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Inklings | What happened to Loop, the aid feedback startup? 

Notes and musings on how aid works, from The New Humanitarian’s policy editors.

Graphic for Inkling's Newsletter. On the top right we see a serif font with the word "Inklings". Underlined with a red inky pen effect. On the bottom right with the same fonts we see the topics in this newsletter: What happened to Loop, the aid feedback startup?

Inklings is the newsletter that explores all things aid and aid-adjacent unfolding in the wilds of Geneva, on the front lines of emergency response, or in the dark corners of online aid punditry.

It’s also available by email: Subscribe here.

Today: UNRWA’s pushback, humanitarians look to China, and how much Ukraine funding goes to local aid.

On the radar|

Why Loop is ‘hibernating’: Loop, the aid feedback startup, is suspending operations – shuttered, its founder says, by short-term funding and pushback from other aid groups. In some cases, this pushback saw Loop’s staff or local host organisations threatened. The Talk to Loop platform was created to be an independent channel to help people who use aid talk to aid providers (and vice versa). Messages range from requests for help amid floods, a thank you note (“I would like to thank SCI for their assistance and I am grateful for them,” a recent one read), and more sensitive complaints about aid exclusion and sexual exploitation and abuse. 

  • The pushback: Loop was well-received by some organisations, and cold-shouldered by others. Cooperation generally led to community acceptance and a rise in feedback, said Alex Ross, Loop’s lead and founder. “In Somalia, we were accepted and supported by the [prevention of sexual abuse and exploitation] cluster,” she told me. “… we didn’t get that level of buy-in and support in Ukraine or in Poland.” Some organisations, Ross said, reacted to negative feedback by accusing Loop’s host organisation of spreading misinformation. “We've had organisation-specific internal policies to not engage with Loop,” she said. “… And then others has been leadership of organisations, speaking confidentially and sharing their views and their concerns to the point where the governance of the host organisations don't feel that it's necessarily safe for them to continue.” Ross declined to name names. 
  • What people are saying: Project-based funding wasn’t enough to give Loop the time it needed to build trust and become sustainable, Ross said. But Loop’s troubles are more than a non-profit startup’s financial woes, some industry veterans say. “At best it exposes a hypocrisy, where the sector is happy to talk about accountability to communities but unwilling to get behind the independent tools required to deliver it,” Rebecca Hanshaw and Kate Moger wrote in Alliance, a magazine about global philanthropy. “At worse, it reveals a sector determined to maintain the status quo, where efforts seeking to disrupt traditional power dynamics face resistance.” Hanshaw is a philanthropy advisor and Moger the director of Pledge for Change, a set of commitments pushing INGOs to shift power.
  • Next steps: Loop had been operating in six countries. The tech behind it will be “hibernated” – Ross said she has a concept note and budget for what it would take to be sustainable. Loop is hosting a 15 March chat to talk about “learnings, challenges, and potential for the future.” Read some of Ross’s initial inklings below.

UNRWA on the offensive: You get the feeling that the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees is trying to shift gears. Facing claims that 12 of its 30,000 staff participated in the 7 October Hamas attacks on Israel, UNRWA announced an investigation – then watched as donor after donor froze funding. In recent weeks, however, UNRWA head Philippe Lazzarini has taken a more forceful public stance, making the rounds in Brussels and donor capitals, doing media interviews, and pushing back against what he’s calling a “concerted campaign” to dismantle the agency. UNRWA also published this “claims versus facts” page aimed at countering “misinformation and disinformation”. At 4,400 words, it’s more emphatic than it is concise.

  • Is the strategy working? On 1 March, the EU announced it would resume funding to UNRWA. Meanwhile, the Israeli military aired fresh claims, but didn’t provide evidence, that UNRWA employs Hamas militants (450, this time).


CALP: Formerly the Cash Learning Partnership, the CALP Network pushes for the use of cash in humanitarian response. In a recent blog post, outgoing director Karen Peachey suggests that boosting cash can be an answer to the sector’s funding cuts.

