OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign Up / Login or Learn more

FrontlineAid - localising the development industry

Empower local initiatives by providing an ecosystem of support - revolutionising the way aid is distributed and used. #GetRidOfRedTape

Photo of Tarek Alsaleh
3 1

Written by

What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

The world gave 146 billion US dollars in aid last year. An achievement to feel good about if it weren’t for one problem – less than one per cent of that money reached local initiatives, even though it is these organisations that actually stay on the ground once the funding runs out. At the World Humanitarian Summit, the UN, aid agencies and over 20 governments decided to change that figure to 25% by 2020. But we are far from making that happen. Why? In the current system, it’s easier to give 100 million dollars to one large international organisation than 10,000 dollars each to 10,000 smaller local initiatives which keep struggling – day by day – to survive. We have a cartel structure in the aid system because only a few large organisations are able to handle all the red tape THE PROBLEM A handful of international aid organizations (e.g. UN INGO’s) receive ~99% of the world’s aid budget (~$146Bn in 2017); Granting money to small, local initiatives/ organizations in crisis regions faces 3 fundamental challenges: Bureaucracy of applications and accounting (too much effort), lack of trust (not enough information), lack of visibility (unknown). HOW CAN WE SOLVE THIS? Through a social media-like platform connecting granting organizations with localized projects; smart reporting forms and b2b video Q&A templates that cut the paperwork; and GPS and time-stamped location and visual data collected through an App cutting #RedTape

Geography of focus (500 characters)

- Scaleable to areas of conflict AL RAQQA, SYRIA project where ASSAD MILITARY and MILITIA CLASH and ISIS DECLARED its’ HEADQUARTERS Over the next year, we are spearheading localisation of aid tools through our work in Syria. We are uniquely positioned to be in areas like Al Raqqa, (where we have a present since 2012) where social structures and physical infrastructure has been devastated by war.

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

Through living experience, we apply tech solutions to meet actual needs in the real world and to make it easy for locals to connect to supporters like us. We have a particular focus on using innovative tech and sustainable development thinking to realize change at the local level in war and conflict settings.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

Powershift from international to local. Create meaningful solutions to deep problems of our times. FOR CHANGEMAKERS - Free up Grassroots initiatives from administrative requirements necessary for funding and hands on support. - Thousands of grassroots initiatives move from ‘surviving’ to ‘scaling’ -Sustainable initiatives Increase transparency get the support they need towards deeper impact projects FOR ORGS AND FOUNDATIONS - Fairer aid distribution. (The ratio of money to administer tiny organizations/initiatives). - A fundamental change of mindset of working in aid. Reduction of bureaucracy (react quickly, get more efficient M&E local initiatives, save money) - Perception change of that the middle mean is eating up the $$ FOR SUPPORTERS (VOLUNTEERS, MENTORS, INDIVIDUAL DONORS ETC.) - ‘Not knowing where the support/$$$ goes’/ Purpose. Feeling a part of something positive. - Raise in empathy/ actionism through personalised connections /matchmaking

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

We build real relationships and shake hands instead of creating paperwork. Currently, we spend our time managing the money instead of finding solutions. We need to build trust with local people until they tell us what they need and want. Then, we support them through our skills and our huge networks. Locals need to own the project, not our international brand!

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

We are frustrated having worked over a decade in war zones – In a system that reveres the person with the best English, the MBA, not actual Changemakers. I am Tarek Alsaleh, Syrian/German and founded a charity in Syria in 2007 long before the war. Projects help create 100+ Jobs, 70,000 child refugees affected by war and conflict. Uniquely the support helps refugees establish independent local projects. These projects now run in Syria, Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon providing friendship, moral support, mental health a place to stay at night, food clothes, a smile, a hug, jobs education money and contacts. Still.. Running my own start-up charity was extremely frustrating.. In the aid sector, each organization is competing with each other – for money, for visibility, for paying their employees’ salaries. Local initiatives are struggling to survive, worn down by bureaucracy. I want to change this!"

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

As part of our work in mainly in Al Raqqa, Syria where ISIS had its headquarters (we were there at the time too). Al Raqqa has no central authorities, no real government body. Almost all ‘native’ inhabitants left, almost no middle class, most of are tribal and 80% of all infrastructure is destroyed. ‘Locals’ are managing their own affairs. The main challenge in Raqqa City is that the local governance structures and local authorities are not very well connected with the people in the City. Therefore, most assistance is captured by one or many of these groups and are directed toward areas that may not be community priorities and reinforces the perception that assistance comes through connections to local leaders. At the same time, the needs are vast but without a solid community-led base that addresses some of the basic realities that people need safe spaces where they are able to convene and to collectively identify what they want.

