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Strengthening local capacity and accountability: localism

There has been ongoing discussion across the humanitarian sector about the need for widespread reform.

The World Humanitarian Summit in 2016 resulted in the Grand Bargain agreement (Agenda for Humanity, 2018) based around commitments from over 30 of the largest donors and humanitarian aid organisations. A key commitment is to focus locally, with more funding to go to national and local responders (25% of all global funding by 2020).

While some divergence exists about the exact meaning of localisation (Roepstorff, 2019), in essence it can be described as:

…process of recognising, respecting and strengthening the leadership by local authorities and the capacity of local civil society in humanitarian action, in order to better address the needs of affected populations and to prepare national actors for future humanitarian responses.

(International Council of Voluntary Agencies, 2018)

Cash programming

Cash programming has emerged as an important mechanism for making action more relevant to the needs of local populations during response, recovery and risk reduction.

Cash can be distributed quickly, sometimes as a face-to face payment, but increasingly as bank transfers by mobile phone or other digital means (CHS Alliance, 2018). Allocations can sometimes be earmarked for use against specific items or resources, or in return for work, but the general trend has been towards unconditional cash transfers which empower families and individuals to make their own decisions about its use.

But cash programming mechanisms can still allow donors and large NGOs to bypass local organisations. There is concern that insufficient consideration is given to the need for and benefits of extending the capacity of local actors and improving their skills in participatory practice and evaluation (CHS Alliance, 2018).

Capacity of local organisations

Despite the intention to directly fund more local agencies, traditional donors frequently reject funding applications for disaster interventions that include capacity building, ironically because the local agency lacks capacity. In order to access funds, local agencies are forced to partner with larger NGOs and increasingly local organisations don’t view partnering as a choice.

INGO due diligence repeatedly confirms known weaknesses in their capacity for attracting and training the right people, delivering flexible funding, and making capital investments. Usen (2019) eloquently summarises the patronising and superficial training that his organisation has received from large NGO partners, which was not of value and failed to meet his organisation’s needs. Usen (2019) suggests in his article that small agencies may be compelled to lie about their capacity simply in order to secure funds.

Many smaller organisations hold unique understanding of local contexts and local practice. They have the information they need about capacity gaps and they want control over capacity development funding. They want to be trusted and accountable for how they invest the money, and responsible for the resultant outcomes for their local communities.

Change needs to come from the traditionally dominant agencies in the sector ‘releasing power’ to local organisations, making the systems work differently.

Your task

Read this Haiti case study (Robillard et al., 2020, pp. 21–24).

How are ‘local’ organisations defined? What characteristics do they need?


Agenda for Humanity. (2018). Grand bargain initiative. https://www.agendaforhumanity.org/initiatives/3861

Core Humanitarian Standard Alliance. (2018). How change happens in the humanitarian sector: Humanitarian accountability report. Core Humanitarian Standard Alliance. https://d1h79zlghft2zs.cloudfront.net/uploads/2019/07/Humanitarian_Accountability_Report_2018.pdf

International Council of Voluntary Agencies. (2018). Localization examined: An ICVA briefing paper. https://www.icvanetwork.org/resources/localization-examined-icva-briefing-paper

Roepstorff, K. (2019). A call for critical reflection on the localisation agenda in humanitarian action. Third World Quarterly, 41(2), 284-301. https://doi.org/10.1080/01436597.2019.1644160

Usen, L. E. (2019). Localisation: We are frustrated, not stupid! Forced Migration Review, 60, 78-79. https://search.proquest.com/docview/2263278826/fulltextPDF/D4AB80EAEBEE494FPQ/1?accountid=6724

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This article is from the free online course:

Disaster Interventions and the Need for Evaluation, Accountability and Learning

Coventry University