Pathways to effectively operationalise the localisation agenda
This article is part of a series that diagnoses the asymmetric positioning of the localisation agenda to the disfavour of actors in the global south. Read the first part – The localisation agenda: How successful is it?
Commitments made under the Grand Bargain Agreement have failed to meet their target. According to the 2018 report by ALNAP – a global network of humanitarian organisations dedicated to learning how to improve responses to humanitarian crises – the expected 25% share of the global humanitarian funding set to reach the global south by 2020 has not been achieved.
Actually, only a menial 3.1% of total humanitarian assistance went directly to local state and non-state actors. According to a report from the 2018 Financial Tracking Service, local NGOs in the global south received just about 0.4% of it, which was the same in 2017 and 2016.
With such a disappointing performance, Degan Ali, Director of Adeso, a Somali-based organization, describes localisation as rhetoric. According to her, localisation is: “a lot of nice aspirational language, but no real action and substantive systems change.”
This therefore requires us to find ways to ensure that there is a “substantive systems change”; one that will ensure that the underlying goals of the localisation agenda are met.
Mark Lowcock, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator explains argues that now is the time to find the right incentives to heal the humanitarian system. He attributes the way money flows in the system to be a key source of failure of the system – and this is steered by donors.
There is a dire need to address this and Chernoh Bah, Co-Founder and CEO of Purposeful, a feminist organisation based in Sierra Leone offers a solution: “What needs to happen is a systematic organisation, organising, challenging and demanding the kind of systemic reforms we are talking about.”
Bah made this remark during a webinar organised by the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI), STAR Ghana Foundation and the GFCF, with support from the NEAR Network and Save the Children Denmark, that sought to interrogate this intermediary structure within the philanthropy/donor funding system and identify how it is altering the localisation agenda initiative.
Lately, the localisation agenda has come under some fierce criticisms. It is being considered as an instrument that does not fully originate from and reflect the aspirations of actors in the global south.
“Localisation also isn’t something that came from partner communities. It came from the northern institutions. So, in that regard, as it doesn’t really reflect partner capabilities, the term itself is null and void. It’s also an ‘agenda’ we in the south are being forced to push, when many of us simply want to just get on with our work and be credited for the change we bring in our own communities,” says Themrise Khan, an independent development practitioner and researcher from Pakistan who has worked extensively with local organisations in the south for decades.
Susan Njambi, a social development specialist who works closely with local organisations and communities in East Africa further questions the intent of the localisation agenda: “We need to go ahead and interrogate the architecture of this localisation agenda; does it appreciate the indigenous development models that have empowered local players? Is there investment, heavy lifting committed, to go against the grain of popularity and promoting homegrown small-scale solutions?”
Hence, Stigmata Tenga of the Africa Philanthropy Network rightfully quizzes: “Where is [the] place of a community member on this [localisation] agenda? Whose agenda is this?”
Ensuring that localisation is well-framed and designed to meet the aspirations of development actors in the global south is key. Most importantly, the localisation agenda must serve as a catalyst to scale-up development efforts that put local communities at the core of development actions.
For localisation to succeed, local actors must play a central role in needs identification processes, to intervention efforts, tracking and reporting on results and have a key voice in determining the resources they need and reporting on the resources dispensed based on feasible reporting mechanisms determined by them.
Lowcock considers this to be the right thing to do. To him, donors, United Nations agencies and INGOs need to be strictly guided by two guiding questions; “What do people say they want and how can we give it to them?”
Objectively responding to these questions in all humanitarian efforts and strictly adhering to the responses that emanate from these questions could help to define the needed pathway for the realisation of the localisation agenda.
“This is morally the right thing to do, since it will give people greater dignity and control over their lives. It is the rational thing if we want to achieve efficiency and value for money… Listening to affected people and giving them what they say they want will make for a humanitarian system that is more humane, dignified, and make better use of scarce resources. This must become the way humanitarian agencies do business,” Lowcock says.
Also, participants at the webinar organised by WACSI and partners are of the view that, fixing the lapses identified within the localisation agenda must not be the sole responsibility of international actors. Local actors must take responsibility to ensure such a system puts their interests first.
One way of making this happen is to ensure that local resources (like those mobilised in Ghana in 2015 to respond to the twin disaster that plagued the country) are galvanised to respond to existing challenges in the global south.
According to Alix Mason, Advocacy Lead of the NEAR Network, the localisation agenda “is not only and can’t be only about changing an international system set up by others ‘for’ the global south but it is also building on homegrown philanthropy and how they [INGOs] can support solidarity/aid/development/humanitarian needs from resources coming from within the countries.”
While it is important to revisit the foundations on which the localisation agenda sits and rethink the transactional practices fueling the operationalisation of the agenda, it behooves on all stakeholders to redefine pathways to ensure that the 25% of aid money earmarked for the global south actually enters the hands of the intended final recipients.