“Local expertise and global packages of Aid: the transformative role of volunteerism and local expert knowledge of aid during Lebanon’s July war”

May 7, 2015

On the 7th of May, Lebanon Support organized a roundtable discussion on the relation between volunteerism, political/intersubjective transformations and the emergence of local expertise during war and humanitarian emergencies. The discussion was based on a paper on different volunteer-based experiences during the July war in 2006. The event was the second roundtable of a series of discussions addressing local experiences and responses to humanitarian emergencies like the July War. These discussions and research are featured on the Humanitarian Knowledge Base Project to disseminate papers and research published on our online platform the CSKC (Civil Society Knowledge Centre) and to stimulate debate within civil society spheres in Lebanon.

The invited discussants were Kamel Mohanna, President of Amel International Association and Khuloud Saba, PhD student in political science, a public health researcher at the Syrian Center for Research and Policy and a former volunteer at the International Committee of the Red Cross, The Syrian Arab Red Crescent and other groups in Syria and Iraq

The session discussed a paper commissioned by Lebanon Support and written  by Lamia Moghnieh. The session then explored what civil society can draw from different volunteer-based experiences during the July war in 2006, especially when it comes to engaged volunteering. This type of volunteering produces local expertise and resources that  can be utilised in future wars and crises.

The panelists’ presentations redefined what it means to be a volunteer today and how it relates to belonging, enthusiasm to act and a sense of responsibility. This is a relatively new shift in volunteerism as historically it has been associated with benevolence and charity. Volunteer movements emerged in political, social and economic contexts. These movements differ from the standardized global packages of aid that global humanitarian organizations tend to implement during emergencies. Institutionalization, which values expertise and overlooks enthusiasm has transformed grassroots initiatives into implementers of iNGos rather than initiators of social change. This shifts the community based approach to a more top down process to survey, assess and meet local needs.

Attendees raised other important topics of discussion including lessons learned from the assessment methods used by community oriented psychosocial support organisations during 2006. These methods have largely being ignored by international NGOs in their interventions with the Syrian crisis. The necessity to document, archive and disseminate these methods is crucial for local organisations to be able to lobby effectively and to promote an increase in the level of available psychosocial supports to those impacted by war and displacement.    

One issue raised highlighted how this new culture of volunteerism is developing local knowledge and expertise.  Additionally, during the July war, local NGOs didn't respond fast enough due to political obstacles considerations, and it was localcommunitiesthat played a crucial role in aid. This demonstrates that there is a commitment to humanitarian assistance from host communities and locals, who have to be considered as volunteers.

In addition, attendees agreed on the need to move away from a reactionary response to crisis. Instead, a plan should be developed by local players to build preparedness and emergency management in Lebanon. Emergency response is usually dominated by global actors who have limited knowledge of the localcontext. This can be an opportunity for Lebanon’s Civil Society and volunteers to assert themselves nationally in this space.

Participants agreed that civil society needs to draw from past humanitarian experiences to  inform future initiatives, taking into account  the culture of volunteerism. There was further discussion about   the relationship between iNGO’s and  volunteers, questioning the lack of transparency currently in the humanitarian field and the negative impact this has on the local volunteer initiatives.