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Norwegian Refugee Council

Name: Norwegian Refugee Council Year founded: 1953
Address: Grensen 17, 0130 Oslo, Norway Secretary General: Jan Egeland
Phone: + 4 7 23 10 98 00 No. of staff (HQ): 170
Email: No of staff


This profile of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) has been written by three members of NRC’s staff in response to a set of written questions. Vibeke Risa is the Head of the Thematic Technical Support Section, which is located in NRC’s International Programme Department. This section is composed of advisors on thematic and cross-cutting issues, such as gender, youth, environment and urban displacement. The work in these areas is undertaken in close collaboration with the Technical Advisors in charge of NRC’s Core Competencies. Prior to her position as Head Section, Vibeke was the Gender Advisor in NRC. Thomas Ølholm has been NRC’s Food Security Advisor since August 2013. He previously worked as a Project Coordinator on food security in NRC’s Country Office in South Sudan. Jake Zarins has been a Shelter Advisor with NRC since October 2011. He has been a Shelter Programme Manager in several of NRC’s Country Offices, most recently in Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. Jake has contributed to the development of several urban shelter programmes in NRC, most recently in Lebanon and Jordan, but also in Afghanistan.

Brief history of NRC

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) is an independent, humanitarian, non-profit, non-governmental organisation (NGO) which provides assistance, protection and durable solutions to refugees and internally displaced persons worldwide. NRC was established in 1946 originally to supply food and clothing to the starving millions in a Europe devastated by war. ‘Aid to Europe’ was a stand-alone fund raising initiative which quickly developed into a broader organisation. Four million kilos of food were collected, packed and shipped to the countries in Europe with greatest need. In 1953 ‘Aid to Europe’ was transformed into the Norwegian Refugee Council which continued the fund raising.

In the decade 1956-65, NRC switched its focus to outside Europe and started raising funds for displaced people in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. On the home front, NRC was responsible for the reception of refugees and the running of reception centres for refugees in Norway until 1982, when the Norwegian government took over their management. This marked a shift in NRC’s focus to international work. The conflict in the Balkans in the 1990s was a key event in defining NRC as an international humanitarian organisation and NRC increasingly became an operational agency implementing projects in the field. In 1997, NRC changed status from being an umbrella organisation for NGOs to being an independent private foundation. Today, NRC works in approximately 22 countries providing protection and assistance to people forced to flee. It centres its activities around five core competencies – education; information, counselling and legal assistance (ICLA); food security; shelter and WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene). In addition, NRC is developing its capacity in prevention of and response to gender-based violence (GBV) as this has proved to be a key issue in the contexts where NRC works. In recent years, providing assistance to displaced people in urban settings has become more important and NRC is thus working to build its capacity to better understand how to identify and target the urban displaced and how to provide appropriate assistance to this group

What is the role of NRC in food security (and nutrition) programming?

The Food Security core competency in its current form is relatively new in NRC. In 2008, a policy change was initiated, changing NRCs approach from direct distribution of food and non-food items (NFIs) towards food security and livelihood related programmes, with a larger focus on agricultural production and income generation.

The policy focuses on addressing the problems of food accessibility/affordability, utilisation and long-term stability of the food system. Internally displaced people (IDPs), refugees and returnees face different constraints and have different opportunities and capacities depending on the context in which they live (rural/urban, high/low security risk areas, etc.).

As of today, NRC implements food security and livelihoods programmes in nine countries (Somalia, Yemen, Kenya, South Sudan, DRC, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Zimbabwe & Pakistan) with potentially three additional country programs to be added in 2014 (Ethiopia,Iran and Djibouti). The programmes cover a broad scale of interventions, ranging from emergency response to broad based livelihoods responses that include the most important components needed for re-establishing of peoples livelihoods. As of 2011, NRC initiated food security responses in urban settings and is a member of the Urban Global Food Security Cluster working group.

How is NRC funded?

NRC is funded by a series of institutional donors, the largest being the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which has traditionally been NRC’s most important donor. NRC has, however, in the last 10 years significantly broadened its donor base and ECHO, UNHCR, SIDA and DFID are now also strategically important donors to NRC. Smaller donors include UNICEF, UNDP, WFP, USAID and CIDA. Additionally, NRC receives funds from individual sponsors and some private companies.

What is NRCs involvement and interest in urban programming?

NRC recognises that the profile of its beneficiaries is changing and that traditional refugee camps are no longer necessarily the norm. We are in the process of shifting the focus of our interventions into urban contexts where the issues are very different. Providing assistance in urban settings requires a different understanding of what the issues are, how to identify and target beneficiaries, and how best to design and implement the assistance. NRC has in the last couple of years become involved in programming – mostly within shelter – for displaced in urban settings, particular examples include Afghanistan (Kabul), Iraq (Baghdad), Mali (Bamako), Jordan and Lebanon, and is learning through this process. As the issue of urban displacement has gained momentum in the international community, NRC wants to be one of the organisations at the forefront in terms of learning and developing urban responses. We are therefore investing in this learning process and an Urban Displacement Advisor (Laura Phelps) will join us in October to lead the process of developing NRC’s thinking and vision for the future in terms of programming for displaced populations in urban settings.

