Daniel Ferrell-Schweppenstedde

Former Policy and Public Affairs Manager

Charities Aid Foundation


Best practice in fulfilling the localisation agenda

12 October 2021

How can donors move closer to fulfilling the promises of the Grand Bargain?

A new report by the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) published with CAF looks at the current state of the localisation agenda. It identifies best practice for implementing localisation, the barriers to fulfilling it, and makes recommendations on how to address them.


What is localisation?

The localisation agenda grew out of the realisation that the international humanitarian aid and development system needed to improve its effectiveness. Introduced during the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, it recognises that the system was built around international players from the Global North.

Localisation instead tries to shift power, resources and ownership to local people, putting them at the centre of the aid system. The Grand Bargain signatories – who represent around 84% of all donor humanitarian contributions donated in 2019 - committed to a range of goals to make localisation a reality. This included giving ‘by 2020 a global, aggregated target of at least 25% of humanitarian funding to local and national responders as directly as possible to improve outcomes for affected people and reduce transactional costs.’ Unfortunately, this target has only been partly met. There were 63 signatories by 2020, out of which only 13 have met (or exceeded) the target.


Best practice for localisation

Those working within the aid system have developed various implementation frameworks. Research undertaken by LSE for CAF found six primary components to drive successful localisation:

  • Partnership: Treating local partners as long-term strategic partners instead of implementation partners. And working together in an open, egalitarian and complementary way.
  • Funding: direct and multi-annual (core cost) funding, including the use of pooled and network funding.
  • Capacity: Capacity building is a two-way street. Greater value must be placed on local context-specific knowledge of culture, politics and governance.
  • Coordination: Effective coordination between international and local partners using existing platforms with collaborative governance structures.
  • Policy and decision-making: Integrating local actors in the entire programme and project cycle (including design, implementation, evaluation, and decisions on internal and external policies that govern all arrangements); and the decentralisation of decision-making processes.
  • Participation: Including local communities in the development of initiatives and promoting downward accountability.

These insights are included in a self-assessment tool (at the end of the report). Funders and international development practitioners can use it to reflect on how they have engaged with localisation.


Systemic barriers to fulfilling the agenda

The promises of the localisation agenda still need to be fully realised. But what makes international actors hesitant to follow through on promises? It is less about a lack of technical knowledge about  how to do it in practice, but more about a range of systemic and institutional barriers:

  • Persisting power imbalances between the Global North and South, which remain deeply entrenched in the aid sector
  • Institutional gaps of local knowledge, which in turn means that local capabilities are undervalued and assessed against standards set by international colleagues. This leads to people working in this area who are from the Global North perceiving their approaches as global.
  • Insufficient institutional incentives to localise, which means international leaders are hesitant to follow through on promises (in particular on shifting resources) as this is being perceived as undermining their own funding and resource base.


What can be done to address these barriers?

The report identifies four areas:

  • A shift in mind-sets. International partners need to evidence the cost effectiveness of localisation programmes - both in terms of contributions made by local counterparts and their lasting effects of reducing aid dependency. This could shift funding towards strategic interventions that focus on local civil society organisations (CSOs) and strengthen their impact in terms of resilience and capacity. But local CSOs and national governments need to regain ownership of their own development agenda and focus on partnership principles with Global North funders and organisations, moving away from accepting aid dependency as the norm.
  • Complementarity between international and local organisations. Building a system that recognises the strengths of both local and international organisations. Global responses will require global mechanisms. But roles within it need to be recalibrated. Development and implementation of strategies that require local knowledge need to be owned by local people with international counterparts focussing on other roles such as advocacy, global network building and navigating the international aid system.
  • Contextualisation of the localisation process. Moving away from standardised localisation frameworks towards processes that build on local potential. Capacity building needs to be a two-way process that recognises the equal importance of knowledge of local culture, politics and governance. This includes establishing downward accountability and inclusion of local voices that comes with decision-making power about resource allocation and priorities.
  • Alignment of incentives. Localisation represents a shared agenda, but it comes with little enforcement mechanisms. Ranking participants alongside their own commitments or genuine feedback mechanisms for local colleagues could be of help here. Funding equitable partnerships and placing higher value on local knowledge and capabilities in the budgeting process could be a solution as well.


Change won’t come overnight

The international development and aid system is highly dependent on Official Development Assistance (ODA) which consists mainly of taxpayer money from donor countries. Funding can therefore often only be distributed in a way that fulfils donor reporting and accountability requirements (e.g. by parliaments, commissions or through other mechanisms).

Furthermore, complying with Anti-Money Laundering (AML) and Combating the Financing of Terrorism (CFT) regulations could further slow the full realisation of the localisation agenda. These are powerful incentives for maintaining upward accountability and maintaining resource control if giving it up is perceived as increasing risks in the system. However, the time for change is gaining momentum and the report at hand is another useful contribution that highlights how we can realise this shared agenda.

This article draws on information from an LSE Consultancy Project in partnership with CAF.