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IFRC Policy Brief: Localization - what it means and how to achieve it

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Local humanitarian action already has an enormous life-saving impact around the world.

It could do even more – in particular, it could be the key to bridging the growing gap (currently over $15 billion) between humanitarian needs and available funds -- if the international community began to really invest in it.

If we focus our collective efforts on ensuring strong, sustainable, relevant, effective local organizations we will achieve better preparedness, response and recovery in humanitarian settings, improving outcomes for affected populations.

1. What is Localization?

There is no single definition of “localization”. In the Grand Bargain, (a 2016 agreement between some of the largest humanitarian donors and agencies,) signatories committed, under the heading of “more support and finding tools to local and national responders,” to “making principled humanitarian action as local as possible and as international as necessary” while continuing to recognize the vital role of international actors, in particular in situations of armed conflict.

Other actors have developed their own definitions and localization objectives. For example, local actors in the Pacific (government, national societies and local and national NGOs) developed their own definition of localization as “a process of recognising, respecting and strengthening the independence of leadership and decision making by national actors in humanitarian action, in order to better address the needs of affected populations”.

The overall objective of localization is improved humanitarian response, ensuring access for all in need to fast, quality, impactful and sustainable humanitarian assistance that is efficient, effective and fit for purpose. Local actors are key for this and have distinct strengths, as they often play a crucial role in ensuring early response and access, acceptance, cost effectiveness, and link with development (i.e. reducing the impact of future crises). In order to achieve these benefits, the specific objectives of localization are to increase investment in local actors and to improve partnerships and coordination between international and local responders.

Localization is also about complementarity, which looks to a balance between local and international action in order to maximise the comparative advantages of both, and increase effectiveness of the humanitarian response in a given context. International humanitarian action remains extremely important. However, IFRC feels there needs to be far greater recognition of the role of local actors. The Grand Bargain offers us a way forward on this issue.