Is there an NRC urban policy or strategy?

There is currently no NRC urban policy or strategy, however NRC has developed Urban Shelter Guidelines, which is a tool for humanitarian actors implementing shelter interventions in urban settings. NRC will spend the next 2-3 years developing better targeting and needs assessment tools, including increased understanding of markets in urban settings and aims to have a strategy or a set of guidelines for urban programming at the end of this period.

What types of food security or nutrition sensitive programming have NRC been involved in in urban contexts?

NRCs involvement with urban food security is still in its early stages. We have started the implementation of food security and livelihoods programmes in urban areas in Somalia, Cote d’Ivoire, South Sudan and DR Congo using cash and voucher transfers, since this is considered one of the most appropriate approaches for urban based food security programmes, using existing market linkages. So far projects related to urban food security have had a focus on promoting alternative or new livelihoods, including the creation and improvement of skills for increased income opportunities and access to food for households. In addition and to a more limited extent, programmes are working with urban food production, especially vegetable gardens.

What has NRC learnt through these experiences?

There is a further need to focus and integrate cash and voucher responses, within market based urban programming and to recognise the need for improving and scaling up food security responses in urban and peri-urban settings. NRC has also recognised the importance of better beneficiary involvement from the beginning to ensure that responses suit the immediate needs of the people assisted and enable NRC to work together with affected people towards their recovery and sustainable solutions.

Are there particular urban specific food security/nutrition issues that the NRC grapples with?

The urban food security projects of NRC are relatively new and have not yet been evaluated. As we continue developing and testing new tools and approaches, such issues will be identified and addressed.

Has there been a specific food security/nutrition post within NRC in the past and how will this post contribute to the new urban work to be developed by Laura Phelps?

NRC has had a Technical Advisor on Food Security based at Head Office since 2008. The Food Security Advisor has had the responsibility to develop NRC’s food security approach and has also worked closely with the Cash and Voucher Advisor, a post that has existed in NRC since 2011. Since NRC’s urban work will be undertaken through our Core Competencies, Laura Phelps will work very closely with the technical advisors who are responsible for NRC’s Core Competencies. The knowledge and experience of the Food Security, Cash and Voucher, and Shelter Advisors in particular, will be vital for Laura as she develops NRC’s urban strategy and Laura’s expertise on urban displacement will be key to improving our food security and shelter programming. We very much regard these skills and competences as complementary and look forward to seeing higher quality services being delivered to our beneficiaries in urban settings.

What are the short and medium term plans for food security programming and in particularly nutrition/nutrition sensitive programming in urban contexts?

The approach taken by the Food Security Core Competency will depend on the relevant context. These range from direct support to IDPs, refugees and host communities to market-based analysis and livelihoods interventions. One of the most common types of support is provided through cash-transfer programming, linked with skills development and access to income as a means to access food. NRC is planning to expand this into larger programmes starting with interventions in the Horn of Africa. NRC does not address food insecurity through direct nutrition programmes. Instead, the food security programmes address the underlying causes of food insecurity and malnutrition.

How would you describe or distinguish NRC from other international NGOs, e.g. mandate, culture, approach, etc?

NRC is a Norway-based international NGO that places great emphasis on its core values of dedication, inclusiveness, innovation and accountability. Our vision is ‘Rights Respected, People Protected’. NRC aims to provide relevant assistance on the ground and be flexible to try new approaches and adapt interventions to need and context. We also aim to be a learning organisation, always striving to integrate lessons learnt and good practices into our programmes. NRC considers its staff, both national and international, as its key resource and aims to continuously develop their capacity as well as to value and build on their knowledge, expertise and dedication. NRC has, in the last five years, grown to become a significant international humanitarian actor providing protection and assistance to refugees and IDPs and is now investing to make sure that we are able to deliver programmes in all displacement settings, including urban contexts.

Finally, could you elaborate on the IDMC and the Perspective magazine that NRC is involved in?

In 1998, NRC established the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), located in Geneva. IDMC is today a leading international body monitoring internal displacement in approximately 50 countries. Their database is continuously updated and is accessible to the public. Based on its monitoring and data collection activities, the Centre advocates for durable solutions to the plight of the internally displaced in line with international standards. You can access it at: ICDC:

Together with UNHCR, NRC publishes a foreign affairs magazine, Perspective, which is issued quarterly and addresses humanitarian assistance and international politics. It aims to set the focus both on current conflicts, but also on wars and conflicts that no longer appear in the headlines. An objective is to spark and inform debate on the plight of displaced people and others suffering from humanitarian crisis. Each issue features an in–depth story on a selected topic, the latest one being the aftermath of the Arab Spring. The magazine can be downloaded from NRC’s website

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Reference this page

Vibeke Risa, Thomas Ølholm, Jake Zarins (). Norwegian Refugee Council. Field Exchange 46: Special focus on urban food security & nutrition, September 2013. p72.



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