H2H in action: HQAI profile

HQAI header image.jpg


Indonesia: in discussion with the HQAI auditors, women express their views on the quality of the services they receive.

H2H Network member HQAI (the Humanitarian Quality Assurance Initiative) was founded in 2015, right after the launch of the Core Humanitarian Standard on Quality and Accountability (CHS) -- a standard that places communities and people affected by crisis at the centre of humanitarian action. As a professional, independent and not-for-profit auditing body with a humanitarian-to-humanitarian (H2H) approach, HQAI measures humanitarian and development actors’ policies, processes and practices against the CHS. HQAI’s Désirée Walter, Deputy Director and Head of Communication and Marketing, told us about the benefits of being an H2H Network member, HQAI’s role in harmonizing due diligence requirements across the humanitarian sector, challenges and opportunities around the Covid-19 pandemic, and their role in driving accountability and localization.

HQAI joined the H2H network in 2018 after they recognized the potential of the platform to build greater complementarity between the different H2H technical services with the aim of making the aid sector more efficient. “I'm deeply convinced that we are stronger together and there's so many extraordinary initiatives out there”, said Désirée. “Time is probably what we all lack most and the H2H network for me is there to incentivize moments of pause… I really see it as a double opportunity: spreading the word about who we are, what we do, and how this can benefit other members and the sector, and also learning about others to build rapport and create synergies.”

H2H Network members are different in many ways, but they typically share similar challenges as technical service providers supporting the wider humanitarian system. According to Désirée, “what really defines an H2H Network member is openness -- an openness to share.”

HQAI shares a common goal with all member organizations: make aid better. Working closely with H2H Network member CHS Alliance, HQAI uses an H2H approach to help international, national and local organizations improve their quality and accountability mechanisms. “Very practically we independently assess the performance of organisations against the CHS. More generally speaking, all our activities aim at improving the quality and the accountability of aid, and support organizations in increasing theirs.”

Although HQAI has a partnership approach, it is essential for them to maintain professional independence so that they can effectively contribute to the system. An audit is a thorough and documented process. The core of HQAI’s audit methodology is to directly speak to the affected communities: “Their views are for HQAI the ultimate information on whether the quality and accountability mechanisms of the organisations really work systematically. This direct exchange is really important for us.”

Further, HQAI’s role as an H2H actor is of great importance in global efforts towards harmonizing due diligence processes within the humanitarian and development sectors, which is essential to reduce duplication. “HQAI has really practical solutions to that.” Find out more here.

How it works

Either organizations apply for HQAI’s services because they are convinced that an independent third-party audit will help them improve their processes and improve accountability, or they want to apply for funds from a specific donor that requires an independent audit against the CHS (more here). There are different types of audit services, but in the context of their most robust process, the CHS certification, HQAI audits the organizations annually over four years which allows them to measure impact and see how they improved the quality of their work year after year. “This is a process, a long journey that we embark on together… And we can see that over time they've harnessed the learnings and have better accountability mechanisms. All this makes aid better on the ground.”

What Covid-19 changed

In times when travels are restricted and social encounters are limited, one of the greatest challenges of HQAI was to deal with the absence of physical site visits, including observation and interviews on the ground. “Covid certainly makes this much more difficult because we can't travel, but we have been able to quickly adapt our processes.” Systematic consultation with affected communities remains core to the HQAI approach, and Covid-19 restrictions have required new ways of working. “Today this interaction happens in a safe digital space” and HQAI takes into account and keeps learning from the limitations of virtual interaction

A localized approach

In line with the H2H Network agenda, HQAI is supporting the shift towards an increasingly localized action in various ways. They strengthen their focus on providing support to national responders. Beyond helping organizations improve their processes and mechanisms, an independent, third-party audit allows them to credibly demonstrate their performance, the quality of their work and establish trust with international donors. This is extremely important, especially for smaller national organizations, as it can result in better access to funding opportunities. The number of audited national organizations is continuously growing. “Currently 35% of our audited partners are national organizations, and we're really working on continuously increasing their share. We believe that we have added value for all types of organizations, but particularly added value for national ones.”

At the same time, it can be challenging for smaller organizations to cover their audit costs. HQAI is committed to ‘leave no one behind’ and therefore established a Subsidy Fund to support organizations in countries affected by crisis in covering their audit costs. “The fund can pay up to 90% of our services, so it's really important subsidies.”

Another aspect of how HQAI supports the localization agenda is around the overall topic of capacity building – an activity that was partially accelerated by Covid-19. HQAI is continuously building its auditor pool and today, they have trained and qualified auditors across the globe, including Argentina, Kenya, Nigeria or Qatar. “We want to ensure diversity among our auditors, have them in different countries with different skill sets, languages and cultural experience”.

HQAI offers an audit mechanism – the Group scheme – that helps build local auditing capacity within networks (=groups) of local organisations. And they have started to think about leveraging local capacities when it comes to the collection of audit evidence. “We identify local experts who will not take over the audit, but can feed into the audit without us traveling necessarily to so many countries.”

Measuring impact

“It is one of HQAI’s strategic objectives to develop the evidence of our impact. It is something we always have in mind and we do receive a lot of feedback from audited organizations on what they have learned, how they have improved, and even testimonies they get from affected people, confirming that things have improved.” Going further, in order to systematically measure impact and progress over time, HQAI is about to launch a system of continuous data collection. Désirée identifies HQAI’s primary challenge in relation with measuring impact – like many H2H actors – as “complexity”. “We want to measure correct and objective data, but we must not get lost in over-complexity. Finding this balance is tricky,” she says.

Contributing to change in the humanitarian system

“I believe that safeguarding, decolonization, localization are much more than just buzzwords. These concepts do matter and they matter fast. I firmly believe that the CHS Alliance, HQAI and the H2H Network have role to play in this drive… and I am confident that CHS certification will become the new normal as opposed to being currently still the exception. And then, it'll come with all the learning, improvement, better partnerships, harmonized reporting, better safeguarding, faster localization”, said Désirée.