To mark its 10th anniversary, NCCI is publishing a series of 5 op-ed interviews during each week in April. The interviews will be held with individuals who have worked closely with NCCI for all or part of the past 10 years. The following interview focuses on NCCI’s more recent history to give readers an insight into challenges, successes, and initiatives, and it includes interviews with:
Former Executive Coordinator (2005-2008)
Former Field Coordinator (2008-2011)
Former Executive Coordinator (2011-2012)
Former Information and Communications Coordinator (2005-2008)
Executive Coordinator (2012-present)
NCCI: In 2005, NCCI experienced a kind of reorganization, closing its Kuwait office, relocating its Baghdad support staff office to Amman, and rewriting its charter.
a) What was the reason for this major reorganization?
Former Executive Coordinator (2005-2008): There were multiple reasons and factors. Developing the Amman office was meant to [better] respond to all NGOs who relocated to Jordan for security reasons. Closing the Kuwait office was due to limited funds and a small presence of NGOs in Kuwait (most of them knew each other and didn’t need a heavy coordination mechanism). Maintaining Erbil was meant to link with many NGOs that relocated in the north. And, of course, maintaining Baghdad with all support staff relocated to Amman (communication, administration and finance etc…). But there was no immediate change in coordination teams and coordination mechanisms.
The Charter is a separate issue. NGOs decided to review the charter in order to open the doors to newborn NNGOs, to develop the advocacy and lobbying mandate in parallel to the coordination one, but also to include themes like capacity building, research and publications etc. One of the main reasons was also to re-affirm the principle of NGOs and, accordingly, NCCI.
There was also a hidden reason behind the new charter. In fact, between the departure of Philippe Schneider and my arrival, there was a gap in the management of NCCI. During this period, some non-genuine NGOs became members of the platform. It was easier to cancel all registrations and ask for re-registration, according the new charter and its principles. The best way to filter and get rid of some private companies registered as NGOs, or religious or political organizations with different agendas than the humanitarian imperatives.
b) How did this affect its ability to implement projects and coordination? What were the advantages and disadvantages?
Executive Coordinator (2012-present): There were several reasons for the re-organization set up in 2005:
- Limited funds available for NCCI operations after July 2005
- A huge setup; NCCI had at that time (5 offices in Kuwait, Amman, Baghdad, Basra and Erbil with more than 60 staff members)
- The allocation of the majority of humanitarian actors to Amman
- The UN took the lead again on coordination, due to easy access of everyone to everyone in Amman (compared to Baghdad’s security difficulties(.
As for the change in the charter, in 2003, and the time of NCCI’s creation, many NGOs joined NCCI. NCCI had high levels of activities in terms of quality and quantity and the period witnessed the emergence of many active Iraqi NGOs. Due to all of this, there was a need to develop the charter according to: a) Iraq’s working environment, b) lessons learned during NCCI’s first year of working. To the best that I know, there was a need to review NCCI’s charter before 2005. However, and due to the high turnover in the Executive Coordinator position, this was not possible. After February 2005, NCCI had a strong leadership who started lobbying amongst members for necessary amendments in the charter.
NCCI: How did this affect its ability to implement projects and coordination? What were the advantages and disadvantages?
Former Information and Communications Coordinator (2005-2008): The reorganization affected a lot of the coordination. Imagine you go from a $1 million USD budget per year to $0. However, the change of charter enabled us to focus only on genuine humanitarian members, and also to open up to NNGOs. Therefore, to become stronger in front of adversity or to defend principles, as we all really stand on the same side.
NCCI: In what ways did the newly elected and formed Iraqi government facilitate or limit NCCI’s coordination activities? How did members (or the organization in question) reform their goals to adapt to the major political changes?
Executive Coordinator (2012-present): There is no doubt that when a government starts working, coordination of the humanitarian efforts in this country will be the responsibility of this government. However, INGOs and other actors will need time to build trust with this government in order to join the governmental coordination mechanisms. NCCI’s coordination activities were indeed limited in Iraq after the formation of the new government, but this wasn’t due to this reason rather than the relocation of the majority of humanitarian actors to the neighboring countries.
The election of the new government didn’t change a lot of the reality of the humanitarian situation on the ground. However, the political overview (at national and international levels) adopted another direction. The international community welcomed the idea that “Reconstruction is Going Well in Iraq” while it was not going well and Iraq awoke in the beginning of 2006 to face one of the worst periods of sectarian violence and displacement in its history.
NCCI: In May, 2005 NCCI started having more interest in having NNGOs as members. Was this one of the reformed goals?
