Localisation of Aid: Addressing Structural Problems

Berlin/Iligan City, 24. September 2019

Localisation of Aid is a powerful catchphrase adopted by the humanitarian sector in recent years to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of humanitarian action. The launch of the Grand Bargain at the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016 and the Charter4Change were supposed to manifest this shift.

What has happened since 2016? How do local actors perceive localisation - a concept that is underpinned by two main topics effectiveness and power? Power dynamics are at the heart of the localisation discussion, specifically the perceived unwillingness of international agencies to place local groups in the decision-making driving seat.

We as Johanniter International Assistance, signatory of the Charter4Change, are interested in a dialogue with our national partners and their point of views to shape the localisation debate together. We want to ensure the core of localisation: empowerment of local actors and acknowledging the capacities and resources they have. In 2018, we started GROWTH in three countries, a project that has this goal.

Regina “Nanette” Salvador-Antequisa is the founding Executive Director of the Ecosystems Work for Essential Benefits, Inc. (ECOWEB) and convenor of the Community Led Emergency Action Response Network (CLEARNet) in the Philippines. She has been in peace and development work for over 25 years. She actively advocates for a survivor and community-led approach in crisis response. She has been engaged in local and national policy advocacy on the issues of disaster, poverty, conflict, environment and governance. At the global level, she was engaged in ensuring local voices in the SDG2030 and currently on the Localisation of Aid. Here she describes her point of view in a guest article.

Regina “Nanette” Salvador-Antequisa

“I hope that GROWTH will really make a difference in the humanitarian system. I believe it is not only about how much money or aid is delivered, but also how that aid transform lives, empower people and help them address their problems. For centuries, the most vulnerable communities in the world have been programmed in their mind that they lack capacities, that they are backward and not civilized enough. Subconsciously this resulted to more admiration on the western culture and lifestyles.

In the Localisation debate, I would always hear International Nongovernmental Organisations (INGOs) referring to issues on SURGE capacity of locals, of due diligence, of transparency and accountability, of readiness of locals in the sophisticated system required by donors. Donors are also raising issues on their capacity to deal with so many locals thus needing intermediaries still to deal with locals albeit believing and committing to Localisation.

Not believing that locals have the capacity or probably also don´t want to let go of some power, a number of INGOs just decided to nationalise/localise their structure to fit in on the call for Localisation. Instead of committing to address the reason for the localisation campaign, some INGOs just could not easily change their systems and not committed enough to let go of the power they have been holding on for so long.

Building Trust of the Locals in Themselves

“Community-based information, mobilisation and learning systems” is used as short-hand to describe a community-owned process of rapid situation analysis, appreciative inquiry, information-management, mobilisation, gap-analysis and learning that prioritises building on existing capacities strengthening opportunities for self-help. This process is also referred to as Participatory Action Learning in Crises (PALC). ©Local to Global protection Report 2018


"I believe the whole localisation agenda will only become successful, if the movement will really result to building trust of the locals in themselves and of the humanitarian donors to the locals on their capacities. We may need to painstakingly undergo the process of learning hard lessons along the process, but like any learner, the best teacher would be own failures and own experiences.

Humanitarian Aid system has been operating demonstrating power relations: of the developed and underdeveloped. If we look back in time, it has been a product as well of the colonial relations; of the power relations - those who acquire more wealth acquire more power. What we forget is that our history showed us how the accumulation of wealth over centuries have actually resulted to the vulnerability of the so called less developed countries. Climate change for example should be a reminder on how the accumulation of wealth by world power holders have actually made poorer and less developed countries more vulnerable thus sacrificing the lives even those who have not contributed to the gas emissions.

The localisation agenda will be successful if it strengthens confidence in the local capacities. ©Erika Piñeros - Ecuador

Humanitarian Aid: The Good Side of those in Power

In the context of human induced disasters in conflict settings, geo-politics certainly play a role. It benefit those who amass wealth and power in the arms trade sacrificing those poorer and vulnerable communities affected by the introduction of weapons and guns in the name of peace and order. Humanitarian Aid is a good side of those in power, which helps at least those who have to suffer the consequences. The problem that I see in the humanitarian aid system is that instead of making it a real amend to the consequences of the amassing of wealth and power of the so-called donors, again the system makes humanitarian aid another manifestation of the imbalanced power relations. Instead of helping those affected of the already power imbalance, again it creates other power holders, which make recipient of the humanitarian aid just receptors without any say on the system, on the process and even on how the aid should be used to their benefit.

That is why localisation for me is not only about transferring roles to "trusted local structures" in the management of the humanitarian aid. For me the movement is about wanting to address more structural problems - of power relations in decision-making, and in utilizing the aid not only to cover the needs of the affected, but also enabling them to address the root causes of their vulnerabilities, of their powerlessness in helping themselves.

Aid should therefore be amend to the system of power imbalance, but instead of collaboration, there is competition. In the course of our historical past, we have been introduced into an educational system that promotes this way. We have lost our trust to our local leaders who were not adopting the new system and became just corrupt as defined by it. Culture is not easy to change, but when culture is corrupted it is so hard to just cleanse it. I would say that this affects the culture among NGOs, too.

Using Opportunities to Address Obstacles and Core Issues

Thus, in making Localisation effective, any opportunities should be able to address obstacles and core issues as well including the unspoken. It should lead towards building trust of the locals of themselves and of others. It should ensure that locals will become more effective and efficient. It should address also strategic needs to enable affected people standing on their own feet and become more capable to help themselves. The GROWTH project hopefully will plant some seeds of change in the system that would bear some fruit for easier replication and multiplication. What has been started is good. We can learn lessons from it.

Recommendations by Regina Salvador-Antequisa:

  • Set-up a capacity building program that would help organisations to set-up organisational system, policies, mechanisms and strategies to improve their surge capacity that would help the disaster affected help themselves in a more effective and efficient manner ensuring due diligence.
  • Provide capacity building to partners human resources for confidence building and for improving trust with other local partners while advocating for improving local humanitarian system and policies in response to identified needs of the vulnerable and the affected.
  • Enable GROWTH project partners to consolidate Localisation advocacy agenda and capacity to influence and hold their international humanitarian partners to account and to support Localisation agenda.
  • Enable GROWTH project partners to engage other local and national humanitarian and development organisations to strengthen the Localisation movement in the country (especially with endorsers of Charter for Change).
  • Provide space for dialogues with international organisations having presence in the country to further the localisation agenda, especially with signatories of Charter for Change.
  • Set-up a pooled fund that would serve as a Stand-By-Fund that could be accessed by the GROWTH local partners in times of emergency needs following an agreed process, criteria, and system established prior to access of the fund. Establish a mechanism to grow the pooled fund.
  • Establishing a M&E system that would ensure evidence-based capturing of learning of the program to serve as basis for continuing improvement.
Bündnispartner der Johanniter: Aktion Deutschland hilft, Gemeinsam für Afrika, VENRO und DZI

Your contact person Claudia Zehl

Lützowstr. 94
10785 Berlin