Strengthening humanitarian response through local partnerships: Islamic Relief’s approach under the STRIDE project

In the ever-evolving landscape of humanitarian aid, local partnerships are increasingly crucial. Here, Muhammad Qasim Ali, communications coordinator for the STRIDE project, explains how Islamic Relief is joining hands with local organisations to reach more people worldwide.

Islamic Relief cultivates partnerships through various avenues, including the Strengthening Response Capacity and Institutional Development for Excellence (STRIDE) project. The multi-year, multi-country project is designed to protect the lives and dignity of at-risk communities through institutional development and partnerships.

I want to share how Islamic Relief identifies local partners in countries where we don’t already operate.

What drives Islamic Relief’s commitment to local partnerships?

Our commitment is rooted in recognising that local actors are often better positioned to respond to crises as they better understand the local context, language, and cultural dynamics than international humanitarian organisations like ourselves.

This aligns with our commitments to global initiatives, like the Grand Bargain and Charter for Change, promoting ‘localisation’ for an equitable and effective humanitarian system.

Why would Islamic Relief want to work in countries where it doesn’t usually?

Islamic Relief is a global organisation with a presence in more than 30 countries… but there are a lot more than 30 countries on Earth, and many of those where we aren’t currently working still have considerable humanitarian needs.

Here’s why we choose to engage with local partners in these ‘non-Islamic Relief presence countries’:

• Addressing cross-border crises: Disasters and crises often transcend national borders, affecting vulnerable populations in areas where we lack a physical presence. We can respond effectively to these cross-border challenges by collaborating with local organisations.

• Leveraging local expertise: Local partners possess invaluable knowledge of their communities, including language, culture, and context. This local expertise ensures our responses are precisely tailored to the unique needs on the ground.

• Empowering local capacity: Through strategic partnerships, we empower local organisations to respond to crises, such as conflict or natural disasters, and contribute to long-term development. This approach not only aids immediate Relief but also fosters sustainable change.

• Global humanitarian commitment: Engaging with non-presence countries reflects our commitment to global humanitarianism. It’s a tangible demonstration of our dedication to making a meaningful impact worldwide.

Does Islamic Relief only contact local organisations after a disaster?

One crucial lesson learned from our responses to the Philippines Cyclone Haiyan in 2013 and the Nepal Earthquake in 2015 is the importance of establishing relationships with local actors well in advance of emergencies.

With the STRIDE project, we proactively identify local partners in high-risk countries using comprehensive data sources, including IPCC ratings, Inform Risk Index, German Watch, and our strategic priorities. This initiative is centred on enhancing the preparedness of selected local organisations through capacity strengthening and institutional development.

If Islamic Relief decides to offer support in a country where it doesn’t normally work, what happens next?

We have a clear process in place. If we’re already working with local organisations in that country, we reach out to them. We provide them with technical support and guidance, and they carry out the work on the ground.

If we don’t have any existing partnerships there, we conduct assessments to find suitable local organisations to collaborate with. In urgent situations, we might even send our own personnel to help kickstart the response.

No matter the scenario, our goal is to ensure a well-coordinated and effective response by tapping into local knowledge, expertise and resources. It’s all about working together to make a real difference on the ground.

Who makes these decisions?

The decision-making process for responding to emergencies or supporting projects in non-Islamic Relief presence countries is a collaborative effort at Islamic Relief.

Led by the Disaster Risk Management Department, it involves an emergency panel comprising colleagues with expertise in finance, programming, and communications, among other areas. Additionally, this panel includes individuals such as the head of the relevant regions and the International Programmes Director.

The panel’s role is to comprehensively evaluate the situation, assess needs on the ground, access, identify gaps in support, review fund availability, and consider media engagement. This collaborative approach ensures well-informed decisions drawing from diverse perspectives and expertise.

What are the steps from first deciding to get involved to eventually delivering aid?

The process of delivering aid in countries where Islamic Relief doesn’t have a presence involves several key steps shown in the diagram:

• Emergency alert: Islamic Relief field offices, including our local partners, raise an emergency alert.

