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  • Kshirabdhi Tanaya Patra

Empowering Locals; Strengthening Communities through Localization

In different humanitarian contexts with rapid changes, there is a need for policies and programs that are better suited to the affected population. This necessitates locally-led development that focuses on the needs of every person in the community, pushing for more inclusive decisions. The people who don’t can’t exercise their rights should be given the right platform. Localization requires them to be the essential elements in the decision-making process that affect them. As USAID defines, localization is the set of internal reforms, actions, and behaviour changes that we are undertaking to ensure our work puts local actors in the lead, strengthens local systems, and is responsive to local communities .”  


While ‘localization’ is novel, its meaning varies across contexts. In InterAction’s Local Leadership in Humanitarian Response Initiative, regional consultants discussed different approaches to localization in the shelter and settlement sector. Through extensive ground research, several local stakeholders have provided their input. Throughout this initiative, regional consultants in four countries - DRC, Bangladesh, Colombia, and Jordan. The detailed reports provide us with valuable insights into its perception of the Global South. By examining how local actors and stakeholders perceive the term, we can gain valuable insights into how different communities experience this approach. 

Localization refers to efforts to empower and involve local actors in decision-making and strengthen local systems. However, several communication gaps between local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and international NGOs hinder effective collaboration and, the lack of coordination results in the neglect of local housing and well-being needs. Additionally, local actors encounter difficulties in direct access to humanitarian funding, which further limits their ability to address the needs of their communities. The findings also underscore that while local actors often focus on their capacity limitations, it is equally pertinent for international NGOs and donors to be inclusive and accountable to local populations. Overall, the findings of the Regional Consultations conducted by the Local Leadership in the Humanitarian Response Initiative highlight the need for better communication, coordination, and inclusivity in humanitarian efforts to achieve effective localization.

On 31st of January 2024, InterAction hosted a webinar to share the findings of the report “Local Voices, Local Choices” which summarises the key findings of this initiative. The report maps out the main results of extensive research conducted over eighteen months on perception and barriers to localization. It consolidates the key findings of each report and focuses on the recommendations put forth by the regional consultants. Following this, the initiative also held a dissemination workshop in South Sudan to validate the findings that led to the final efforts of this report. The online webinar served as an effective platform for sharing knowledge and inviting further ideas.

The presentation highlighted who is considered ‘local’ and what ‘local’ means, which is crucial in determining the success of localization efforts. The barriers stakeholders are not just practical or operational but also include attitude and recognition issues that hinder progress. A local stakeholder in Jordan has stated that local NGOs are considered implementers because international NGOs regard them as weaker. The knowledge of the local communities is hence not taken into context. There is a need for more equitable partnerships that leverage the strengths of local organizations, including longer-term commitments and capacity strengthening as determined by them. In the context of shelter and settlement, aspects related to design and implementation, such as vernacular context and cultural considerations, play a significant role. In Bangladesh, another actor from a local NGO has talked about the traditional construction typically involving the use of 'khuti,' wooden poles, instead of bamboo. However, the project neglected this local perspective, resulting in a design ill-suited to the community's needs. The absence of consultation with local inhabitants and failure to incorporate their preferences and contextual nuances yielded no tangible results. With cultural consideration, the project could be far more effective. The possibilities and limitations of localization are determined by the political, financial, and cultural context of each situation.

Logistical considerations, such as language and meeting venues, also hinder the genuine participation of local organizations. According to a respondent from an international NGO in the DRC report, international NGOs typically have their headquarters or offices in countries where their donors are based, in the USA, UK, EU, or elsewhere. As a result, when a call for proposals is still in the process of being finalized by the donor, some international NGOs are already aware of it and are preparing their applications accordingly. In contrast, national NGOs often become aware of the call for proposals only a few days after it has been published. A need for change is essential at the structural, value, and process levels to break the hierarchy and foster genuine localization. In Colombia, the process is inhibited by political instability. With a change in government, the bureaucracy changes making it difficult to adapt. 

The Local Voices, Local Choices report summarizes the three main areas for action moving forward,  the first is to redefine guiding principles and values, focusing on amplifying local voices, situating contextual knowledge, and prioritizing community empowerment. The second is to reform humanitarian systems by enhancing access to funding, fostering equitable partnerships, and rethinking capacity-building approaches. The third is to take simple actions, such as strengthening accountability towards localization, increasing the visibility of subnational actors, and improving communication and information sharing in local languages. There is a need for further research and documentation on localization in different contexts, as well as reflection and reform from donors in terms of funding and accessibility to local actors. 

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