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Minimum Economic Recovery Standards now led by Sphere and the Humanitarian Standards Partnership

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By Sarah J Ward, Livelihoods and Economic Recovery in Crisis

Big news for global humanitarian standards: the well-known Minimum Economic Recovery Standards (MERS) has a new home in the Sphere network and remains in the Humanitarian Standards Partnership (HSP).

The MERS, born in 2007 through funding from USAID and facilitated by The SEEP Network, provides Standards, Indicators, Key Actions, Guidance and resources for market-aware humanitarian programming and market systems development (MSD) in emergency contexts. Developed through the joint efforts of over 90 agencies and 175 practitioners, the MERS 3rd Edition provides a cross-sectoral approach bridging the language and programming divide between humanitarian and development actors. Two participatory and practitioner-led revisions since their inception have maintained their relevance in a changing world.

In response to the unfortunate collapse of The SEEP Network in 2021, the MERS Advisory Committee (AC) took decisive action to safeguard these critical standards. The selection process identified Sphere as the best new host for the MERS, aligning with Sphere’s commitment to humanitarian standards and its expansive reach in the global humanitarian assistance community.

The MERS AC show their palms to represent handing the MERS to Sphere during an online meeting on 24 January 2024

MERS AC members show their palms to represent handing the MERS to Sphere during an online meeting on 24 January 2024

Strategic Integration: MERS, now under Sphere’s stewardship, will benefit from a dynamic ecosystem that promotes humanitarian standards and practices. The HSP, hosted by Sphere, will play a pivotal role in overseeing and advancing the MERS. This strategic move aims to foster synergies between the MERS, Sphere, and other HSP standards, creating a unified framework for humanitarian actors globally.

Why This Move is Big:

  1. Better Integration: Led by and homed within the Sphere network, the MERS will continue to offer critical market perspectives and guidance on market systems in humanitarian work. The Sphere Standards and the MERS will be further integrated and harmonised, making it easier to ensure quality market-based programming (MBP) across all relevant sectors for communities facing crises.
  2. Reaching More People: The Sphere network is both wide and deep within the global humanitarian community. Joining forces means that the MERS will reach even more people, encouraging collaboration and sharing knowledge among different groups.
  3. Assisting Local Groups: This move supports the idea of working more with local groups during humanitarian work. The MERS as part of the Sphere network can better target local NGOs and community groups, helping them implement targeted standards and tools to create market-aware humanitarian responses.

Key Initiatives: In the short term, the MERS Advisory Committee, Sphere and the HSP will work together to merge communities of practice and strengthen partnerships with key stakeholders like Markets in Crisis (MiC) and the Refugee Self-Reliance Initiative (RSRI). In the medium term, desirable outputs include integration of MERS into Sphere/HSP training programmes and connecting the Interactive Handbook to the MiC Community of Practice.

“We’re thrilled to have the MERS join us at Sphere and the Humanitarian Standards Partnership. This formal collaboration demonstrates Sphere’s commitment to principled humanitarian action and minimum standards.”
William Anderson, Executive Director, Sphere


“Sphere’s commitment to humanitarian standards makes it the ideal custodian to ensure the MERS and Sphere handbooks work better together, allowing the humanitarian community to better support the economic recovery of crisis affected people around the world.”
Scott Merrill, MERS Advisory Committee Member and Senior Director, Terwilliger Center for Innovation in Shelter at Habitat for Humanity International

As the MERS finds a new home within Sphere, the humanitarian community anticipates a positive shift in economic recovery efforts. This integration promises a more unified, inclusive, and impactful approach to addressing the complex challenges faced by communities in crisis, reaffirming the commitment of the global aid community to deliver quality and effective assistance to those most in need.

Learn more about MERS on the HSP website: https://hspstandards.org/mers/

Access the MERS online via the Interactive Handbook: https://handbook.hspstandards.org/mers

Watch a recording of MERS: Easy Principles for Market-Based Programming (webinar) from 8 December 2023: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bI1jwyRwGEk

Media enquiries: communications@spherestandards.org