• Presentation to the emergency panel: The Disaster Risk Management Department presents an overview of the emergency to the Emergency Panel, including needs assessment, options for intervention, challenges, safety, and security.

• Decision-making and emergency fund allocation: The Emergency Panel collectively decides whether Islamic Relief will respond and the nature of the response and emergency fund allocation. In some cases, the disaster response surge team is activated if needed.

• Planning and coordination: Islamic Relief develops a response plan and coordinates with partners and stakeholders to agree on objectives and associated timelines.

• Implementation and monitoring: Aid delivery begins, and ongoing monitoring ensures effectiveness and reaches the affected population.

• Adaptation and scaling up: Islamic Relief adjusts response strategies and scales up interventions to address emerging needs.

What’s the process of selecting partners in non-Islamic Relief presence countries under the STRIDE project?

We begin by issuing expressions of interest in high-risk priority countries, inviting applications from local organisations in a pre-emergency context. We then conduct a rigorous due diligence process to shortlist suitable local partners, eventually signing a two-year memorandum of understanding (MOU) with them.

The duration of this process can vary due to factors depicted in the chart below.

Once selected, our local partners perform capacity self-assessments to pinpoint their specific needs and challenges. In response, STRIDE provides capacity-strengthening grants and technical support to enhance their response capacity and organisational development.

The following illustration shows STRIDE’s partner selection criteria.

Which non-Islamic Relief presence countries does STRIDE build local partnerships? Why were they chosen?

Currently, we’ve partnered with local organisations in countries including Nigeria, which grapples with frequent flooding and insecurity; the Democratic Republic of Congo, subject to political instability and disease; and Cambodia, which faces environmental challenges.

These countries were chosen based on hazard profiles, vulnerability to emergencies, and low levels of preparedness to deal with them.

Local partners bring local knowledge, invaluable expertise, networks, and cultural insights. This community-focused approach ensures quicker, more efficient humanitarian aid and development delivery.

What advantages does partnering offer compared to setting up Islamic Relief offices in these countries?

Islamic Relief chooses to work with local partners instead of setting up its own office in a new country for several reasons.

• Collaboration with local experts strengthens our global community-focused approach.

• Commitment to the Grand Bargain and Charter for Change drives localisation support.

• Compliance with humanitarian principles ensures added policy and programmatic value.

• Cooperation with local partners optimises resources for effective, sustainable development.

Local partnerships are particularly beneficial because they allow us to respond promptly to unfolding emergencies with enhanced outreach, a process that establishing an office might not be suited for. Even in countries with offices, we continue to work closely with local partners to maximise our impact and address specific community needs.

How does all this fit in with the STRIDE project, and how it supports local partnerships?

Our global strengthening STRIDE project empowers local organisations with the skills and knowledge to respond effectively to crises. Through training, resources, and support, STRIDE ensures that local actors can play a significant role in humanitarian preparedness and response.

STRIDE emerged as a dedicated programme aimed at forging partnerships and bolstering the capabilities of local organisations outside of the partnerships formed during emergency responses. It stands as Islamic Relief’s most extensive and dedicated investment in identifying local organisations poised to benefit from an organisational capacity-strengthening approach, coupled with an emphasis on enhancing knowledge of humanitarian standards.

This approach has empowered Islamic Relief country offices and local organisations to be better prepared for the next emergency, fostered stronger connections with other entities in the humanitarian sector and local authorities, and positioned them more effectively to attract funding from a diversified pool of donors.

Islamic Relief’s commitment to local partnerships is a testament to our dedication to making a meaningful global impact. Through initiatives like the STRIDE project, we empower local actors and strengthen humanitarian responses to save lives in hard-to-reach areas. It’s a model of cooperation that exemplifies the transformative power of working together for a better world.

Help us to empower local organisations to better support communities in need. Together, we can create a more inclusive and responsive humanitarian sector. Donate now.


new director

Director of Network and Resource Development

Adnan joined Islamic Relief in 2004 as a regional fundraiser in the UK. He worked in multiple roles over 10 years at Islamic Relief UK, including setting up the first digital team and leading the growth of digital fundraising and engagement. Adnan also led numerous fundraising and marketing campaigns, which played a significant part in the growth of Islamic Relief UK.

