H2H in action: Technical Support Team of the Global Nutrition Cluster Technical Alliance profile

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Photo: © UNICEF/Nahom Tesfaye

At the end of 2020, the Technical Support Team (TST) of the Global Nutrition Cluster (GNC) Technical Alliance was established. The TST consolidates various resources available to support nutrition responses, including the former Technical Rapid Response Team (Tech RRT). As a humanitarian-to-humanitarian (H2H) service, the TST is mandated to provide rapid technical support to practitioners to improve the quality of nutrition in humanitarian emergency preparedness, response, and recovery. Ben Allen, TST Deputy Coordinator, told us about Tech RRT’s history and evolution to the TST, the advantages of being an H2H Network member and their efforts to support the localization agenda.

The former Tech RRT was established in August 2015 by a group of NGOs mandated to provide support to nutrition responses: Action Against Hunger, Save the Children and International Medical Corps. Their aim was to support the UNICEF-led Global Nutrition Cluster (GNC) in fulfilling part of its mandate of safeguarding and improving the nutritional status of emergency affected populations. As these partner NGOs were also part of the GNC, they got together to provide a rapid technical support service covering four key areas:

  • Community-Based Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM),
  • Infant and Young Child Feeding in Emergencies (IYCF-E),
  • Nutrition Assessments,
  • Social Behaviour Change (SBC) for nutrition outcomes.

With the financial support of initially the USAID Bureau for Humanitarian Affairs and later Irish Aid, the Swedish International Development Agency, UNICEF and Save the Children, the Tech RRT has responded to over 70 different technical requests in over 26 different humanitarian contexts since 2015.

The Tech RRT has now evolved to form part of the TST of the Global Nutrition Cluster (GNC) Technical Alliance (the Alliance), allowing the team to work in a more joined-up way with other available resources and better streamline the technical support available for nutrition actors.

The Alliance aims to provide a ‘one-stop-shop’ for nutrition practitioners in need of technical support related to emergencies. Any nutrition practitioner can lodge a request via the Alliance website and the TST will then work with the requester to develop the package of support that best fits the need. This could be a simple response via email or for in-depth support (average 6-8 weeks either full time or over a longer period), both in-country and remote (or a mixture), or simply the provision of consultant recommendations.

This expanded team means expertise in CMAM, IYCF-E, assessment and SBC are available alongside a wide variety of other nutrition in emergency technical areas including maternal nutrition, cash assistance, nutrition in emergency preparedness, nutrition cluster coordination, nutrition cluster information management and intersectoral collaboration.

They bring together resources and help nutrition practitioners connect with the right technical support teams. This reduces duplication and avoids confusion around where to go for support.

As an organization providing services to humanitarian responders, the TST joined the H2H Network in mid-2017 initially to diversify funding and contribute to wider humanitarian system change.

“Funding was one reason, but we also saw the potential in us being able to learn and collaborate with other H2H actors. For example, as with a lot of organizations, we are looking into how we can better provide more localized support. Whilst we have always been available for local responders to request technical support, we have only had about 10 different conversations with local organizations and for various reasons they haven't materialized except for one example. These organizations, most of the time, come to us with requests for support with nutrition in emergencies, but also requirements that go beyond what we can do – issues that are more related to organizational capacity development, in particular in HR, finance, M&E, confidentiality issues. So, a part of what we're trying to do under the umbrella of localization is to link up with organizations that can support these local actors – and H2H Network is a great space for this.

Thanks to a workshop organized for the H2H Network members, we learnt about the work of the Humanitarian Academy for Development (HAD) who provide an organizational capacity building programme as well as coaching and mentoring for local NGOs. We are looking into possible ways we can partner with HAD, and other similar organisations, to better respond to the needs of local NGOs working in nutrition.”

These types of collaborations allow H2H members to provide complementary support to local responders and strengthening organizational capacities will allow smaller organizations to be more effective.

Raising awareness of the availability of support, especially to local organisations that may be less connected to humanitarian mechanisms, is a challenge for many actors. This is no different for the TST and the reasons for this vary from one organization to another.

The breadth, the type, the quality of local organizations varies hugely. We have had conversations with local organizations, and we have some ideas why the technical support didn’t materialize. But we want to look into it in more depth. I think there's a perception sometimes that our services are available only for international organizations because of all the INGO and UN people involved. We are trying to address this by working closely with national Nutrition Clusters and the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement, a more development focused nutrition network."

Better accommodating these kinds of requests is one important part of localization for the Alliance. Another part is to make the provision of support as local as possible.

“When we talk about technical support, there's often an assumption that it would be someone flying in to support for a few weeks as we do often from Europe or North America. This is not entirely our case; today we provide support by prioritising using our network of organizations and consultants rather than the first choice to respond to a request being the standby advisors as it has been in the past.”

As for many western-based humanitarian organizations, Covid-19 has accelerated localization efforts.

“I hope that it forced us to think more practically about how to support in a real way locally led responses. Because I think since 2016, the World Humanitarian Summit, people have been talking about localization with the Grand Bargain, and other initiatives, but there has been varied action. I think there's now more of a movement and certainly within the nutrition sector.”

The prioritization of local resources and support for local organizations are important parts of the GNC Technical Alliance’s strategy.

As for the future of the TST, Allen said:

“I would like to see us more as a platform linking up technical support need with available resources, which we're doing partly, but today, we are the resource as well. I'd like that local organizations, but any organizations, have access to high-quality, predictable and timely technical support for nutrition in emergencies whenever needed.”