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Humanitarian Exchange Magazine No. 79 - Localisation and local humanitarian action

The theme of this edition of Humanitarian Exchange is localisation+ and local humanitarian action. Five years ago this week, donors, United Nations (UN) agencies, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) committed within the Grand Bargain to increase multi-year investments in the institutional capacities of local and national responders, and to provide at least 25% of humanitarian funding to them as directly as possible. Since then, there is increasing consensus at policy and normative level, underscored by the Covid-19 pandemic, that local leadership should be supported. Localisation has gone from a fringe conversation among policy-makers and aid agencies in 2016 to a formal priority under the Grand Bargain. Wider global movements on anti-racism and decolonisation have also brought new momentum to critical reflections on where power, knowledge and capacity reside in the humanitarian system. Yet progress has been slow and major gaps remain between the rhetoric around humanitarian partnerships, funding and coordination and practices on the ground.

In the lead article, Howard Mollett and Laura Donkin interrogate the link between capacity-strengthening and localisation, concluding that supporting local leadership is a more effective approach. Capacity-strengthening is also discussed by Elise Baudot Queguiner, Jubril Shittu and Esther Christen, who explain how an innovative initiative is using a longer-term integrated training, mentoring and partnering approach to support Nigerian local and national actors to achieve organisational sustainability, increase humanitarian response capacity and develop new partnerships. Reflecting on lessons learned from implementing capacity-strengthening projects with national non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Afghanistan, Mohammad Rateb Shaheed and Isabella Leyh argue for a significant shift in the ways in which such projects are conceptualised and implemented, recommending a focus on sustainability and a recognition that national NGOs are teachers as well as learners. Mazen Alhusseiny, from Syria Relief, and Augustin Titi Rutanuka and Armel Rusake Rutebeza, from CEDIER in the Democratic Republic of Congo, share their experiences of how partnerships with international organisations have influenced organisational development. Su Myattun and her co-authors emphasise the importance of understanding the history of localisation in Rakhine, Myanmar, noting that Covid-19 restrictions, combined with shifts in perception of collaborating with international organisations, have created new opportunities for locally owned responses. Anuja Jayaraman, Rama Shyam and their co-contributors discuss how long-term engagement with community volunteers in Mumbai has enabled volunteers to move from being participants to collaborators and community leaders during the Covid-19 pandemic. Charlotte Greene and her co-authors and contributors explain how the survivor- and community-led crisis response approach, which enables national and international NGOs to work with and support spontaneous self-help actions by disaster- and crisis-affected people, has worked in Haiti.

Juliet Eyokia, Md. Abdul Latif, Peter Ochepa and Petra Righetti consider the lessons learned from the Empowering Local and National Humanitarian Actors (ELNHA) programme in Uganda and Bangladesh, which offers an alternative approach to humanitarian response based on more equitable, collaborative partnerships between international and local responders. Esteban ‘Bong’ Mascagca, Janice Ian Manlutac and Benedict Balderrama provide an overview of the types of Quick Response Funds operating in the Philippines, making the case that locally designed and managed pooled funds can reduce bureaucratic delays and strengthen local leadership. Jean Claude Cerin and co-contributors reflect on the localisation journey of a network of local and international NGOs in Haiti that has aimed to strengthen local coordination, ownership and decision-making. Christian Els and Henrik Fröjmark analyse data from 10 countries on funding flows to local actors and opportunities for them to take up leadership roles in humanitarian coordination, pointing out that the differing methods donors and aid organisations use to calculate funding to local actors can distort the figures. Ben Munson, Ramya Madhavan and Sarah Stephens and their co-contributors report on the outcomes of a pilot programme to expand evidence and enhance understanding of how local and national NGOs use flexible funds. Josie Flint, Josaia Jirauni Osborne, Chris Roche and Fiona Tarpey outline emerging findings from research conducted by a partnership of organisations in Australia and the Pacific Island nations on how Covid-19 has affected locally led humanitarian action in the region. Mia Marzotto, Kemal Alp Taylan, Fatuma Ibrahim and co-authors share learning from research that suggests practical language provisions can improve local and national organisations’ access to guidance and technical tools and enable them to take more leadership in humanitarian programming and decision-making. Jihan Kaisi, Rosy Haddad, Loujine Fattal and Alina Potts discuss their experience in Lebanon of working in partnership to co-create research processes based on local partners’ knowledge. The edition ends with an article by Andy Featherstone, who examines the challenges faced by humanitarian agencies that engage with state-led structures and makes recommendations about how these can be addressed in the future.


Outreach to authors and the review and editing process for this edition involved support and feedback from members of networks active on localisation, including Charter4Change, NEAR and A4EP. Particular thanks are extended to Mai Jarrar, Meryem Aslan, Mihir Bhatt, Nagwa Musa Konda, Saeed Ullah Khan, Sema Genel Karaosmanoglu, Sudhanshu Singh, Howard Mollett, Nils Carstensen and Veronique Barbelet. This edition has been expertly edited by Matthew Foley and Katie Forsythe and produced by Hannah Bass.

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