89 NGOs | 19 countries | 31 years of expertise in promoting principled humanitarian aid
VOICE stands for "Voluntary Organisations in Cooperation in Emergencies" and it is the largest European humanitarian NGO network promoting efficient and effective humanitarian aid worldwide since 1992, celebrating this year, 2022, its 30th anniversary. VOICE is the main NGO interlocutor with the European Union on emergency aid and promotes the values of its 89 member organisations who are implementing principled aid in all humanitarian crisis worldwide.
VOICE members are active in different sectors of humanitarian aid (such as food and nutrition, health, water and sanitation, shelter, aid to refugees and internally displaced people) in all countries affected by natural disasters, armed conflicts and emergency situations. The majority of VOICE members have a Humanitarian Partnership certificate with DG ECHO, the department for Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operation of the European Commission.
The network promotes the added value of NGOs given their key role as humanitarian deliverers and as an expression of EU public solidarity.
VOICE member organisations share similar core values and strive:
- To implement principled humanitarian aid
- To respect International Humanitarian Law (IHL)
- To save lives and prevent suffering
- To respond in a swift and timely manner to humanitarian crises
- To deliver efficient and effective humanitarian aid to all people affected by crisis
- To follow the relevant codes of conduct and best practices
- To have high quality standards of professionalism and expertise
- To have a participative approach with their local partners and people affected by humanitarian crisis
- To view the emergency intervention in the light of future sustainable recovery and development
For the last 31 years, VOICE has been working with its member organisations to embed these core values in humanitarian policy at EU and MS level, and present the humanitarian NGO’s perspective on EU policies having an impact on the EU’s humanitarian aid. For instance, VOICE establishes common positions through working groups such as the Humanitarian Partnership Watch Group, which was one of the first official bodies for dialogue with the European Institutions.
A collective voice of European NGOs promoting principled and people-centered humanitarian aid.
VOICE’s aim is to improve the general quality and effectiveness of humanitarian aid notably that of the European Union and its Member States as well as of the wider humanitarian community. The network also promotes the added value of NGOs given their key role as humanitarian deliverers and as an expression of EU public solidarity.
VOICE turns 30
In 2022, VOICE turned 30 and we celebrated our work as a collective voice of European NGOs promoting principled and people-centered humanitarian aid worldwide.
VOICE’s history is closely interconnected with the one of DG ECHO. The network was founded in the same year than DG ECHO to follow the work of the then newly established department. Among the first objectives of the network was to facilitate access for members to EU humanitarian funding, and to defend members' interests in EU decision-making processes on humanitarian funding and policies.
Since 1992, VOICE has grown from 7 to 87 members and has celebrated many successes in its work to promote principled humanitarian aid and partnership between NGOs and EU institutions.
VOICE, in collaboration with ALNAP, hosted the Brussels launch of the ALNAP State of The Humanitarian System (SOHS) report 2022 with a public panel debate followed by a networking moment to celebrate VOICE 30th anniversary.
Highlights of our history:
The European Commission established the first Humanitarian Office in 1992. 7 members of CLONG (Now Concord) formed VOICE, a largely autonomous organisation working on humanitarian issues inside the platform. Humanitarian NGOs and ECHO based their relationship on a ‘Partnership’ which involved shaping policies, capacity building towards professionalization and defining their purpose while working in various roles, but towards the same objectives. VOICE increased to 74 members from all over Europe during the course of four years.
Coordination was already an issue at that time, and during the Rwanda crisis VOICE collected information on over 1300 projects which it presented to the UN donor conference in The Hague.
When the second FPA began in January 1999, VOICE created the FPA Watch Group to engage in the FPA renegotiation. This group was a response to the coordination concerns of ECHO partners and ECHO’s request to have a single interlocutor. The Humanitarian Security and Protection Network database was also created. In the same year, VOICE established an NGO focal point in Tirana to facilitate an NGO response to Kosovar refugees in Albania with the objective of collecting and disseminating information regarding
humanitarian activities. This was followed by the regular ‘Focus’ publication, which aimed to inform
European decision-makers about the Balkans.
A milestone for the network was the engagement of VOICE members in the process which led to the signing of the European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid by the European institutions and member states. The consensus is a core EU policy document, signed by EU institutions and member states, which specifies the philosophy of humanitarian aid and how assistance should be provided. VOICE has relentlessly promoted the Consensus in member states and an increasing number of them have including reference to its principles in their humanitarian strategies.
A working group on Disaster Risk Reduction was created to contribute to and improve EU policy and practice on Disaster Risk Reduction, primarily within the context of the implementation of the Hyogo Framework for Action.
As relations between civilians and military/combatants constitute a sensitive and complex issue to humanitarian NGOs VOICE established the Civ-mil Working Group (WG) to develop advocacy messages towards relevant EU politicians who are often the driving forces behind military deployment decisions in emergency settings
VOICE succeeded in ensuring that 10% of the EU’s external relations chapter of the multi-annual budget (MFF) was reserved for humanitarian assistance. Nonetheless, 2014 started with the consequences of the lower overall EU budget and the significantly accumulated gap between payments and commitments being acutely felt in the humanitarian sector. For the membership of VOICE the prospect of EU funding in the field not being timely and predictable was very challenging. Through information sharing, awareness-raising activities, coordinated advocacy at Brussels and national level, the ECHO funding situation was successfully resolved. On 17 December, the EU’s Budgetary Authority (Council and European Parliament) adopted an amendment to the 2014 Budget, providing humanitarian assistance with €256 million more in payment credits, and increasing the payment credit level up to nearly the commitment level in 2015.
The network worked at global, European and national level to ensure the inclusion of NGOs and their field and policy expertise in the process leading up to the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit, and securing a joint NGO statement on the Summit follow-up. VOICE continued to work for implementation of the Summit commitments, and created the Grand Bargain Task Force, gathering VOICE members’ expertise to strengthen NGOs’ engagement in the EU implementation of the Grand Bargain and overall to strengthen collaboration among humanitarians’ actors to support the simplification and harmonization of the humanitarian funding system.
Over the years, the network has been working on the evolving and complex issue of sanctions and counter-terrorism restrictive measures, which present ever growing challenges for principled humanitarian action. In 2019, VOICE and like-minded civil society organisations managed to reduce the NPO risk rating in the EU Supra National Risk Assessment on terrorist financing. The same year, we hosted a 2-day workshop bringing together members and key EU stakeholders and experts to raise awareness and find avenues to mitigate the unintended impacts EU restrictive measures are having on principled and needs-based humanitarian aid.
The Covid-19 pandemic has brought exceptional new challenges in delivering humanitarian aid and in being able to move within and between countries. The network has linked with governments and donors to ensure their support in this delicate situation, informing them about the impact the pandemic was having on field operations. In the same year, the network was strongly mobilised during the Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027 (MFF) agreement process and was glad to see its main MFF advocacy demands implemented in the final agreement. The EU institutions agreed to maintain a separate humanitarian budget line for the next seven years, with an increased amount of funding. Moreover, the Solidarity and Emergency Aid Reserve was ring-fenced for crises outside the EU.
Building on the success of the former DDR Working Group and DRR- Resilience Working Group, the new Resilience-Nexus Working Group was created, widening its scope and with the aim of providing the humanitarian NGO perspective for the European approach to resilience, climate change and the implementation of the humanitarian-development-peace nexus. In the same year, the new EU Humanitarian Partnership entered into force. During the preceding negotiation period, the network was engaged in defending NGOs' interest while DG ECHO was transitioning from the former FPA to the new certificate and its related tools. To reflect this change ,the FPA Watch Group changed its name to the Humanitarian Partnership Watch Group.