ERPS: Those cuts, meanwhile, have renewed the eternal quest for so-called “emerging donors”. A frequent target: China. The External Relations and Partnerships Section of the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA, is looking for a consultant to “identify opportunities for enhanced strategic partnerships” with China, including ways to promote the value of pooled funds. “Knowledge of Chinese,” the ad notes, is “desirable”.

CERF: China, by the way, gave $425,000 to the OCHA-run Central Emergency Response Fund last year. All other donors: about $558.17 million.

CDAC: Another outfit that’s leaning into its abbreviation, CDAC Network (communicating with disaster-affected communities) is hosting an 18 March panel that asks: Do we need a humanitarian manifesto for AI?

ICAI: The Independent Commission for Aid Impact, which examines UK aid spending and reports to parliament, recently announced two new commissioners. A 29 February review found the UK is “at risk” of missing its £11.6 billion climate finance target.

Data points|

How is the localisation agenda going in Ukraine? You may need a magnifying glass. 

More than two years after Russia’s invasion began, only 0.71% of humanitarian funding has gone straight to local NGOs and civil society groups, figures from the UN’s Financial Tracking Service suggest:

Some may quibble with the numbers (hello, pooled fund managers), but it’s still a glaringly tiny sum even for a sector that has consistently failed to hit its targets to shift power and money.

Coming up: In Ukraine and elsewhere, frontline responders are often pop-up volunteers or mutual aid groups with little interest in navigating the aid machinery. Stay tuned for a look at one organisation that says it’s breaking through compliance roadblocks to deliver real money to grassroots groups.

End quote|

“Communities want to feed back. They have views and opinions, and they can and will report.”

Here’s more from my chat with Loop’s Alex Ross. These bits have been edited for length and clarity.

The New Humanitarian: Many aid groups say they have their own feedback channels. Why are independent reporting mechanisms important?

Alex Ross: There's a real trust deficit around branded feedback mechanisms, and the fear of retribution and being taken off beneficiary lists or excluded from camps as a result. There's so much research and evidence over all of the last 5, 10 years that there continues to be a gap in accountability. What we're seeing a lot of is the fear of retribution, and that people don't get responses.

The New Humanitarian: What have you learned from this?

Ross: My first lesson that I've learned is that communities want to feed back. They have views and opinions, and they can and will report. Language is key.

…The humanitarian system – the financing, and the thinking – is very siloed and very project-specific. If we want to shift power and increase the agency of communities, we need to be supporting things that are collective and sit outside of that project-structured organisation-focused approach. Because the current approach is creating competition and brand protection, and not necessarily always placing the individual community at the centre of decisions – especially if that means a reduction in funding for your own organisation.

… Individual organisations are so worried about Loop having data. We'll hear things like, “Why do you have information about my beneficiaries? Who gave you the right?" And this indicates a real fear about what's happening to data about your organisation, and how can they manage that in a way that protects their brand and their funding.

The New Humanitarian: That seems like an odd way to view feedback from people who use aid: as your organisation’s data. 

Ross: In the private sector, there's a lot of work around culture, and businesses that are open to feedback, that make adjustments, and we know that communities affected by crisis have got big needs and we don't have the resources to meet them all. But communities just want to know. They know that it's complicated. They don't expect a silver bullet, but they do expect to know when the next cash transfer is coming. They do have the right to know how to get aid without being abused.

The New Humanitarian: The fact that something like Loop is not supported – what does this say about the humanitarian system’s approach to listening to communities, and its accountability to affected populations?

Ross: Is it serious? There’s a lot of talk about it, a lot of commitment, a lot of investment as well, but are we really serious about putting communities' agency and views and perspectives and experiences at the centre.

The Inklings newsletter: Have any tips, recommendations, or indecipherable acronyms to share? Get in touch: [email protected]

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