This toolkit is designed to provide information about the concept of “localization” and the way in which a group of 14 U.S.-based funders are addressing philanthropy’s role in strengthening local humanitarian leadership. This is a work-in-progress and will continue to be updated as new activities take place or relevant information becomes available.
What is Localization?
Traditional aid and development interventions in international contexts are often critiqued for being focused on the goals and practices of the funder rather than driven by the needs, desires and resources of the aid recipients and local service providers. In this model, the funder holds a great deal of power and influence, and shapes the activities, policies and programs of the communities receiving aid. Decisions are often made by the external players rather than the local officials, program managers and front-line staff who are on the ground delivering services.
In the localization model, the focus becomes centered on local decision-making; power is in the hands of those most affected by the issues. “Aid localization is a collective process involving different stakeholders that aims to return local actors, whether civil society organizations or local public institutions, to the center of the humanitarian system with a greater role in humanitarian response.” (Time to Let Go)
While external funding, support and technical assistance are still important and required, the power dynamics shift through the localization process. Those on-the-ground – the local actors – are charged with program planning and management, allowing them to use their local knowledge, history and connections to develop services that are compatible with the cultural, socio-political and economic climates of the communities that they serve.
Why is Localization Important?
Changing politics and climactic conditions are increasing the frequency and severity of global humanitarian crises. External actors – including philanthropic organizations – cannot be knowledgeable about all of the various communities affected by disasters. In the face of this reality, philanthropies are investing in local organizations to:
- Shift power and resources to actors on the ground.
- Redefine the role for international governmental and nongovernmental actors.
- Save more lives through comprehensive approaches.
- Increase impact through effective and efficient responses with lower cost.
How Does the Localization Effort Work?
The intent of localization is to strengthen local humanitarian leadership to help achieve the goals listed. In order to do this, there must be increased institutional capacity of local response organizations. This can be done through educational outreach and technical assistance to enhance the internal practices and staffing of local organizations. And through greater sensitivity to the conditions in which these leaders work, whether that be the current state of government, transportation/power/financial infrastructure or natural resources.
It is also important to implement fair compensation to local organizations for the staff-time required to take on more responsibility. Obviously, salaries vary depending upon location, agency, size of community and current stage of the event to which actors are responding. However, salaries can be determined by evaluating all these factors in context.
The question often arises, “How local is local?” In some protracted crises and major disasters, recovery efforts require coordination mechanisms and greater presence of national or regional actors alongside the local community leaders to ensure that aid moves through channels with access to the affected area. This does not mean that localization in not occurring — this occurs “in country” rather than as directed by an international organization from a distance.
Successful processes of returning power and decision-making to representatives of affected communities requires the humility, sensitivity and trust of funders in listening carefully to the expressed needs of the community and acknowledging the cultural contexts in which these decisions are being made. And, as noted previously, in some cases this may require support for increasing the administrative capacity of these local representatives.
Although there will be instances when it is necessary to rely on international nongovernmental organizations to serve as fiscal partners, direct funding may be the only method to distribute aid in some contexts. Direct funding can also stretch dollars on the ground, bypassing other intermediaries.
The scale and scope of the community crisis may suggest that peer organizations work in partnership to address local needs. As an example, feeding organizations might collaborate with logistical experts or feeding organizations might work together to multiply impact. Although this may seem self-evident, new or pop-up organizations may not have familiarity with other actors in the humanitarian sector.
Additionally, funders can support local actors by increasing their visibility in larger public and philanthropic circles. Sharing the roles, results and innovations of these leaders and organizations expands the audience for support.
A variety of issues that impact humanitarian response are negatively impacted by public policy and legislative action. One prime example is providing aid following a major natural disaster in a country the U.S. has identified as being associated with terrorism. National actors can positively influence policy that leaves vulnerable populations at risk for recovery.
What is Philanthropy’s Role in Localization?
Individual philanthropies and networks of philanthropic organizations can join in this effort by:
- Altering internal grantmaking practices to simplify application and reporting processes. Global Giving’s streamlined application process or CDP’s Midwest Early Recovery Fund’s clipboard grantmaking application are two examples of funders who altered their practices based on a deep understanding of the complexities and challenges of local service providers.
- Participating in more pooled funds, less earmarking and increased multi-year funding have all been highlighted by signatories to The Grand Bargain (described later in the document) as promising practices with less restrictive approaches to providing humanitarian aid to local communities. Individual philanthropies and collaborative funding efforts are wrestling with this issue. Big problems require innovative funding solutions.
- Paying greater attention to long-term recovery and mitigation through durable solutions for refugees, social protection systems and risk reduction are strategies with cost-benefit and sustainability impact. Research has demonstrated that every dollar spent on mitigation saves six dollars, and in some cases up to eighteen dollars in aid.
- Encouraging collaboration between humanitarian and development actors magnifies the relief investments into long-term economic impact when local organizations are strengthened, supplies or commodities are locally sourced and employment opportunities are generated by good planning and implementation of recovery efforts.
- Improving joint and impartial needs assessment aids funders in supporting organizations as they make decisions, evaluate opportunities, respond to changing priorities and gauge impact. NEAR, the Network for Empowered Aid Response, is a group of local and national organizations in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America. They are currently working on developing a series of metrics that will allow organizations to track and report the progress local and national organizations are making in the humanitarian sector. Academic researchers such as Daniel Maxwell of Tufts University, have been working for many years with local community leaders are also building a body of evidence in support of the localization agenda.
- Exercising a lighter bureaucratic footprint through joint leadership roles that take the primary funder out of the role of sole convener, leader and facilitator and transition into the role of partner and participant.
How Do We Know It Works?
Frankly, the work to evaluate the impact of localization efforts is fairly recent. There are links in the “How Do We Get Started?” section that contain some of the initial evaluation reports. What we do know is that the current system is unstainable to address the scale and scope of current and projected humanitarian need. Innovation is necessary, as is more research to provide additional evidence that the localization movement is effective.
Who is Involved?
Inspired by 2016’s World Humanitarian Summit’s emphasis on supporting local actors in providing humanitarian assistance (The Grand Bargain), ten U.S.-based foundations met for three days in 2018 to consider the role that private philanthropy might play in strengthening local humanitarian leadership. The three-day meeting in Seattle, hosted by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in collaboration with Center for Disaster Philanthropy, resulted in an agreement to continue meeting and to compile resources to increase the knowledge and participation of other philanthropic organizations. This initiative is an effort to build the capacity of leaders on the ground as they assist their communities in recovering from natural disasters and other complex humanitarian crises. The original funder participants include:
- Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
- The UPS Foundation
- Global Giving
- Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies
- The Open Society Foundations
- Center for Disaster Philanthropy
- Conrad N. Hilton Foundation
- The Rockefeller Foundation
In 2019, an additional four foundations will join in this collaborative effort.
There are also other major international nongovernmental organizations such as OXFAM and Catholic Relief Services that have made significant changes in their own internal processes and service delivery relationships as well as other funders who have made the localization effort a signature piece of their grantmaking.