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When Outsourcing Humanitarian HR Saves Time, Money and Lives

By Lucy Holliday

Having the professionals hire your professionals is not only cost-effective, when it comes to humanitarian and development action it helps achieve the end goal of reducing suffering, faster.

outsourcing humanitarian hrWhen a large scale disaster hits, whether that’s a tsunami, famine or global pandemic, speed of response is key. However, many organisations do not have the capacity or agility to immediately scale up their programmes to meet the needs of the people affected. Inevitably, recruitment takes longer than expected and the management of hundreds of new staff members is cumbersome and difficult. 

Agencies are able to assist humanitarian actors in the field to scale up quickly with high quality national and international staff, creating greater impact and greater value for money. They also provide the opportunity to continue to grow without the impediments of administration of large staffing pools during a crisis.

For example, in 2014, when the request came to CTG for a team of first responders for the Ebola crisis that was spreading throughout West Africa, CTG mobilised and managed an Emergency Medical Team (EMT) who hit the ground in Liberia 7 days after the request. Beyond this initial team of 25 first responders, CTG went on to hire and manage 335 staff (both local and international) ranging from infection control specialists to ambulance drivers.  

outsourcing humanitarian hr

Free from the responsibility of recruitment and HR, aid and development agencies and NGOs can focus on helping those in need, without getting weighted down by the sourcing and management of staff.

Where is the value in outsourcing humanitarian HR?

Due to a shrinking donor environment, where funds for administrative costs continue to be squeezed towards higher “yield to field” ratios, few organisations are able to hire the quality staff they need in the time that is required to sufficiently engage in project implementation. For example, hiring a Data Collector in a country such as Somalia can take a minimum of four weeks; CTG can do it as quickly as 48 hours, ensuring that the candidate is qualified, experienced and vetted, helping to provide impact at pace.

Humanitarian situations are high-stakes and high-impact driven, where time is of the essence and quality is paramount — to save lives and reduce suffering.[1] Organisations need to focus on their core competencies to achieve the success they are striving towards and by outsourcing Human Resources functions, it is clear that organisational performance increases.[2]

Within the corporate world, outsourcing Human Resources management and recruitment is not a new practice. A study conducted by Accenture found that over 80% of the companies interviewed (122 over $1Billion in revenue annually each) outsource some or all of their Human Resources functions, with over 91% citing that they would continue to do the same in the future.[3] 

If a part of the success story of major corporations, their efficiencies and their growth, is outsourcing HR why has it not been taken on by the humanitarian/development sector as a common practice?

There are three main reasons that outsourcing these types of functions creates greater efficiencies in performance:

  1. Organisations are able to concentrate on their core competencies
  2. Increased quality of Human Resources Management through having a wider pool of HR professionals to fulfil your needs
  3. Reduction of overall administrative costs and increased “yield to field.”[4]

It goes without saying that with a stronger Human Resources base, humanitarian action is more effective and creates space in some cases for greater innovation.[5]

Dollar for dollar, the average cost of an outsourced coordinated process versus an internal process by Human Resources teams is approximately 22% less

Dollar for dollar, the average cost of an outsourced coordinated process versus an internal process by Human Resources teams is approximately 22% less* based on our own comparative analysis of total recruitment, onboarding and general management of Human Resources related tasks per international staff member.

Changing mindsets to make impact

CTG includes a holistic approach to their hired teams providing bespoke training, background checks, and administrative onboarding — saving hundreds of work hours and thousands of dollars. While nobody can predict the next disaster, having quality experienced staff available at short notice (without having to take on the burden of the HR) enables emergency response capacity.

outsourcing humanitarian hr

NGOs and the United Nations alike create a sense that due to their distinct cultures, outsourcing functions such as Human Resources is similar to heresy. The idea that an outside organisation knows the types of people they need to hire — with a higher calling and ethos than those in other sectors – is not widely accepted.  

However, this fallacy only perpetuates stagnation and lack of systems innovation in the sector. Today, more than ever — when more and more people are suffering each day and the need for quality staffing increases at the same speed — outsourcing humanitarian HR is efficient, effective and frees NGOs and the United Nations to do the job they are there to do: save lives, reduce suffering and foster resilience.

* from internal market research on NGOs working with and without recruitment agencies.


[1] Hamel, Gary, C.K.  Prahalad (1994), Competing for the future, Boston: Harvard Business School Press

[2] Kotabe, Masaaki, Michael J. Mol, Janet Y. Murray (2008), “Outsourcing, performance, and the role of e-commerce: A dynamic perspective”, Industrial Marketing Management, Vol. 37, pp.37−45

[3] https://newsroom.accenture.com/subjects/talent-organization-performance/eighty-percent-companies-that-outsource-hr-functions-would-do-so-again-according-to-study-by-conference-board-and-accenture.htm

[4] Gilley, K. Matthew, Abdul A. Rasheed (2000), “Making more by doing less: analysis of outsourcing and its effects on firm performance” Journal of Management, Vol. 26, No. 4, pp.763–790

[5] Elmuti, Dean; Julian, Grunewald; Dereje, Abebe (2010), ‘Consequences of outsourcing strategies on employee quality of work life, attitudes, and performance’, Journal of Business Strategies, 27, 2