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Explaining Market-Based Crisis Programming to A 10-Year Old: We’re Getting There

by on Sep 28, 2017  |  posted in Annual Conference  |  0 Comments

Yesterday, I was sitting with my three kids and great Uncle Mike, trying to answer the question, “so, what are you working on now?” As an internatoinal consultant in livelihoods and resilience in crisis, I get this a lot. It is always a bit hard to answer. Sometimes I find myself trying to describe to a 10-year-old or an 83-year-old what “market resilience” means to people in Western Nepal, or how cash transfers via hawala work in Gaziantep – and this is hard to do in a few sentences.

But this time around, I found the response to be a bit simpler…

“I am going to DC to work with my colleagues. We all worked together on a set of rules and guidance for the work we do. It should help us work with business and farmers and refugees and everyone to get back to work faster and better after a crisis hits. So, we are going to learn about them together and how to use them.”

At the 2017 SEEP Annual Conference, colleagues from IRC and CRS Emily Slone and William Martin, Karri Byrne and myself, will be running a training on the Minimum Economic Recovery Standards (MERS) 3rd Edition, as part of the Peer Learning Session, Bringing Market Thinking to Crisis Response and Recovery: Learning about the Minimum Economic Recovery Standards. What is special about this for me, is that this will be the first time we will use an interactive, scenario-based technique with the 3rd Edition of MERS – and we have real-life stories from Lebanon, Uganda and Nepal to stretch our thinking. I can’t wait to see what how all the participants - the real experts in the room - use the MERSIII to tackle these real challenges.

Bringing Market Thinking to Crisis Response and Recovery

I also recently spent 18 months gathering stories and lessons learned from emergency livelihood and market response work across the globe. The goal was to see if and how market-based programs built resilience to the almost inevitable “next crisis” that will hit poor and vulnerable communities. While there was a lot of learning there, including the latest Issues Brief - Driving Resilience: Market approaches to disaster recovery - a key point for me was that the more market-aware a response program was, the more likely was it to have positive longer-term effects. The more an activity worked with and learned from market actors, the more it moved the needle on families’ and businesses’ ability to weather the next storm.

This has shown me the longer-term value in our struggle to make our crisis work integrate with and actively support markets (and not only use them to deliver aid). It is hard to do, we run up against moral challenges (e.g. conflict-profiteers) and markets that are very hard to understand and parse (e.g. the wheat market in Syria), but with tools like the MERSIII and an understanding of WHY we should do it this way, we can press on.


Sarah Ward is a post-conflict/post-disaster market systems specialist with more than 18 years technical experience adapting market development approaches to some of the world’s most challenging contexts. She is an active member of SEEP, technical lead and contributing author for the Minimum Economic Recovery Standards (a SPHERE companion) and the EMMA tool (Emergency Market Mapping and Analysis). She has experience with capacity building for government ministries, local partners, UN agencies and INGOs. She is now a senior independent consultant supporting economic resilience and recovery, sits on the livelihoods advisory board for UNHCR and acts as the Market Resilience advisor to the SEEP Network. She has lived for many years in West Africa in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Benin and worked extensively in counties across Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

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