Localisation through genuine partnerships: what does it look like?

Author: Lizz Harrison

Partnerships between international NGOs and local humanitarian actors are a crucial part of the drive towards a locally-led humanitarian response, known as localisation. But what are the best ways to ensure genuine partnerships which build strong local humanitarian agencies.

Localisation became the buzzword of the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) in 2016 and was outlined in the Agenda for Humanity as one of the key transformations needed in the humanitarian system: “reinforce, do not replace, national and local systems”. Furthermore, the Grand Bargain, agreed at the WHS by UN, donor and international agencies, committed to give “more support and funding tools to local and national responders”. Many international NGOs have been reinforcing local systems, providing support to local responders, and working in partnerships with local humanitarian actors for years; but are we doing enough?

Recent research from Accelerating Localisation through Partnerships, a consortium who have worked together since 2012 to look at how to strengthen the role of local NGOs in humanitarian response, found that partnerships were seen as one of the best routes to a locally-led response. However, only around one-quarter of research participants believed the partnerships they had experienced were genuine partnerships, e.g. shared and equal power and input into project design, budget, management and review.

Christian Aid, CARE, Tearfund, ActionAid, CAFOD and Oxfam have all discussed the research findings and are in the process of piloting the recommendations agreed with local partners in Myanmar, Nepal, Nigeria and South Sudan as part of this 2-year European Union funded programme. We’re partway through the pilot phase and learning more about what partnerships practices are considered by local and national NGOs as most and least conducive to localisation. Below are the top 5 partnership practices which INGOs can incorporate in the way they work with local partners to accelerate localisation:

  1. Budgeting: Project budgets include funds for local partners for: 1) reasonable overheads (e.g. office rent, utilities); 2) indirect costs (e.g. taxes, insurance, security procedures); 3) assets vital for project implementation, safety and/or organisational financial sustainability (e.g. laptop, vehicle, salaries for interim periods); and 4) organisational strengthening (e.g. staff training, development of policies). These budgets should be transparent in showing what international partners receive to support the project (e.g. % admin fees).

  2. Responsiveness to feedback: International actors (and donor agencies) respond to findings from local partner monitoring and give flexibility to adapt programmes and budgets in response to changing needs and community feedback as much as is practicable.

  3. Capacity strengthening: International actors provide comprehensive, mixed-method capacity strengthening support on topics requested by local partners which are neither solely based on project needs nor only intended for project staff. Research found that longer-term institutional strengthening support is preferred (governance, policy development, security management), whereas short-term project-related training is most commonly provided (e.g. compliance or technical support).

  4. Equality in partnerships: Local partners are treated as equal partners, not as sub-contractors presented with already agreed project documents and budgets. This includes joint needs assessments, project design, budget development, monitoring visits, and reflection etc.

  5. Ethical recruitment: International actors follow ethical recruitment practices (e.g. no poaching high capacity staff from local NGOs thereby undermining their capacity to respond) and make attempts to keep salaries and benefits within as close a range as possible to local actors.

For more details of the findings and recommendations, the country and global research reports, visit the webpage:

Accelerating Localisation through Partnerships is a 2-year EU-funded programme run in consortium by Christian Aid, CARE, Tearfund, ActionAid, CAFOD and Oxfam with guidance from four national steering committees made up of local and national NGOs in Myanmar, Nepal, Nigeria and South Sudan. The research was conducted by Integrated Risk Management Associates (IRMA).