Having moved to Islamic Relief Worldwide in 2014, Adnan has held different roles that have helped grow Islamic Relief’s global digital footprint into new geographic territories, supporting Islamic Relief members with their digital and marketing growth as well as developing new products and initiatives for the Islamic Relief family.

Adnan graduated in Industrial Design and Technology from Loughborough University. He has since completed an Advanced Diploma in Business Administration from Durham University and a Diploma in Digital Marketing from the Institute of Data and Marketing.

Nadeem Azhar

General Counsel

Nadeem joined Islamic Relief Worldwide in September 2022. He has worked in the charitable sector for over a decade.

He studied Modern History and Politics at Manchester University, and at the University of Law in London before qualifying as a solicitor in 2011.

Nadeem is an experienced corporate, commercial and governance lawyer, having worked with various faith-based and grant making charities as well those in health and education settings. He was a partner at a law firm in London before moving in-house where he focused on setting up and restructuring charities and social enterprises.

Most recently, Nadeem was Lead Counsel at Mind, a leading mental health charity, where he co-authored a new federation agreement, revamped legal processes, and played a major role in developing its strategic and fundraising partnerships.

Nadeem has been a charity trustee for the Seafarers Charity, as well as many grant-making bodies and theatre companies.

Adnan Hafiz

Director of Network and Resource Development

Adnan joined Islamic Relief in 2004 as a regional fundraiser in the UK. He worked in multiple roles over 10 years at Islamic Relief UK, including setting up the first digital team and leading the growth of digital fundraising and engagement. Adnan also led numerous fundraising and marketing campaigns, which played a significant part in the growth of Islamic Relief UK.

Having moved to Islamic Relief Worldwide in 2014, Adnan has held different roles that have helped grow Islamic Relief’s global digital footprint into new geographic territories, supporting Islamic Relief members with their digital and marketing growth as well as developing new products and initiatives for the Islamic Relief family.

Adnan graduated in Industrial Design and Technology from Loughborough University. He has since completed an Advanced Diploma in Business Administration from Durham University and a Diploma in Digital Marketing from the Institute of Data and Marketing.

Board of Directors
Javed Akhtar

Director of Finance

Javed Akhtar has more than a decade of experience at Islamic Relief, having worked in a similar role between 2003-2014. In that role he strove to implement wide-ranging financial and accounting processes which aided in the transparent nature in which Islamic Relief now operates.

Javed also has diverse experience across the private sector, having worked at American chemicals and pharmaceutical giant DuPont, shipping firm FedEX and technology consultancy company Accenture. In all his roles, he prioritises using the latest technologies to improve monitoring and reporting at every level. Javed’s commitment to embracing digital end-to-end technology, enhancing accountability to our stakeholders and promoting financial transparency is ensuring that we remain at the forefront of financial developments in the sector.

By training, Javed is a chartered accountant with a Master’s degree in NGO Management with Charity Accounting and Financial Management from Cass Business School.
Board of Directors
Affan Cheema  

Director of International Programmes

Affan Cheema is an experienced leader who has spent 25 years working in the international aid sector on poverty eradication in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. He has worked in fast onset emergencies, protracted crisis and development environments whilst working for Islamic Relief Worldwide and Care International. He is also a trustee of South West International Development Network (SWIDN).

Through his career Affan has held numerous roles including institutional fundraising, programme and grant management, and programme quality assurance.  Affan’s leadership has helped Islamic Relief Worldwide secure the highly coveted Core Humanitarian Standard (CHS), seen as the sector’s premier benchmark for operational excellence.

Affan completed his BA in Economics and Geography from University of London (School of Oriental and African Studies) and his MSc in Development Administration and Planning from the University of Bristol. He is PRINCE2 qualified, is a keen sportsman and recently co-edited a book entitled -Islam and International Development: Insights for working with Muslim Communities-.
Board of Directors
Dr Hossam Said

Managing Director, Humanitarian Academy for Development (HAD)

For nearly three decades Dr Hossam has provided the strategic vision to manage, lead and develop a range of international humanitarian interventions around the world.