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

Capoeira4refugees has a unique network since 2012 of young people and community leaders in Al Raqqa. Over the past eight years, the network has continually grown and is locally owned. C4R successfully ran Eid and other large community events in partnership with community leaders in Al Raqqa, psychosocial programmes with 1000 traumatised children, renovations of learning areas including school buildings and local community spaces. (1) Reinforce existing (40+) community networks (2) Tap into these community networks to identify local & community priorities. - Validate top-down project priorities - Address information gaps - Minimise the ability for local authorities to support their own interests (3) Create a platform for change agents - micro-projects that address local needs - strong focus on community-based monitoring (4) As community networks are more established - they can be tapped into to support larger-scale projects

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

Millions of frustrated locals, aid workers and 20 consultants CURRENT PARTNERS - Capoeira4Refugees (UK) and FrontlineAid (Germany) Strategic design, methodology, coordinating, tech - UN Habitat (Syria) Are linking locals top priorities to donors - BMW Foundation Robert Bosch Foundation and Global Diplomacy Lab (Germany) Mentoring, strategy design, coding, advocacy, networks - CapoeiArab and Civil Society Centre (Syria) Local Partner on the ground help with implementing, capacity training, M&E and validations - 40+ local Grassroots initiatives (arts, culture, sport, reconstruction, education etc.) FUTURE Tech soup, tech companies Volunteer networks, pro bono service providers Foundations and Orgs who are following the localisation agenda - Ergosign tech, (Germany), Think - IT, (Tunesia)

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Arriving and settling at a destination community

Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing

  • Technology-enabled: Existing approach is more effective or scalable with the addition of technology

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Majority Adoption: We have expanded the pilot significantly and the program product or service has been adopted by the majority of our intended user base (i.e. 50% to 83% of the target population or 50,000 to 1,000,000 users).

Group or Organization Name


Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

Through a relationship network we have developed throughout a decade of successfully delivering grass roots refugee projects, winning numerous awards, and contracting with most of the major INGOs working in war zones and refugee camps. Our network is significant, and trust based. As a young, German-Syrian business leader, I found a local Syrian organisation in 2007 which runs sport, music and play projects in prisons, with refugees and in safe houses for vulnerable women and girls spreading out through the middle. Despite many times feeling like we were walking through a quagmire, our projects are now truly locally owned. When I was finally forced out of Syria because of the war, I had to find ways to keep helping. I recently moved to Berlin to launch FrontlineAid, a not for profit business to drive change throughout the development sector using innovation, tech, and sustainable development thinking to realize change at the local level based on their needs.

Website URL:

Type of submitter

  • We are a registered Non-Profit Organization

Organization Headquarters: Country

FrontlineAid / Capoeira4Refugges

Organization Headquarters: City / State

London and Berlin


Join the conversation:

Photo of Uchenna Okafor

Dear Tarek Alsaleh! What an interesting solution. Truth be told, the world aid system is very unfair to local charity movements which are directly in contact with the problem of focus. Sadly, the disabled persons entities seem the least attended to by the global aid system. Quite depressing how funding entities consider size and influence of applicant-organisations as criteria for selection; instead of closeness and direct contact to the problem in focus. Yes; my best wishes to your noble idea.

Photo of Tarek Alsaleh

Thanks Uchenna Okafor for your comments.

Breaking the wall of cartels in international aid is what we are tackling.
So, the big question is, how do we make our desire to help more effective? How can we cut the red tape and make it easy for local changemakers to connect to supporters like us and vice versa? To tackle this issue, we have designed Frontline Aid, which provides advice and tech solutions while cutting out the middleman. We are already using several tools in Syria Al Raqqa (there are some good ones out there, but 1) $$ 2) not so much tailored to local needs and 3) not integrated with one another at the back end. The goal is to use them into the regional Syria plan.. very ambitious but also very much high time to:

(1) Reinforce existing community networks
- Identify change agents that are able to mobilise their community
- Strengthen community cohesion
(2) Tap into these community networks to identify local & community priorities.
- To reinforce community ownership of projects
- Create upward accountability
- Validate top down project priorities
- Address information gaps
- Minimise the ability for local authorities to use assistance as favours / to support their own interests
(3) Create a platform for change agents to deliver on activities that are their priorities
- micro-projects that address local needs
- support community networks to raise their own resources without needing to have political or security leverage
- rely on micro-projects to minimise aid diversion
- strong focus on community based monitoring as a way to strengthen accountability
- scalable platform so many community networks in the same location or across different cities can follow the same model
(4) As community networks are more established - they can be tapped into to support larger scale projects

View all comments