The Humanitarian Partnership Watch Group

Humanitarian organisations that wish to partner with the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid (DG ECHO) need to enter into a ‘Humanitarian Partnership’, previously called a ‘Framework Partnership Agreement’ (FPA).  

The EU Humanitarian Partnership between an NGO and DG ECHO is anchored in a Certificate, which is awarded to organisations that are considered suitable to apply for EU funding after an ex-ante assessment. 

The partners’ professionalism, diversity, capacity to respond to humanitarian needs, and adherence to agreed rules and standards, are the basis of the Humanitarian Partnership. 

For almost 30 years, VOICE has facilitated the Humanitarian Partnership (HP) Watch Group, which is a unique dialogue platform between DG ECHO and its partners. The HP Watch Group is composed of 40 DG ECHO certified NGOs with a broad diversity in their size, thematic expertise and from various European countries.  

The objectives of the Watch Group are: 

  • To improve the quality, efficiency and effectiveness of the Humanitarian Partnership.  

  • To represent, with the facilitation of VOICE, the views of DG ECHO's certified NGO partners in the monitoring, review and consultation of all matters relating to the Humanitarian Partnership 2021 – 2027. 

  • To work towards a common interpretation and consistent application of the HP.  

The functioning of the Watch Group: 

Membership of the Watch Group is open to all DG ECHO NGO partners. Becoming a member of the Watch Group is possible exclusively during the renewal process, foreseen to take place next time in 2027. To reinforce its engagement, the HP Watch Group elects seven members for the HP Task Force, which is co-leading the work of the Watch Group together with the VOICE Secretariat.  

The HP Watch Group meets four times per year to discuss topics related to the Humanitarian Partnership and has regular meetings with DG ECHO to ensure an active dialogue.  

Minutes of the meetings are published on the VOICE website to be available to the whole community of DG ECHO partners. 

The Task Force, on behalf of the HP Watch Group, meets more regularly with DG ECHO to discuss ideas and issues that have arisen, and to establish a common basis for negotiation.  


For more detailed information, please consult the HP Watch Group Work Plan 2024, and the ToR 2022-2027.  


Contact for questions relating to the HP WG

Marion Granger
+33 6 69 24 48 47

Relevant resources 

Click here for HP Watch Group related documents 

Click here for FPA Watch Group related documents 

Click here to access the ECHO website dedicated to humanitarian partners 


1. The HP Watch Group: what's in the pipeline?

1.1 DG ECHO’s Humanitarian Implementation Plans (HIPs) good practices 

Each year, the HP Watch Group monitors the HIPs process and aims to provide evidence-based feedback and recommendations to DG ECHO. 

The Watch Group advocates for “Good practices around DG ECHO HIPs and contracting cycle”, providing recommendations and feedback based on identified good practices. The document was approved by the HP Watch Group in 2022, and is regularly used as a basis for discussion to improve the processes underpinning the vital partnership between DG ECHO and certified NGO partners.  

In addition, each year, the HP Task Force collects data on the HIPs’ contracting process timeline. For more detailed information, see the presentation of DG ECHO’s HIPs 2023 Contracting Process Monitoring


1.2 DG ECHO’s approach to Localisation 

At the European Humanitarian Forum 2023, DG ECHO announced the publication of its guidance “Promoting equitable partnerships with local responders in humanitarian settings” in the framework of DG ECHO’s commitment to the Grand Bargain. Here you can find all VOICE publications related to our work on equitable partnerships, as well as an informative presentation on the guidance shared by DG ECHO in May 2023. Please note that some documents are restricted to VOICE members.

In this context, the HP Watch Group participates actively in relevant consultations to provide consolidated feedback on HP-related implications. In July 2023, the group exchanged with DG ECHO to discuss the operationalisation of the guidance, raising questions around the engagement with local and national actors (L/NAs) in the HIPs consultations, compliance requirements, overhead cost sharing, budget implications, and changes in the Single Form, among other items. The HP Watch Group will continue to monitor the roll-out of the Equitable Partnerships Guidance and provide collective feedback and recommendations to DG ECHO. 


1.3 DG ECHO’s audit strategy 

Since the adoption of a new DG ECHO audit strategy, as described in the 2022 DG ECHO Audit Info Paper, the HP Watch Group mobilised to work towards enhanced audit management efficiency. The group raised key challenges and recommendations with DG ECHO, notably regarding the timeline and frequency of audits, the interaction with auditors, and the coherence of the different checks. Each year, the Group monitors the audit’s process and provides evidence-based feedback to DG ECHO.  


