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Syria INGO Regional Forum (SIRF)

This profile of SIRF is based on ENN interviews with Misty Buswell and Rob Drouen.

Misty Buswell is a member of the SIRF Board and co-chairs the SIRF Advocacy Working Group. She is Regional Advocacy, Media and Communications Director for Save the Children in the Middle East and Eurasia region.

Rob Drouen is the former chair of the SIRF Board and is the Action Contre la Faim Regional Representative for the Middle East.

What is the SIRF? 

SIRF is an INGO led regional forum based in Amman, Jordan, set up in April 2013 to give voice to INGOs conducting humanitarian responses in the Syria region. The move towards a regional hub/coordination in Amman, Jordan for the Syria response by many agencies working in the region coincided with the creation of the Syria INGO Regional Forum (SIRF). Member organisations, as well as representatives of country coordination fora, have gathered regularly since SIRF’s inception to discuss and address priority issues. 

Who are the members and how does SIRF operate?

All members are registered INGOs in their home country and are committed to humanitarian principles, implementing responses to the Syrian Crisis, active in two or more affected countries, willing to actively participate in SIRF, and able to appoint senior individuals as focal point for participation. Membership is exclusively for INGOs although national NGOs are represented in the country level NGO fora, which have linkages to the SIRF.

Currently there are 38 INGOs and observers in SIRF; together they are present in more than 11 countries in the region. A board of six individuals drawn from the member INGOs and elected by these members steer the group.  The Board members are chosen on personal title and do not represent the INGO they are coming from. Working groups on issues of particular interest are established as required. For example, there is an advocacy working group within the SIRF and a communications working group comes into play when SIRF are looking to speak publically on issues.

General members have monthly meetings in Amman and the Board meets twice a month. Many SIRF members are based in Amman in regional agency offices or commute from Beirut. The biweekly advocacy working group meetings tends to generate most of the concrete outputs of the SIRF – talking points, briefings – that are publically or privately shared to raise issues and influence policies.

Until now, SIRF members have worked on a voluntary basis, with the Board members taking on the majority of the workload. This is not considered to be a sustainable model and SIRF are in the process of hiring, for the first time, a dedicated representative to help with coordination.  

Advocacy issues and target audience

A key focus of SIRFs advocacy work has been on the situation inside Syria. Much of this work is highly sensitive and goes on ‘behind the scenes’ and relates to issues of access, cross border and cross line programming and coordination mechanisms. SIRF shares information on these various issues to relevant stakeholders across the region and at global levels where appropriate. One of our key successes has been in ensuring that global events and meetings are informed by messages and policy positions that are developed by the region and channelled to global levels.

What else has SIRF ‘brought to the table’? 

The SIRF provides a mechanism for interaction with existing country level coordination forums (NGO forums). SIRF also participates in regional processes such as the development of the regional resilience refugee response plan.  One of the strengths of SIRF is that it has multiple contacts and channels of communication at various levels in the humanitarian system. SIRF can advocate to donors and UN agencies at regional and headquarters level thereby channelling field level perspectives to higher levels within the humanitarian system.  

SIRF’s added value is in the provision of ‘current on the ground information’ that benefits both donors and UN agencies.

What is it about the NGO perspective that needs representation?  

NGOs are doing the bulk of implementation and working on a daily basis at the heart of the Syria response. They are closer than many UN agencies and donors to the affected people, and have a firmer grasp of issues around programme implementation that may require addressing at a strategic and policy level. It is important to consider that the combined funds of 7-8 larger INGOs are significant and carry weight.

When it comes to speaking out, as a group of NGOs, there can be  safety in numbers. However it is also true that there is a critical role for the UN in speaking out. The UN has a mandate that is given by UN member states so that it is often safer for them to speak out than for NGOs who may risk jeopardising their field presence. 

What is your opinion of the sustainability of the Syrian crisis response and how to manage it, given the significant shortfall in funding? 

This is a challenge we all are faced with. Members see the importance of increasingly integrating relief programming with development and resilience work and longer term resource flows. It is important to recognise that we haven’t seen a crisis of this scale in a long time, if ever. We are concerned that fatigue around this regional emergency will ensue and that other emergencies and priorities will emerge that displace the attention and focus on this regional crisis.  As a global humanitarian community, we don’t have the capacity to deal with all the many humanitarian challenges around the world. We need to be thinking about what kind of new approach is needed, as this situation isn’t going away. 

What have been SIRFs challenges?

One of the main challenges for SIRF has been managing membership of 38 organisations with different mandates and modalities of working; it is difficult to be truly representative of the membership. Consequently there are times when we cannot speak as SIRF but as a “coalition of the willing” on particular issues. In practice this means we may need to produce a document endorsed by a group of INGOs rather than SIRF as a whole.  SIRF provides the umbrella to coordinate and solicit views and we always endeavour to represent the membership as fully as possible.  

We always endeavour to  represent the views of the membership but inevitably  members do not always agree completely and there is often  lack of time and capacity  o undertake the outreach, consultation and consensus building with all members.  It is hoped that with a dedicated SIRF representative this is something we will be able to do more effectively in the future.

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Reference this page

ENN (2015). Syria INGO Regional Forum (SIRF). Field Exchange 48, November 2014. p159. www.ennonline.net/fex/48/sirf