Unpacking Localization

In mid-2019, three years after the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), the Grand Bargain and the Charter for Change, there are still widespread calls by non-government organizations (NGOs) to define localization and what it means to different stakeholders.

ICVA (International Council of Voluntary Agencies) has previously defined localization as ‘the process through which a diverse range of humanitarian actors are attempting, each in their own way, to ensure local and national actors are better engaged in the planning, delivery and accountability of humanitarian action, while still ensuring humanitarian needs can be met swiftly, effectively and in a principled manner’.

As with other similar definitions, by trying to be broad and inclusive of many viewpoints, it does not provide much of the detail of what localization really involves.

ICVA and the Humanitarian Leadership Academy have developed this paper to support local, national and international NGOs to ‘unpack’ localization in a constructive manner.

Localization is a product of a wide range of changes; particularly those related to the type of organizations that are leading or delivering humanitarian assistance, the ways in which these organizations are working and, the environments in which humanitarian action takes place.

To unpack localization, one approach is to consider it as the intersection of four subprocesses that are taking place simultaneously, in some cases working in parallel, in others working together or against each other.

These processes appear to be highly contextual; they are moving in different ways within regions, in different national or sub-national settings, and particularly between natural disaster, displacement or conflict settings.

‘Lack of clarity or a shared understanding of localization and the persistence of some core challenges have meant that humanitarian actors continue to contest how localization unfolds, even while agreeing almost universally on its importance’.