A Journey towards the Localisation of Aid
By Helen Asnake, DEPP Regional Learning Advisor for Ethiopia and the Middle East
I was recently invited to be part of the launch of a research project in Ethiopia led by the Shifting the Power Project, one of the 14 collaborative capacity-building projects that make up the Disasters and Emergencies Preparedness Programme (DEPP). The focus of the research piece centred on the much-discussed topic of aid localisation. During the launch, the lead researcher presented their analysis on the capacity gaps of local NGOs, donors’ attitudes and practises around localisation of aid, and the barriers and enablers for local organizations to access international humanitarian funding.
What is Localisation of Aid?
During the launch I had the opportunity to reflect on the meaning of “localisation of aid.” I came to the conclusion that for me, it is not simply about getting funding from international donors --it is also about using available local capacities to deliver more effective humanitarian assistance. This relies heavily on both supporting local organisational capacity, as well as tackling the underlying issue of unsustainable income for these organisations. Being fully dependent on funding from international and multilateral donors doesn’t help the root cause of the problem, which is the lack of sustainable sources of income and capacity for local NGOs.
The institutional context in Ethiopia
According to Ethiopian government policy, for an organisation to be considered local, it should abide by the 10-90 rule. This means that national organisations must raise 90% of their money locally and only 10% from external sources. This has been a challenge for many local NGOs, which are not able to raise the necessary funds locally and resort to different strategies that still allow them to abide by the law.
Challenges of donor requirements
The main discussion during the research launch was around how local NGOs can access the limited international funding resources that are available to them. Many of the challenges mentioned by participants centred on donor requirements, including proposal writing and financial management demands, as well as a lack of easily accessible information on what these requirements entail. Another issue is that some of the prerequisites for funding and reimbursement laid down by donors are actually against Ethiopian law, such as the need for a foreign-currency bank account in order to get funding from abroad. Many donor requirements are tied up with accountability and ensuring the money goes to the right people in the right way, which is not only about how money is channelled but also about reporting back and making sure the funds served the appropriate purpose. Another issue is that often local NGOs have gaps in their technical and managerial capacity, which prevent them from fulfilling minimum requirements of donors. These excessive requirements from the donors’ side could prevent local actors from accessing funding and positioning themselves as key players in humanitarian responses. The researcher concluded that this funding process needs streamlining and would be more effective if donors and recipients worked together as partners.
INGOs supporting localisation
Most local and civil society organisations work in partnership with INGOs to deliver programmes and build the capacity of local actors. Taking into consideration the experience of INGOs around this process, the researcher conducted an assessment of their partnership experience, which highlighted interesting trends. Although most INGOs have partnerships with local NGOs to deliver specific projects and programmes, this often doesn’t result in exchanging organisational knowledge and experience. Only a few partnership agreements go beyond simply delivering projects. The recommendation from the research was that partnerships should aim to build capacity and share knowledge on both sides, and that this should become a larger part of institutional and organisational culture.
Acknowledging existing capacity
Capacity building is not a one-way process, and should not only refer to building the capacity of local actors. Local grassroots organisations with a presence in the community already have a very important type of capacity; they are trusted by the community they serve and they know the context of their country. However, this capacity is usually not utilised to its fullest extent, or is often not acknowledged altogether. When speaking about building the capacity of local actors, we often forget to discuss how the big donors, multilaterals and INGOs can learn from local government and local CSOs and draw from their existing capacities. Utilising the knowledge and capacity of local actors is crucial, for without knowing the local context we will not be able to conduct effective development and humanitarian work.
There is a long way to go – but momentum is building!
In closing, the researcher explained that localisation is not a swift transformation. Rather, it is about developing an incremental plan and processes for INGOs to walk the talk. This localisation of aid is becoming a global agenda, with many INGOs signing pledges to commit to this movement. There is also a growing need for self-reflection from local actors, so that they can share their knowledge and experience and move towards building their own capacity to work in partnership with big, international and multilateral organisations. The Shifting the Power project in Ethiopia is contributing to this process of self-reflection and capacity building for local actors by using practical assessments and reflections as a way forward. Initiatives like Shifting the Power, which not only acknowledge that local organisations should be key players, but also take concrete steps towards strengthening the position of local actors, will push forward this global agenda to localise aid.