1.4 Feedback on any relevant new requirements and guidance 

The group regularly provides feedback to DG ECHO on any novelties related to the Humanitarian Partnership, if needs arise.  

For example, in 2022 and 2023, the HP Watch Group engaged in extended dialogue with DG ECHO to provide feedback on the newly introduced Sexual Exploitation, Abuse and Harassment (SEAH) yearly reporting template. These dialogues led to the simplification of the reporting and supported a joint understanding of the reporting purpose and implementation.  

More recently, in 2024, the HP Watch Group provided feedback on the newly published DG ECHO’s Guidance on Money Transfer Agent.  


1.5 DG ECHO Partners’ segment: renewed Partners’ Conference 

The HP Watch Group regularly advocates for spaces for dialogue between DG ECHO and its partners. After the disappearance of the ‘Partners’ Conference’, a two-day event which used to be organised until 2019, the Watch Group advocated for the reinstitution of a partners-only event. These efforts led to the creation of the ‘Partners’ Segment’, which took place for the first time in March 2023.  

By providing a space exclusively to DG ECHO and its Partners, this event provides room for open and concrete discussions to enhance the partnership, and ultimately to the delivery of principled humanitarian aid for all people affected by crises worldwide. 


2. The HP Watch Group: past achievements  

2.1 2023: the first ever Partners’ Segment 

In 2023, the first-ever DG ECHO Partners’ Segment took place on 22 March, right after the European Humanitarian Forum. Thanks to the intense advocacy work of VOICE and its members, DG ECHO has reinstated the former Partners’ Conferences with the new Partners’ Segment. Other highlights of the year include:  

  • At the beginning of 2023, the HP Task Force and DG ECHO met to discuss the HP Watch Group Work Plan for 2023, setting the basis for constructive collaboration throughout the year. 

  • The HP Watch Group engaged in discussions on the operationalisation of the DG ECHO Guidance note on Promoting Equitable Partnerships, raising engagement with L/NAs in the HIPs consultations, compliance requirements, overhead cost sharing, budget implications, and changes in the Single Form, among other items. 

  • The HP Watch Group worked intensively on the consequences of DG ECHO’s new audit strategy, and put forward issues encountered in the audit process and discussed potential measures to improve. 

  • The HP sub-working group on SEAH continued its efforts in engaging with DG ECHO, to provide feedback on the yearly SEAH reporting template and to influence DG ECHO’s approach to safeguarding.  

Please find further details in Humanitarian Partnership Watch Group: 2023 in review

2.2 2022: a renewed HP Watch Group and Task Force 

In 2022, the network launched the Humanitarian Partnership Watch Group reconstitution process. In May 2022, the process was finalised and the new Watch group’s composition was adopted. In October, the Watch Group elected its Task Force, a sub-group co-leading the work of the broader constituency with the Secretariat.  

  • The HP Task Force worked intensively to provide feedback on DG ECHO’s annual reporting template on allegations of sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment (SEAH).  

  • The HP Watch Group regularly shared lessons learned and recommendations to improve the annual HIPs process and contracting cycle.  

  • The network engaged on the new Programmatic Partnership (PP) presented by DG ECHO as a way to support long-term strategies, to scale up innovative approaches and to enhance dialogue between partners at the field and headquarters level. DG ECHO announced that the PP approach would be open to all international NGOs certified as eligible programmatic partners. VOICE has regularly advocated for the model to be accessible to more organisations.  

2.3 2021: a transition year 

2021 was a key transition year for the NGO certified partners of DG ECHO’s, as the new EU Humanitarian Partnership (HP) entered into force. Bringing changes and new challenges to the way NGOs and DG ECHO are working together, it has been essential for VOICE, the Humanitarian Partnership Watch Group and Task Force to monitor, assess and influence novelties around the new partnership framework.  

  • VOICE launched different surveys to collect NGOs’ experiences of working in this new environment, with the aim of identifying successful changes and remaining difficulties. The analyses of these surveys were key when it came to engaging in evidence-based and constructive discussions with DG ECHO. 

  • Publication of an additional Q&A with DG ECHO on the new modalities of the partnership. 

  • VOICE and the Humanitarian Partnership TF worked intensely to influence the design of the new SEAH annual reporting template, calling on additional guidance and clarity on the template, as well as on the importance for it to follow a survivor-centred approach. 

