Authors: John Lundine with input from Larry Agpalo, youth advisor for MRP; Jane Deita, MERL manager for MRP; Marlon Libot, Chief of Party of MRP
Globally, there are more refugees and internally displaced people, IDPs, than at any point in history. Most are desperate families fleeing conflict, violence or consequences of climate change. In many cases, they cannot easily return to their place of origin and spend years or decades in their new locations. Women and children especially face acute risks.
The 2017 Marawi siege in the Philippines is an example of a conflict that caused long-term displacement. From May-October 2017, Filipino government forces launched a military offensive against extremist groups in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur province, Maranao Island of the Philippines. The conflict caused an estimated 360,000 people to flee the city of Marawi, and about 80% went into “home-based” displacements across the province or went back to their home villages or to rural areas where they had family roots.
Plan International, through the USAID-funded Marawi Response Program, set out to address the needs of Marawi IDPs and host communities. In designing MRP, we first set out to “do no harm” and then bridge the initial humanitarian response with longer-term development approaches to promote durable solutions for IDPs and host communities. Our strategies addressed social cohesion, built trust, encouraged participation, promoted physical safety, worked toward economic well-being and supported access to basic services. We paid special attention to traditionally marginalized groups including women and youth.
As MRP ends, we have compiled the following learnings so similar projects can promote durable solutions:
- Use participatory and inclusive approaches in design and implementation. All MRP activities were designed in consultation with IDPs and host community members, and implemented through groups consisting of both IDP and host community members. Individuals interested in participating collaborated to design activities, form community solidarity groups — known as CSGs — and then implement projects. MRP distributed a total of 1,000 small grants in support of these economic development and social cohesion projects. MRP also consistently communicated all of its activities with local governments, partner NGOs and other stakeholders to promote transparency and leverage local assets in support of implementation.
- Build on cultural and social assets. It is important to understand cultural and social dynamics surrounding acceptance of IDPs and leverage them for project design and implementation. In this case, strong Maranao cultural aspects and traditions contributed to high levels of acceptance of the IDPs. They include membership in an “agama,” which puts an emphasis on kinship and common residence. “Kapamagawida” emphasizes community solidarity, cooperation and providing support to those in need. And the concept of “maratabat” emphasizes protecting the self-esteem and standing of members of kin.
- Build trust and reduce polarization. By utilizing cultural and social assets and implementing all activities with the integrated groups of IDPs and host community members, MRP was able to successfully increase trust and public participation. Trust, as measured by six indicators, increased during the project among community members and IDPs, and toward institutions. CSGs led to increased public participation, particularly among IDPs — hundreds of these groups have continued after MRP and are now federated and linked to local government units.
- Address key issues but remain focused. Life can be chaotic and complex for IDPs as they face many urgent and long-term needs. This was the case with the Marawi displacement, and MRP focused on addressing two basic issues — economic development and community solidarity. This focus prevented mission creep in attempting to address other urgent needs outside our scope.
- Encourage and foment participation among traditionally excluded groups. By intentionally prioritizing women and youth, CSGs have closed gender gaps and promoted youth participation and leadership. The project monitoring system identified that 43% of CSGs have all women participants and 59% are led by women. In addition, a total of 72 CSGs are youth-led with a total participation of 1,720 youth (58% female). These groups have led to youth leadership opportunities in policy advocacy and economic development. The focus on empowering women contributed to closing gender gaps among project participants from the baseline to endline as measured by self-reliance, polarization and public representation.
“Before MRP, only my husband had a source of income,” a female CSG member from Buadiposo Buntong, Lanao del Sur said. “It was hard. With the livelihood support I got from MRP, I am earning Php 300.00-500.00. I use it for medicine and food. This seems not that much, but it has helped a lot.”
MRP’s approach has led to high acceptance rates of IDPs and improvements in public participation and economic well-being. In July 2021, MRP conducted a survey with 282 host community members and 197 IDP project participants. This found that 96% of host community respondents had a positive reaction to the IDPs in their communities, with 82% agreeing with their indefinite incorporation. Among IDPs, 97% felt accepted as members of their new communities and 74% of those surveyed reported wanting to stay indefinitely in their new communities. In addition, the survey found that 94% of IDPs reported participating in community (“bangaray”) activities always or sometimes. Finally, the external final evaluation also identified program participants as more likely to report sufficient income and savings compared to non-participants.
While MRP achievements have been positive, despite challenges including COVID-19, there are lessons that can be learned as well. IDPs need intensive and longer-term support on livelihoods to attain self-reliance and overcome poverty. Relatedly, the time horizon for resilient durable solutions should not be underestimated, as this process needs to continue longer than typical USAID-supported project cycles. In addition, special attention should be paid to the needs of the most vulnerable groups, including women and youth, from the start of any project.