Executive Coordinator (2012-present): Indeed, NNGOs started to be important actors in humanitarian operations in Iraq. The deterioration in the security situation pushed the majority of international humanitarian actors out of the county and those who stayed in Iraq were hosted in high security compounds with very limited access to the field. Being out of the country or hosted in secured shelters forced humanitarian actors to start new management systems and to act through local partners (NNGOs). NCCI’s charter was reformed to welcome the new actors in the humanitarian field, as during NCCI’s establishment there we very few NNGOs who were mainly based in the KRG.
NCCI: During the period of the formation of the government (2006-2008), a civil-war was also taking place.
a) How did NCCI navigate the volatile political and security landscape during this period?
Former Executive Coordinator (2005-2008): Like most Iraqis, we were observing, analyzing, networking, collecting information, and acting according the context, location, timing to insure our security and to survive as human beings. Politically speaking, Iraq was strongly fragmented and having a global understanding of the situation needed additional research, understanding etc… to provide a coherent and consistent independent reading of the situation to our members in order to survive as an institution.
Our neutrality, our principles, our transparency, our network and our constant effort to explain who we are and acting according our principles helped us navigate the specific context described in your question.
b) What were the challenges and in which areas of its initiatives did NCCI excel?
Executive Coordinator (2012-present): Security analysis, incident anticipation, good contacts in the field, overview about the situation for the new comers to Iraq were the main elements of NCCI’s added value for NCCI for those who are stationed out of Iraq. Connections with other actors, links to the field, and information about who is doing what and where were very much appreciated services by NCCI’s members.
NCCI: How has NCCI’s registration as a Swiss NGO and Jordanian and Iraq INGO changed its role in Iraq’s humanitarian context and relationship with its members?
Former Executive Coordinator (2011-2012): By creating a legal presence in all three countries, NCCI is now better positioned to advocate on behalf of its members at an international level about the situation in Iraq. For example, we were able to gain ECOSOC status (something that would not have been achieved without our Swiss presence) enabling NCCI to bring humanitarian and developmental issues in Iraq to various UN fora, the European Union and significant donors. This is hugely important given the reduced attention for Iraq amongst international communities.
NCCI: With the decrease in violence and end of the civil war, how did NCCI and its members reorient themselves to new and developing needs of Iraqi humanitarian and civil society?
Former Executive Coordinator (2011-2012): Despite the fact that Iraq has always had a very strong sense of the need for civil society and a civil society itself, it became very clear in the past 5 years that existing civil society organizations needed a lot of support and training if they were going to have any real impact. NCCI started to focus more closely on Iraqi NGOs as potential members and indeed board members, in an effort to closely link NNGOs to INGOs and other international agencies. This has had quite an impact on NCCI's work as it is currently the first organization that an international agency will contact when aiming to be linked with civil society groups and NNGOs. This is a vital service for Iraq given the established lack of access in the field due to a continuing unstable environment.
NCCI's members started to re-orientate projects towards the emerging long term developmental needs. They did this also using more and more Iraqi NGO partners, also training NNGOs how to implement such projects. Consequently, NNGOs started to skill up in certain areas.
NCCI: How did projects change in response to Iraq’s post-civil war status? What role did NCCI have in rebuilding?
Former Field Coordinator (2008-2011): Since its inception, NCCI has been one of the major actors in prioritizing needs and setting the agenda for civil society in Iraq. NCCI continued highlighting the needs within the Iraqi context whether relief-oriented or development-oriented, by means of its field-based networks and nation-wide partnerships with different stakeholders. NCCI initiatives designed and implemented its activities in light of its awareness of the constantly changing needs of the humanitarian context in Iraq. Therefore, NCCI's projects varied from needs assessments, coordination of assistance provision, and relief delivery, to more developmental projects of civic education, capacity building, peace building, and community involvement in the democratic process at large.
To mark its 10th anniversary, NCCI is publishing a series of 5 op-ed interviews during each week in April. The interviews will be held with individuals who have worked closely with NCCI for all or part of the past 10 years. The following interview focuses on NCCI’s early history to give readers an insight into early challenges, successes, and initiatives, and it includes interviews with:
Former Executive Coordinator (2005-2008)
Former Field Coordinator (2003-2005)
NCCI: At the onset of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, there were a few NGO coordination organizations, which included OCHA, Joint NGO Preparedness Initiative (JNEPI), and the International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA). After the war, the civil-military cooperation (CIMIC) also began organizing humanitarian initiatives. What inspired the need for an NGO Coordination Committee for Iraq?
Board Member: After the invasion it was impossible for humanitarian actors to work under the CIMIC or US troops’ coordination since it would imply disregarding the ICRC code of conduct (impartiality, neutrality, autonomy). US led troops were, until a legitimate Iraqi government was elected, an occupation force, and working with them would de facto mean to be on their side. This became a serious problem when security conditions started to deteriorate (attacks against UN offices, attack against ICRC, kidnappings, etc.). NCCI was extremely needed in that context to defend the humanitarian space from the different parties in the conflict and also to coordinate activities since the UN could not set up a cluster system in Iraq.