  • After two years without any Partners’ Conference, VOICE and the HP TF successfully advocated for DG ECHO’s Partnership 2021 webinar to take place. This webinar was key to come together and reflect on the first year of the new partnership and ensure an open exchange with DG ECHO. VOICE and the HP TF had the opportunity to share lessons learned and key recommendations with regards to the partnership, and a Q&A session allowed the wider community to make their concerns directly heard by DG ECHO staff.  


The development of the new Humanitarian Partnership 

1. The consultation process – 3 years of engagement



2. The Ex-ante assessment & EU Humanitarian Partnership Certificate 2021-2027

June 2019: ECHO launched the Terms of Reference for the ex-ante assessment. NGOs were invited to submit the report of their assessment before the 1st of July 2020 to DG ECHO.

Two additional annexes (annexes 4A and 4B) complement the ex-ante assessment: one to be fulfilled for NGOs organized in ‘family’ and the other for NGOs working systematically with Implemented Partners.

The FPA Watch Group organized exchanges with ECHO on this new exercise and a webinar allowed partners to seek further clarification. ECHO released a number of additional guidances in an FAQ document.

As of 2021, the ECHO Partnership will be based on a certification process – outcome of this ex-ante assessment review. Instead of signing an FPA, partners will receive a certificate in case of successful review of their ex-ante assessment. This certificate will be accompanied by a letter from ECHO DG.

Partners are then asked to make this certificate visible on their website.

What’s new with the certificate(s)?

  • You can see the three types of Certificates on ECHO Partners' Website (Partnership Certificate, Niche Partnership Certificate and Programmatic Partnership Certificate)

Main changes & main features

  • Reduced content compared to the FPA as technically, it is not a contract
  • Focused only on partners’ obligations
  • Stresses the importance of a principled and needs-based approach
  • Call for reducing as much as possible the environmental and carbon footprint of the aid operations
  • Introduce an annual reporting to the Commission on the implementation of its policy related to sexual exploitation, abuse, harassment and other types of unethical behaviour - applicable Commission guidance to be released soon.

You can find here the feedback from the FPA Task Force on the content of the Certificate.

FPA Watch Group survey on the ex-ante assessment

In August 2020, the VOICE FPA Watch Group launched a survey on the ex-ante assessment to evaluate NGOs’ experience with this new process. The survey has generated a great deal of interest among VOICE membership: 57 members have completed it. Responses from the survey have been consolidated and the main findings and recommendations were shared both with the FPA Watch Group and ECHO.

Find here the presentation of the results of the survey.

What’s next?

  • ECHO has received 140 applications and as of the 20.10 ECHO starts releasing first certificates
  • The FPA Watch Group and VOICE will monitor the certification process to make sure NGOs receive it in due time
  • The FPA WG will maintain its engagement with ECHO and clarify future expectation regarding the audit and annual assessment exercises


3. The Model Grant Agreement (MGA)

A new corporate Model Grant Agreement (MGA) was imposed from 2021 by Commission Decision of 12 June 2020 (C(2020)3759 final) to all EC DGs.

The MGA template was presented to the Task Force and then to FPA Watch Group (01.10). Minutes from the exchange of the Watch Group with ECHO are accessible here.

Feedback from the Task Force on the MGA can be found here and questions from the WG with ECHO’s answers there.

Early December, ECHO released the Humanitarian MGA for NGOs. Find it here

Main changes and main features:

The format is different from the current ECHO Grant Agreement but the majority of rules are similar to the current FPA. The MGA include both specific and general conditions of the current FPA.

Here is the new structure of the MGA:

Terms and Conditions:

Data sheet is the ‘specific’ part of the agreement

Chapters 1-6 are the ‘general’ part of the agreement

Annex 1 Description of the action (e-Single Form)

Annex 2 Budget (corporate template)

Annex 3 Accession Form for multi-beneficiary actions

Annex 4 Financial statement model

Annex 5 Specific rules for humanitarian aid

New terminology:

Because of its corporate nature, this MGA adopts a new language. You’ll find below the main changes in wording from the current FPA to the new MGA:

  • (aid) Beneficiaries = final recipients
  • Partners = (grant) beneficiaries
  • Implementing partners = financial support to third parties
  • Reporting not linked to payment, e.g. interim reports = continuous reporting
  • Reporting linked to payment = periodic reporting
  • Financing decisions = World Wide Decision/HIPs

This new language will be further explained in the corporate guidance (Annotated Grant Agreement, AGA) and specific ECHO guidance that will be released in the coming weeks.

