA is not just about funding localisation; it is about strengthening local capacity and so it also includes components of capacity building, coaching and broad support across a range of programme functions. 

Through ISHA, 197 Syrian staff were trained and coached. Capacity strengthening takes place at multiple levels and is anchored to the various stages of project cycle management (project design phase, implementation, close-out, adaptation – and throughout each the partner is financially supported to engage). This means staff at field and headquarter levels, and across as many departments as possible, are trained in core topics aimed at strengthening programmatic, organisational, and operational capacities (for example monitoring and evaluation, procurement, human resources, finance, program, security, and others). One staff member of a partner organisation described their experience with this holistic approach to capacity strengthening: “All of the departments in our organisation have improved thanks to ISHA. There were departments that never existed, but now we have them… In the future, if we get another project, we will be capable and ready to work.” 

Better outcomes for affected people in Syria 

The evaluation of the project has shown that this approach to partnering with local organisations increased their ability to deliver principled and accountable humanitarian aid. As a result of these improvements in capacity, local organisations were better able to articulate and apply humanitarian principles. They also demonstrated increased organisational capacity to carry out assessments, manage stakeholder relationships, and adapt to a rapidly changing conflict environment. These improvements in partner capacities benefited aid recipients by helping to ensure that projects responded to local needs and were able to continue in the midst of unpredictable changes in the operating environment.

Investments in local capacity also shaped the development of Syrian humanitarian civil society and ensured a stable humanitarian presence by local NGOs. Local NGOs are more likely than international organisations to be able to continue operations during long-term crises, but even this commitment can be challenged by the stresses of navigating shifting conflict dynamics and closing civic space. The ISHA evaluation showed that the program helped to strengthen local civil society by increasing the motivation of staff and volunteers from partner organisations to continue humanitarian work in the future. Another staff member from an ISHA partner organisation described their motivation to continue, saying that “these are our people. It is our duty. We don’t want to lose the experiences we gained by working with ISHA.”

Globally, Mercy Corps has scaled out some of ISHA’s best practice, tailoring it to other contexts. Mercy Corps is also working to replicate the program within the Middle East region. Meanwhile, a second phase of ISHA began in early 2020 and will continue through 2021, again supporting local organisations in Syria.

Disclaimer: Information in this article was provided to the Grand Bargain Secretariat by Mercy corps.


  • Click here to read more about Mercy Corps’ Grand Bargain efforts in their 2020 self-report.  
  • For information on collective efforts of the Grand Bargain workstream 2 (More support and funding tools for local and national responders) activities and initiatives, click here
  • Click here to read more about ISHA. 
  • Read previous Grand Bargain in Practice stories
    Dutch Relief Alliance 
    Food and Agriculture Organization