Changing humanitarian practice on localisation and inclusion across the nexus
This study examines field-level practice related to localisation and inclusion when working across the humanitarian-development nexus in two contrasting country settings: Lebanon and Ethiopia. Analysing localisation means looking at processes that may contribute to (or obstruct) the empowerment of national and local state and civil society organisations and reliance on and respect for local institutional norms in the design and delivery of humanitarian assistance. Analysing responses to vulnerability across the humanitarian development nexus means focusing on the extent to which the design and prioritisation of humanitarian assistance has reflected prevailing hazards and vulnerability, with a strong emphasis on protection. In both areas, this study considers the influence of the Grand Bargain (GB) and World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) commitments in relation to processes already underway in the two countries, but does not assume that such influence is paramount. The primary focus is rather on domestic political, cultural and governance factors, and how global commitments play out within these spheres.
The Ethiopia case draws attention to how efforts to respond across the humanitarian development nexus (henceforth, ‘the nexus’) are anchored in frustration with the inability to overcome recurrent emergencies The Ethiopian state and development donors made major investments in what they hoped would be scalable social protection measures long before the nexus came to be known as such. The Ethiopian developmental state is determined to lead the humanitarian response, and therefore sees the nexus as a matter of localisation to government institutions. At the same time, the government distrusts local civil society organisations (CSOs), shrinking the space for the sort of localisation agendas envisaged in the GB and WHS.
In Lebanon, localisation to civil society is well underway. In 2017, United Nations (UN) agencies began instructing their INGO partners that future support would be conditional on rapid ‘handovers’ to national CSOs. This was in response to GB targets and fuelled by stricter government requirements on work permits for expatriate staff. Local CSOs interviewed repeatedly asked why, six years into the refugee crisis and in light of the decades of experience among local CSOs in responding to displacement crises, this shift has ‘taken so long’ to get started. Compared to Ethiopia, the nexus looks very different in a middle-income country where there is relatively little internationally financed development programming to link to. As such, international donors are in a quandary regarding what the nexus implies if they have no intention of establishing longer-term aid programmes.
Most interviewees in both countries do not recognise the GB and WHS as primary drivers for change in relation to localisation and inclusion across the nexus. Rather, these are concerns that humanitarians in Ethiopia and Lebanon have shared and grappled with for many years.
In both settings, international actors are recognising the need to take a backseat in locally driven processes to understand and respond to vulnerability in protracted or recurrent crises.
Working across the nexus is in the DNA of many local CSOs, as they have an ethical imperative to shift between development work and humanitarian needs, and have ‘seen it all before’ when dealing with the boom-bust cycle of recurrent humanitarian response. Capacity development needs notwithstanding, their priority is to find space to act in accordance with their normative goals. In both countries, localisation to civil society is also about these organisations being enabled to at least partially transform themselves from community development agencies into humanitarian service providers, capable of a shouldering a significant role. At the same time, their community development skills are central to what they bring to the table: a core strength in their nexus efforts usually lies in a future return to a primary focus on development.
In both countries, concerns with ‘leaving no big target group behind’ supersede granular vulnerability analysis. This means that despite some promising and innovative programmes, factors such as gender, disability and various forms of discrimination have little influence on overall priorities.
Scepticism and/or ignorance of WHS, GB and related commitments prevail at field-level.
International agencies’ practice of skimming off most (or all) of the overheads provided by donors before transferring resources to local partners, has been an important contributing factor behind this scepticism. This practice undermines theirlocal partners’ future capacity and runs the risk of locking them into narrow ‘implementing partner’ roles. Many partners see this as hypocrisy, eclipsing steps towards a new relationship.
Furthermore, in both countries there are ‘other bargains’ that overshadow the GB and WHS.
In Lebanon these are the bargains related to migration and security. In Ethiopia, these refer to the use of development tools to deliver on long-standing commitments to establish safety nets that enhance food security and prevent future emergencies.
It is difficult to say whether the intended outcomes of the WHS and GB ‘have yet to be rolled out’ at country-level or if they are being ‘lost in the shuffle’ amid local historical and political trajectories. This is not surprising given that localisation is inevitably a locally driven (or hindered) process, and the nexus involves integration into diverse national structures, be they state or civil society. Global commitments are only likely to gain greater traction if they are tailored to reflect nexus-related opportunities and obstacles – many of them profound, political and unyielding – in the local context. Changes are happening in incremental and heterogeneous ways. The protracted nature of most humanitarian crises suggests that humanitarians have a central role to play in many aspects of the response, but development actors, who already have the mandates and skill-sets for longer-term partnerships, are likely to take a more central role in ensuring more profound commitments to localisation and inclusion across the nexus. Given that development actors are largely ‘out of the loop’ on the GB and WHS, this reinforces conclusions that these agendas are not likely to be the main drivers in future change.