ECHO specificities and key changes:

The Annex 5 (specific to ECHO) will integrate ECHO’s specificities that are not included in the general MGA template. It will notably include:

  • A specific article allowing financial support to third parties (IPs) above EUR 60 000
  • Simplified Procurement procedure: beneficiaries’ (i.e. ECHO partners) can follow their own procurement policies  
  • A sanctions clause – but specifying that vetting final beneficiaries is not requested
  • The MGA also introduces some new elements including:
  • The possibility to have a multi-beneficiary agreement
  • One single exchange rate with no possibility of derogation
  • Personnel cost calculation (daily rates with a calculation basis of 215 days per year)
  • A difference between purchase of goods/services and subcontracting

Next steps?

  • DG Legal Service is still introducing certain corrections and changes to fit all DG needs including some requested by ECHO following exchanges with VOICE and the FPA Watch Group
  • To know more about the MGA see the slides from DG ECHO presented to the Watch Group meeting  
  • Minutes of this Watch Group meeting are also posted here
  • ECHO will release the final MGA and guidelines


4. The e-Single Form (e-SF)

ECHO introduced some changes to the e-SF based on ECHO evaluation of the tool and in order to reply to the recommendations from the European Court of Auditors (ECA).

A first exchange on the e-SF with the Task Force of the FPA Watch Group took place in the summer You can find the Task Force feedback on the new tool here.

The new e-Single Form was then presented to the Watch Group (19.10). Click here to access the recording of the presentation.

On IT development, ECHO launched mid-October the testing phase of the new tool (many NGOs took part to this piloting exercise).

On the budget: two new template budgets were presented to the Watch Group. The first budget (Annexe 2 of the MGA) is contractual and part of this corporate tool. The second one “Operational budget” will be annexed to the e-SF and provide more details to ECHO. The objective is that this operational budget also allows for the Annex 2 to be automatically filled in.

There’s an on-going working group gathering NGO financial experts and ECHO financial and operational staff. This group is fine-tuning the template « Operational Budget » to make it as user-friendly as possible.

Find a document summarising main novelties in the e-SF as well as offline and online Single Form Quick Start guides and a detailed Manual. ECHO also released notes on the Pre-release version of the offline Single Form 2021.

Main changes in the e-SF

  • Only one variant of the Single Form for emergency action (i.e. complementary actions templates are dropped)
  • The structure and the order is revised (18 sections instead of 13 chapters)
  • All quantitative information is aggregated in a new section, section 2 (project data overview by country)
  • Annex for detailed budget is to be submitted next to the Single Form data (on top of Annex 2 of the MGA)
  • Section 14 on ‘Alternative Arrangements’ incorporated to keep flexibility despite the corporate approach of the MGA
  • In IT terms, the performance is increased, more responsive and faster interface, pop-up windows to explain what ECHO is expecting for each of the questions

Next steps?

  • Feedback from partners testing the tool will be incorporated in the e-SF
  • The Operational Budget template will be finalized in the next weeks
  • ECHO will share the final tool with partners in November (world version requested)
  • Change of e-SF on APPEL in January

5. Transitions and HIPs 2021

In the FPA Watch Group meeting with ECHO (19.10) ECHO provided key information regarding the transition and next HIPs.

  • For the 2020 Budget: new actions and top-ups of existing actions will be operated under the current Single Form and with the current Grant Agreement
  • For the 2021 Budget: use of the new Single-Form and MGA becomes the norm (in principle no Modification Request will be made on-going actions to avoid working with parallel systems for too long)
  • HIPs 2021 will be released in the coming weeks – deadlines for proposals not before end of January

!!! Preparatory work should not be done on the current Single Form in APPEL : there will be no possibility to transfer proposals from current Single Form system to the new one.

The Watch Group has requested ECHO to share a word version of the new e-SF to facilitate preparatory work.

  • A case-by-case review at desk and field level will be made for ongoing actions ending in the next few months to limit the discontinuity of aid
  • For UK entities, the new MFF is not available for them (Brexit) = only top-ups on the 2020 Budget can be allocated to UK entities
  • For Pilot Programmatic Partnerships actions, 2021 and 2022 allocations will be made on the current Single Form

6. Going forward: what to do next? Get prepared!

  • Register for upcoming trainings on the ELSE platform (Course: « the Certification 2021: what’s new? »)

  • Minutes of meetings and regular updates will be posted on VOICE website watch Group

  • Update on the development of the next ECHO Partnership Certificate 

  • HIPs 2021 and their technical annexes are soon to be published on APPEL

  • HIPs presentation will be accompanied by a short presentation of the new partnership framework; dates of the meeting will be announced in country and on ECHO website