NCCI: Was there a specific prior organization or plan on which NCCI was modeled?
Former Executive Coordinator (2005-2008): Not really, some NGOs experimented with a coordination body in Rwanda in the 90’s and in Afghanistan in 2001/2. NCCI was not based on a specific model and instead designed based on the needs of NGOs at that time. NCCI evolved a lot in 10 years to adapt itself to the context and the needs of NGOs.
NCCI: What was the vision of the relationship that NCCI would maintain with its members, non-member INGOs, and non-member NNGOs?
Board Member: Since the beginning, NCCI was an inclusive process trying to expand its membership as much as possible. There was a specific attempt, since the beginning, to avoid a western or European led initiative and involving Iraqi and international NGOs. In the first years, INGOs were leading the process, as more NNGOs became involved and became an active part of the process.
NCCI: What were some key challenges that the formation of NCCI faced in its earliest stages and how were these overcome?
Board Member: Security was a serious challenge in the beginning. This meant not only the need for security officers who were constantly advising members about threats and challenges, but also an objective difficulty in identifying appropriate and professional staff who were accepting to live in Baghdad. Funding, on the contrary, was not a challenge since a lot of international donors, and among them ECHO has been for a long time the main sponsor, were acknowledging the importance and role of NCCI.
NCCI: In 2003, while other coordination organizations, such as JNEPI, were losing capacity, NCCI was growing in both size and efficacy. What were some of the reasons for NCCI’s early success and how was this accomplished?
Former Field Coordinator (2003-2005): ECHO’s generous financial support to NCCI was one of the biggest reasons behind the success of NCCI. The departure of the UN after the bombing of its [headquarters] in the Canal Hotel, and NCCI subsequently taking the lead for coordinating NGOs, UN agencies, and in some cases for government entities where there was no government, is another reason for its success. At that time they initiated [working groups] for IDPs, Health, Education, WASH, etc… Additionally, NCCI was the main source for information and field coordination for the HC of the UN based in Amman.
Being neutral all the time, not being part of military operations, and not being escorted by military vehicles were other reasons for NCCI’s success. Its regular coordination meetings for all stakeholders working in humanitarian activities, the officially shared minutes of all meetings, and general information sharing when there is no other neutral channel available on the ground is yet another reason. Additional reasons include creating WWW maps and sharing them with all members; the establishment of NCCI offices in four areas inside and outside Iraq: Baghdad, Erbil, Kuwait, Amman, and also field staff in the Basra office.
For all the above, NCCI was respected by all, including beneficiaries and communities, which helped NCCI extend its reach into all places in Iraq, while encouraging others to listen to NCCI and to utilize its services.
NCCI: What benefits was NCCI able to deliver that other organizations were not? And what was the difference between these benefits and services toward NNGOs and INGOs?
Former Field Coordinator (2003-2005): After the US-led invasion of Iraq, there were very few NNGOs (National NGOs). As in Iraqi culture before the war, we did not have actual NGOs with visions, as there are in other countries. I will not go into details as I’m sure you understand what I mean by that. NGOs were a new concept to Iraqis at that time. After the war, the civil-military cooperation (CIMIC) began organizing humanitarian initiatives and this was catastrophic for creating NNGOs since anyone could come and register as an NGO and attend this meeting and would be considered an NGO, and would have been given an amount of money up to $5000 to do a project after attending a few meetings. This lead to the creation of hundreds of “suit case” NGOs, and destroyed the image and vision of real NNGOs, leading to a lack of trust in their work.
For INGOs, especially those who wanted to be viewed as impartial and neutral and not linked to armed forces, or those who were not ready to be linked with occupation authorities since it would affect their status and image in front of beneficiaries, they were looking to independent bodies for coordination, especially after the Canal Hotel bombing (UN HQ) and the absence of a government.
At the early stages, NCCI was a great benefit to INGOs (more than NNGOs for the above reasons), especially the European ones. The emerging NNGOs at that time were looking for funds, which were available mainly from the Americans, as the UN and others did not fund many new NNGOs with the instability on the ground, so funds were given to INGOs. At that time it was discussed to use a mentor approach with national staff at INGOs and help them create NNGOs. Not all INGOs were ready to do so, but the few NGOs who participated in this process were able to continue in Iraq after the departure of most INGOs and the UN in Iraq.
NCCI sometimes played an important role for coordination not only for INGOs but also for the UN and the CPA in Iraq. Also, during the Najaf and Falluja crises, the humanitarian space that was opened with the help of NCCI helped to provide aid for casualties and for these cities.