At the start of his career, Dr Hossam served on the Board of Directors of the Egyptian Medical Syndicate, before moving to Islamic Relief Worldwide to manage the core global business activities as International Programmes Director.

During this time the organisation increased its global reach, gaining both domestic and international repute and credibility. Dr Hossam has also served on the Islamic Relief Worldwide Board of Management and Executive Committee for the past 15 years; sharing responsibility for strategic organisational development and the change management process, whilst forging strong relationships with many other charities.

Dr Hossam gained an MBA from Aston Business School in 2004 and graduated as a Medical Doctor from Cairo University in 1981.
Board of Directors
Martin Cottingham  

Director of External Relations and Advocacy

Martin Cottingham joined Islamic Relief in 2012 as IRUK Media Relations Manager, and was appointed Head of Communications in 2015 before taking up his current position as Director of External Relations and Advocacy for Islamic Relief Worldwide.

Martin has helped Islamic Relief to increase its mainstream media profile and expand its campaigning work, producing hard-hitting advocacy reports on floods in Pakistan (2011) famine in Somalia (2012) disaster risk reduction (2013) and aid to Afghanistan (2014). He has over 20 years’ experience working in media, communications and marketing roles for international development and environmental charities.

Martin graduated from the University of London with a degree in English and Drama (1982-85) then trained as a journalist with a postgraduate diploma at City University (1986-87). He has previously worked for Christian Aid as Editor of Christian Aid News and Media Relations Manager (1988-97) for Oxfam as Regional Campaigns Manager (1997-2000) and at the Soil Association as Marketing Director (2001-2006), as well as working for a wide range of organisations as a freelance writer, researcher and communications consultant.

Tufail Hussain

Director of Islamic Relief UK

Tufail Hussain has 17 years’ experience in the humanitarian and development sector, leading on marketing and fundraising campaigns for several organisations before joining Islamic Relief UK in 2016 as Deputy Director. Tufail was appointed Director of Islamic Relief UK in 2019 and in 2021 provided valuable leadership as interim CEO of Islamic Relief Worldwide.

Tufail is driven by a passion for empowering disadvantaged youth and mentors a number of young people. He also works to strengthen engagement between British Muslims and wider society. Under his leadership, Islamic Relief UK has significantly increased its income and developed successful partnerships with communities across the country. He has travelled around the world to raise awareness of major emergencies such as the Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan crises and the floods in Pakistan and Sudan.

A father to 5 daughters and a son, Tufail is also a sports enthusiast and passionate Liverpool FC supporter. Tufail has run the London Marathon twice, raising over £35,000 for humanitarian causes.

Before joining Islamic Relief he was CEO of Orphans in Need, where he oversaw a new strategy that increased income from £2 million to £9 million in 3 years and opened up new UK and international offices. Tufail is also a trustee of the Muslim Charities Forum and a Director of TIC International (Islamic Relief Worldwide’s clothes recycling and trading arm).
Waseem Ahmad

Chief Executive Officer

Waseem Ahmad joined the Islamic Relief family over 24 years ago, serving as Programme Officer in the Balochistan province of south-western Pakistan before becoming Head of Programmes in Pakistan. Waseem then moved to Oxfam and Tearfund before returning to Islamic Relief to establish our mission in Malawi. Later serving as Head of Programme Funding and Partnerships, Waseem led the response to major crises across the globe, including the East Africa drought, Pakistan earthquake and the Indian Ocean Tsunami.

Waseem then served for nearly 6 years as our Director of International Programmes, during which time the charity secured and retained the coveted Core Humanitarian Standard certification in recognition of the quality of our programming. He was appointed CEO of Islamic Relief in May 2021.

With a special interest in community mobilisation and infrastructure, Waseem received an MSc in Project Planning and Management from the University of Bradford, as well as an MSc in Economics from Arid Agriculture University in Rawalpindi, Pakistan.

Waseem has also worked for Lepra Health in Action and is a member of the International Civil Society Centre’s Board of Trustees. The father-of-3 enjoys walking and playing football, and is a keen birdwatcher.