This paper is part of a series collating literature, resources, and actions that have focused on efforts to create change in the aid sector, developed in support of systems change initiative, the “RINGO Project” (Reimagining the INGO). This paper considers the topic of ‘localisation’ with the intent to help keep practitioners up to date with the evolving discussions in this area and promote awareness of initiatives among aid and development actors. It seeks to contribute to fostering a collaborative and reflective space, as a useful resource to invite discussion and contemplation, a ‘conversation starter’ as to what is defined as ‘disruptive’ transformational change and how the sector can work to meaningfully achieve this paradigm shift.
The term localisation now sits at the forefront of current discussions on reforms in the humanitarian system. This term gained widespread recognition following the Charter for Change 2015 commitments towards more locally-led responses, and was written around the same time as the World Humanitarian Summit, intended to provide a counterpoint to the Grand Bargain.
In its original framing, the concept of localisation was defined as a process of giving more decision-making agency, funding, leadership, and power to local and national actors throughout all stages of a humanitarian response. It is based on the premise that local people affected by crises have long been excluded by the international community from decision making that affects them despite their greater understanding of the local context and needs, and that funding models favour large INGOs, leaving local non-governmental organisations (LNGOs) under-resourced despite the fact that they are the first to respond and the last to leave, and carry the burden of risk in fragile settings. Other humanitarian actors also examine the challenges and potential for impact that localisation could have on maintaining humanitarian principles in distinct settings (i.e., conflict and fragile settings).
In the sector, there is a continuum of discussion from humanitarian actors and practitioners around agreed definitions and terminologies and the myriad definitions as to what counts as localisation.
Over time, however, as demands for localisation have come to the forefront of humanitarian policy discussions, it is clear that there is no universally accepted definition of ‘localisation’. In the sector, there is a continuum of discussion from humanitarian actors and practitioners around agreed definitions and terminologies and the myriad definitions as to what counts as localisation.
For instance, some humanitarian actors including the global Alliance 4 Empowering Partnerships do not endorse the inclusion of any local or national NGO, or intermediaries based in the global south that may be affiliated to an INGO as a local actor, while other humanitarian actors such as INGOs (intermediaries) sit on the other end of the spectrum. Further, some specialists observe the term ‘localisation’ “has been critiqued and rejected by many,” in which its use can have the adverse impact of reinforcing traditional power dynamics. Keeping in mind these considerations, this report uses the language of ‘localisation’, given its widely used and understood terminology, while recognising that this terminology can be problematic.
While localisation as a framework has its challenges, this guide collates a range of initiatives and steps taken by actors in the sector, both conceptually and operationally, as efforts to initiate change.
‘Transformation in the aid and development sector?’ is proudly presented by Centre for Humanitarian Leadership and Rights CoLab as part of the RINGO project, with the generous support of the IKEA Foundation.
Learn more about the series and read the other papers here.