The Feinstein International Center, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University and Save the Children Denmark conducted research on the localization of humanitarian action in several different contexts—Indonesia following the 2018 earthquake in Sulawesi, and the Horn of Africa, specifically humanitarian situations in Kenya, Somalia, and South Sudan. The goal was to unpack assumptions related to locally led humanitarian action and to identify the factors that lead to effective, timely, and principled responses. Research was qualitative and primarily focused on engaging with local actors in each context. While the studies were substantially different in scope and context, this brief is meant to highlight some of the key similarities and differences found across localization processes, and to begin to identify lessons learned that may reach beyond these specific emergencies.
The Indonesia study focused on a single acute natural disaster (an earthquake) in a single country/context that has a strong civil society and government presence. The Horn of Africa study was a comparison of broader trends across three different countries dealing with a complex mix of conflict, displacement, and climate-related challenges like drought, each with varied degrees of government and civil society strength. The presence of international actors in these contexts varied widely as well: in Indonesia, a government directive limited international organizations to indirect participation in the response; in Kenya, there is a significant presence of international organizations, many of whom have their regional headquarters in Nairobi; and in Somalia and South Sudan, international organizations are significantly involved in responses but tend to have a limited physical presence on the ground due to security restrictions, and they often operate through remote partnerships.
By definition, the discussions over localization and local humanitarian leadership are context specific.
They require an acknowledgement of and reckoning with different types of crises, types of civil society, roles of governments and international actors, and even conceptions of what the word “local” means in practice. At the same time, there is an ongoing global discussion about localization. By comparing the results from these diverse cases, we can identify sets of common and divergent themes that can contribute to the broader discourse.