Increasing voices locally and globally over the past two decades have been calling for the need to change the power dynamics in our current development and humanitarian aid structures by adopting localization as part of all these efforts. Localization entails sharing power, resources, and responsibilities of development and humanitarian aid efforts with local and national actors. The Grand Bargain, which is the outcome document of the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit, developed an agenda for reforming the international relief sector, to make it more cost-effective, more inclusive, and with a more balanced distribution of power. Donor governments that are signatories to the Grand Bargain, pledged to support localization by increasing local funding, strengthening local capacities, enhancing local coordination, and strengthening local partnerships.
The fundamental step in creating a functional civil society that can lead to sustainable development and humanitarian interventions starts with empowering and supporting local actors. Local and international organizations should work on a partnership basis, rather than the conventional “trickle-down’ methods currently being employed which do not serve the notion of localization any real justice. One of the prime reasons why localization is important is because an empowered and active local civil society is imperative to cementing social cohesion, sustainable change, and responsive development. Another crucial point is that despite international commitments toward normalizing localization, however in Jordan NGOs still receive a fraction of the funding that is received by international organizations. It is hence becoming important for NGOs to start lobbying international donors to embed localization in foreign aid requirements.
It is equally important that think tanks, NGOs, and organizations involved in the debate, are able to provide stakeholders with a realistic evaluation of the capacity and levels of technical expertise that local organizations have and assess what is needed to develop their capacities on par with their international counterparts. Capacity development clearly entails international to national knowledge transfer, sharing of best practices, tools, and methodologies, and providing local organizations with needed evidence-based strategies, to be able to develop sustainable projects and interventions. Naturally, local actors are to a large extent more effective in delivering local humanitarian response because they are part of the fabric of the societies they work in and have a more native understanding of the communities they serve and the challenges they face.
Calls for Localization do not seek to replace international organizations or undermine them, on the contrary, it seeks to redress power imbalances between national and international efforts. Accordingly, there is a need for normalizing equal partnerships between INGOs and LNGOs in emergency and development interventions, including decentralizing relief planning in favor of local partnerships for context-driven, multi-stage, long-term sustainable interventions.
Localization goes beyond mere resource distribution and monetary partnerships. It involves reshaping power dynamics, redistributing roles and responsibilities, and fostering mutual learning. It entails respecting local needs, adapting to the local context, and assisting in generating local knowledge. It also involves empowering local actors, eliminating biases, and countering the negative influences of foreign agendas by adapting its best practices to the local context.
It is therefore critical at this point to accelerate the role of local actors, by offering them a chair at the table, during the design, planning, and implementation phases of projects, in addition to providing them with sufficient funding as very limited funding from the international aid community goes to local organizations, with most of the funding disbursed to foreign-led, and foreign managed organizations. Making local actors part of the solution ensures accountability and the long-term sustainability of the initiative. Strengthening the capacity of local and national actors can also enhance the speed, quality, and scale of international development and humanitarian response efforts.
The current model that disburses all resources from bilateral and multilateral donors to international nongovernmental organizations and international development contractors must shift towards incorporating localization in project requirements. What we need is a strong commitment from the international aid and donor community and stronger cooperation and partnerships between local and international actors. We need to ensure that those who would benefit from proposed initiatives are a part of the solution, meaning they are consulted during every stage of the project, from design through implementation. However, this requires international stakeholders to display flexibility, and willingness to adapt their systems and procedures to accommodate new local partners that might be unfamiliar with the complex application and compliance procedures, language preferences, and reporting requirements of each international partner.
Finally, as the world is grappling with the aftermath of the Covid-19 Pandemic, and a global economic and refugee crisis of an unprecedented scale, accompanied by a surge in global inflation levels, geopolitical challenges, and a looming energy crisis in Europe, more dynamic solutions that invest in local institutions and local capacities are much more relevant now. What we need are “new business models,” especially those that efficiently reduce operational costs, localize development, and give larger agency to local organizations and civil society in general to ensure the sustainability of impact and development.