Integrity Insights: Continuous learning from a decade of programming and local engagement in Syria
Over the past decade, Syria has endured profound and devastating conflict. What began with protests in 2011 quickly escalated into a protracted war, leading to one of the most complex humanitarian crises of our time. Integrity has been continuously on the ground since 2012, working tirelessly with government, public sector, and private sector clients to provide more effective humanitarian and development programmes in support of the Syrian people.
Integrity has delivered over 40 projects in Syria. As part of this, we have trained and worked with more than 150 field staff inside Syria, from monitoring and evaluation officers to personnel delivering basic services in conflict-affected communities. To ensure our work is driven by local realities and to reach communities across the country, working closely with local partner organisations is at the heart of our delivery approach. We continue to deliver work in Syria today, and have learned valuable lessons that can benefit organisations operating in similar challenging contexts. Randa Snobar, Senior Manager, Projects (right) reflects on Integrity’s experiences.
Local realities shape global strategies. Integrity’s decade-long journey in Syria has underscored the importance of contextual adaptation. Every region has its distinct challenges and opportunities, shaped by local culture, different type of authorities, and conflict dynamics. Integrity’s commitment to understanding and incorporating these local realities into our project design and implementation is fundamental to our operations.
Our strategies are not created in isolation at headquarters but are the product of ongoing dialogue with our field staff and local partners. This dialogue enables us to adapt our global strategies to fit local contexts, ensuring they are relevant, respectful of local customs, and effective in achieving their intended impact. It also allows us to contribute to a more informed international understanding of the Syrian situation, providing insights that can inform policy and programming for other stakeholders engaged in the region.
Adaptive programming is critical to operating in a complex crisis. The Syrian conflict has been marked by constant shifts in territorial control, security dynamics, and political alliances. This has made it essential for service providers like Integrity to remain flexible and adaptive. Projects must be designed and managed to enable continuous and rapid adjustments to the evolving context. What works one day may not work the next.
Continuous learning enables more successful interventions. The Syrian context is always evolving, and organisations must be committed to continuous learning and adaptation. This involves regularly assessing project impact, collecting feedback from communities, and adjusting strategies accordingly. Teams must be empowered to recognise what is working and what is not and be willing to change course when necessary.
Effective delivery relies on strong local engagement and knowledge. Integrity’s projects prioritise building trust and partnerships at community level. Our focus on engaging with local communities and understanding their unique needs and priorities has been critical to our success in Syria. This approach has not only improved project outcomes but has also ensured that our interventions are sustainable and reflect the needs of the people we aim to support.
“…my primary goal is to enhance the well-being of our team members to ensure a positive and productive work environment in a challenging context.”
Integrity’s Syrian Field and Access Coordinator*, is based in Northeast Syria. He said: “As a Field and Access Coordinator for Integrity in Northeast Syria, my role includes a range of responsibilities including the development and strengthening of relationships with key stakeholders, ensuring the safety and security of our field team, providing training, and fostering the growth and improvement of our team. Additionally, I play a crucial role in maintaining high-quality data, supporting the research team, and actively identifying key informants for our research projects. Throughout all of these activities, my primary goal is to enhance the well-being of our team members to ensure a positive and productive work environment in a challenging context.”
Local partnerships help build capacity and resilience. As much as possible, projects should aim to build the capacity of local organisations, authorities and individuals. By empowering local actors to take ownership of initiatives, organisations can help lay the groundwork for a more resilient and self-reliant society. It is important to invest into building wide-reaching local networks as trusted relationships take time and effort to build and maintain to allow for effective capacity building.
Robust risk management is non-negotiable. Operating in conflict zones comes with inherent risks, and organisations must prioritise the safety of teams, partners and communities we work with. This includes thorough security assessments, contingency planning, and having experienced personnel who can navigate complex and unpredictable situations.
Achieving impact requires long-term commitment. Sustainable change takes time, especially in conflict-affected areas. Organisations must commit to long-term engagement and resist approaches that pursue short-term, quick-fix solutions. In Syria, Integrity’s extended presence has allowed us to have a lasting impact on communities and clients we work with.
“Integrity’s accurate on-the-ground data and analytical insights have enabled Blumont to shape its USAID-funded projects that focus on helping the Syrian people.”
Daniel Bichanich, Chief of Party, Blumont Essential Services, Good Governance, and Economic Recovery in Syria (ES) Program said: “Integrity has been a valued partner to Blumont since 2015. They provide us with high-quality research and MEL support services for the Syria Essential Services program through their trusted local teams and networks. With significant understanding of the local situation and a commitment to doing things right, this has been a valuable support to our programs. Integrity’s accurate on-the-ground data and analytical insights have enabled Blumont to shape its USAID-funded projects that focus on helping the Syrian people.”
While the Syrian context has evolved dramatically over the years, these lessons remain relevant to similar contexts around the world. As we continue our work, we remain dedicated to learning, adapting, and helping the communities and clients we partner with succeed in the face of adversity, wherever that may be.
Please contact [email protected] to find out more about our work in Syria and the wider Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, and how we can support your programmes.
* Name withheld to protect the safety of our colleagues in Syria.