Sunday, January 19, 2020

Sida’s humanitarian NGO aid is untied. Other Nordics favour national channels

The norm among Nordic donors is to reserve the lion’s share of humanitarian NGO funding for their own NGOs. Sweden takes a different approach. 

Among the nordic donors, Norway spends the most on humanitarian assitance channelled through non-governmental organisations (NGOs). It also reserves the largest proportion of these funds - 96 per cent - for Norwegian organisations, a review of 2015 statistics by Development Today shows. Sweden, on the other hand, which spent a bit less overall on humanitarian NGOs last year, allocates about half to Swedish-based organisations with the rest going to actors based in several other countries.

“In today’s humanitarian landscape we can’t limit ourselves to Swedish NGOs,” the Director of Humanitarian Assistance at Sida Susanne Mikhail explains. “Rather, we want to ensure diversity among the partners we work with. Diversity in itself ensures efficiency.”

The norm in the Nordic region is that donors tie most of their humanitarian aid to their own NGOs. The Swedes are the odd ones out. Oxfam, Action Contre la Faim, International Rescue Committee and Norwegian Refugee Council are among the largest recipients of Sida humanitarian funding. (See DT 7-8/16)


DT’s review, based on statistics provided by the four Nordic aid administrations, purposely excludes the Red Cross movement and the UN system. Instead, it only compares funds channelled directly to humanitarian NGOs; actors other than the Red Cross and the UN.  (See Table Below)

It shows that most of the billion crowns disbursed by the Norwegian Foreign Affairs to NGOs last year were reserved for Norwegian organisations; the main channels being Norwegian Refugee Council (NOK 544m), Save the Children (NOK 72m), Norwegian People’s Aid (NOK 72m) and Norwegian Church Aid (NOK 68m).

In Denmark, out of a total of DKK 632 million, DKK 175 million were channelled to EU projects, which are necessarily untied. Almost all of the rest was spent through Danish NGOs: mainly, Danish Refugee Council (DKK 181m), Danish Church Aid (DKK 79m) and Save the Children Denmark (DKK 72m).

Finland is a much smaller donor, but the pattern is similar to Denmark’s. The main channels are Finnish Church Aid (EUR 5.4m), Save the Children Finland (EUR 1.5m), FIDA (EUR 1m) and World Vision (EUR 1m). Starting in 2016, Plan Finland is added to the portfolio. Finland also gave EUR 2.7 million to the UK-based Halo Trust.

DT asked the Nordic donors why they tie humanitarian aid to their own NGOs. Their main argument - like Sida’s - is efficiency. “Norway channels the lion’s share of its humanitarian funds for civil society through Norwegian organisations [because] the character of humanitarian aid requires quick responses and flexibility,” a spokesperson at the Norwegian Foreign Ministry explains. “Close cooperation, but also a clear division of roles, between the Norwegian authorities and Norwegian NGOs has been an important part of Norway’s humanitarian policy for many years.” In addition, the ministry mentions limiting the number of partners in the interest of efficiency, and the fact that Norwegian humanitarian organisations are among the best in the world.

Like Norway, the Danish Foreign Ministry points to the efficiency argument: “The rationale for reserving funds for Danish actors is ... to be able to maintain and develop a close strategic dialogue with the partners,” a spokesperson says. Other reasons given for directing money to Danish organisations include ensuring Danish public support and monitoring closely the use of Danish funds.


DTasked Susanne Mikhail at Sida whether channelling funds to non-Swedish actors puts Swedish public support for humanitarian spending at risk. “No, absolutely not,” she says. Sweden has a decades-long history of supporting humanitarian causes, Mikhail says.

“Swedes have a strong history of respecting the neutrality perspective. For Swedes neutrality trumps all other parametres. Swedes would lean toward an efficient humanitarian response regardless of the nationality of the NGO.”

Regarding the need for trust and close cooperation as arguments for using national NGOs, Mikhail agrees that a quick response and trust through accountability are critical. She says Sida’s Rapid Response Mechanism allows funds to be released within 24 hours. She also points to the extensive vetting process of NGOs carried out by an external consultant, SIPU, before the partner organisations were selected. (See DT 17-18/13) She says Sida has found “creative ways” of establishing dialogue and keeping in close contact with the partners.

Mikhail underlines that the mindset for supporting humanitarian NGOs is the same as in the allocation of all humanitarian aid. “Sweden adheres to the humanitarian principles, especially impartiality, when giving its assistance ... For NGOs, essentially, it is a matter of quality and speed ... We want to see who is on the ground, who is on the frontline, who is most efficient and can reach out to the most vulnerable in different situations.”

The Danish government, which is developing a new humanitarian strategy, is considering a more flexible approach to humanitarian NGO funding for the future. According to Cyprien Fabre at the OECD, Denmark is thinking about opening up humanitarian NGO funding for non-Danish organisations. Fabre worked on the humanitarian part of the recent Danish peer review. One of the review’s observations was that the criteria for selection of NGO and multilateral partners should be more transparent.

“[The Danes] are testing the idea of opening up partnerships to give them the possibility of funding non-Danish organisations if they are seen to be the best - in certain situations where Danish

NGOs are not best placed to respond.”

Fabre says there is currently no reporting to the OECD of funding channelled through donors’ own country-based NGOs versus non-country-based NGOs. “In general though, the bigger the donor, the less tied the aid tends to be,” he says. 

Tied aid. Nordic countries’ humanitarian aid channelled through NGOs in 2015:*


Funding via NGOs

% to national NGOs



NOK 917 million


Norway has the largest humanitarian NGO budget and the highest rate of tying funds to national NGOs. Less than 4 per cent of the total of almost a billion crowns is spent on non-Norwegian actors.


SEK 882 million


With the departure of MSF, the percentage of Swedish-based organisations receiving Sida humanitarian NGO support will likely drop to below 50% in 2016.



DKK 632 million


Of the total, DKK 175m are channelled to two EU projects - Regional Development and Protection Programme for Syria and an EU trust fund for Syria - which are untied. Of the remaining amount, Danish NGOs receive at least DKK 444m out of DKK 457m.



EUR 11.6 million


In 2015, Finland provided humanitarian aid through five NGOs, four of which are Finnish: Fida, Finnish Church Aid, Save the Children and World Vision. The fifth is the UK-based HALO Trust, which received EUR 2.7 million last year. As of 2016, Plan Finland becomes a new humanitarian partner NGO.

* Figures do not include funds channelled through the Red Cross movement or the UN system.

Source: Nordic aid administrations