innovation | ethics | impact

Moving localization from international discourse to local action

Juba – December 9th 2021

Everyone in the humanitarian sector talks about the importance of localization (that is, in simple terms, promoting local response to local problems). This word has been trendy for some years now. The concept is analyzed, deconstructed, and promoted on every respectable humanitarian platform. 

Yet, in practice local NGOs and Community-Based Organizations (CBOs) are rarely leading humanitarian responses, nor coordination, decision-making and funding allocation mechanisms. 

Partnerships between international and local actors remain, for the most part, inequitable – and this inequity represents a major challenge to genuine localization. 

According to The Spindle’s Power Assessment Tool, “There is an asymmetry of power that no amount of well-intentioned dialogue can remove [between INGOs and local NGOs/CBOs]. This is problematic because those with the most power (e.g. donors, INGOs) are not always the most knowledgeable about the change that is needed, or what is required to bring about change.”

International humanitarian actors rely on CBOs for their local knowledge and access to communities, and let us be honest, to justify the ‘local’ component of programs vis a vis donors.  National NGOs and CBOs provide a “local legitimacy stamp” to international actors which enable the latter to access funds. Yet, in practice, local actors rarely have access to decision-making powers. Project proposals are often drafted in international headquarters and discussed between INGOs and donors directly. Local partners may be informed about the end result but rarely have a word to say in the process. Likewise, NGOs and CBOs do not have access to reasonable percentages of the funding allocated to these INGO-led programs. Their role often remains limited to the implementation of some community activities and rarely extends to genuine leadership. 

And these gaps are even greater for women-led and women rights organizations. 

Women-led and women rights organizations (WLOs/WROs) benefit from a unique access to women and girls groups. They can more easily collect and share information about the specific needs of women and girls, and the barriers and risks the latter face in accessing services and activities. As such, they are prerequisites for good programming. 

Yet, WLOs/WROs remain under-represented in humanitarian discourse and practice. Their participation in clusters, for example,  remains limited and there are very few or no channels enabling them to lead processes related to women and girls in humanitarian coordination and decision-making mechanisms. 

This is what Dr. Mariama Traoure, the head of a women’s rights organization in Mali, explained last June in a panel organized by UNICEF on the role of WLOs in clusters: “ We are not involved in the cluster’s strategic engagement plan. Access to cluster funds is not equitable. International NGOs remain privileged even if they do not have all the local information, and do not necessarily have access to local communities like us. The sector remains dominated by men and international actors.”

Likewise, Suzan Pasquale, the director of Women Advancement Organization in South Sudan (one of the members of RISE-SSD consortium) indicated that although they “do participate actively [in the clusters] [Women’s organizations] do not get nominated to lead the decision working group. [They] also submit HRP projects but never get funding.  Women organizations are sidelined, left behind.”

So what are the genuine solutions to address such blatant contradictions?

Solutions must come simultaneously from 1) international humanitarian actors; 2) donors and 3) CBOs.

International actors should thrive to genuinely involve CBOs in decision-making and funding mechanisms. More investment should be placed in reinforcing the existing capacities of CBOs in humanitarian coordination, access to funding, proposal drafting, and donor relations. In particular, clusters should create communication channels to regularly engage WLOs in strategic program development and funding allocation. International actors should support the formation of alliances or consortiums of CBOs/WLOs.

Donors should invest in direct communications and collaboration channels with CBOs – or alliances/consortiums of CBOs. Donors should guarantee that a minimum of funds is allocated automatically to local actors. The donors’ vicious cycle of mistrust must be broken as Dr. Mariama indicated. “Donors don’t trust us. And we don’t get funding to show what we’re capable of. To break this cycle, more visibility must be given to women’s NGOs, through more commitment at the cluster level for example.” 

Finally, local NGOs / WLOs should establish consortiums to collectively reinforce their voices in humanitarian discourse and practice. Many local NGOs have a strong capacity and they can support other CBOs / WLOs with less capacity.

This is why a group of South Sudanese CBOs created RISE-SSD – a consortium of youth-led and women-led organizations that came together to access more equitably information and opportunities in the humanitarian sector and advance channels in which they  can more effectively lead humanitarian processes that concern their communities. 

RISE-SSD  is testing a new model of humanitarian operationalization and advocates for a paradigm shift by: 1) redefining the way humanitarian action is conceptualized, implemented and delivered; and 2) investing in existing local capacities, structures, solutions, and potentials.

In a rapidly changing world, there is a need to redefine and reallocate power dynamics and responsibilities amongst international and local actors, with international agencies focusing more on ‘behind-the-scenes’ technical support and facilitation roles. International actors can still address gaps in capacity and resources by facilitating funding towards local structures, revisiting humanitarian financing models, engaging the private sector more meaningfully, unlocking the potential of ethical innovation and technology, promoting capacity and experience sharing, and maximizing community networks in the Global South.

The RISE-SSD consortium is our way to push for the localization agenda for millions of people who can benefit from solutions and services from within their own communities. We hope you will join us in these important efforts.

The RISE-SSD consortium team.

To learn more about RISE-SSD:

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