Why not local as default?

Back Daniela Simm

Our experience on localization and partnership at the European Humanitarian Forum in Brussels on the 18th and 19th of March, 2024.

Panel of the humanitarian Talk

Panelists of the Humanitarian Talk: “Locally led and owned humanitarian action in fragile and forgotten contexts – local perspectives on how to close the funding gap through anticipatory action, innovative funding and equitable participation mechanisms”

The European Humanitarian Forum and our participation

The European Humanitarian Forum 2024 took place on the 18th and 19th of March in Brussels. It main objectives were to explore durable and efficient solutions to contemporary humanitarian challenges, draw attention to forgotten crises amid the growing competition for resources as well as further strengthen cooperation among affected countries, donors, implementing partners and local communities.

From Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe a group of five persons were able to attend. We co-organized a Humanitarian Talk with two other German organizations on “Locally led and owned humanitarian action in fragile and forgotten contexts – local perspectives on how to close the funding gap through anticipatory action, innovative funding and equitable participation mechanisms”. Representatives of our partner organizations from the DRC (Dr. De-Joseph Kakasingi from CONAFOHD) and from Madagascar (Nofy Haingombaliha from SAF/FJKM)  were on the panel of the Humanitarian Talk as well as the colleague from the DRC partner on the panel on risk sharing of the Partners Segment on the 20th of March (which is a meeting between ECHO and its certified partner organizations).

Hereby, I would like to share my personal key take aways and reflection concerning localization and partnerships of these days:

During the EHF I noticed that despite the fact that “only” two events (our Humanitarian Talk and a panel discussion on Tuesday) really focused on the topic of localization, it emerged also in other panels and talks as a crosscutting issue. In my opinion a factor which favored it was the (more prominent) presence of local/national actors and networks (like Charter for Change, NEAR, Alliance for Empowered Partnership, but also national networks like CONAFOHD, DRC and PANHAL, Venezuela).

Power imbalances

The power imbalances and colonial heritage of the humanitarian system was brought up on several occasions. The same can be said for long term partnerships as trust builders among the parties, questioning the actual practice of putting compliance at the center. Local actors stressed that good compliance is likely the product of a trustful, transparent and principles’ driven partnership and not the other way round.

Our Humanitarian Talk and meaningful participation of local/national actors

Our Humanitarian Talk was overbooked – unfortunately the room (with 60 seats) did not have sufficient capacity to accommodate all the interested persons. The situation was similar at the event on risk sharing as part of the ECHO partner segment, where the topic attracted more interest than there were places available. DKH’s local partner Dr. De-Joseph Kakasingi was amongst the panelists at this session where challenges as well as good practices (also from INGOs) and demands from local actors were shared. One key takeaway was the undisputable need for intermediaries/ international NGOs to better coordinate their due diligence and compliance efforts, in order to avoid overburden L/NGOs with competing systems and demands. In this regard, DKH is already part of a pilot, headed by Charter 4 Change on due diligence pass porting, which aims to do just that.

DKH’s local partners in attendance shared that they felt heard and they received also positive feedback which will allow them to continue discussions in the near future. Whilst it was very positive that local actors were present, there is certainly room for improvement at the EHF, as well as similar international events, where to date local and national civil society consistent and active participation is still more of an exception than the norm.

Emerging solutions

When talking about solutions the importance of locally-led networks and consortia as well as locally led and managed humanitarian (pooled) funds were mentioned. In addition,  full participation in decision making, the involvement of local/national governments as well as private sector and emerging models of co-creation and co-managing of programs between INGOs and local and national actors ( including communities), coaching/mentoring of local leadership were mentioned.

In this regard, I felt that DKH is already well on track with piloting locally led and managed funds, we are working in consortia with local/national partner organizations and supporting the creation of local networks. We now have the opportunity to translate this experience into a more consistent and vibrant partnership approach and policies.

Another positive reflection was the opportunities provided for direct conversations between local/national actors and donors in the form of a roundtable discussion (closed event)

Who proves cost efficiency and effectiveness?

While some high-level participants are passionately and publicly committed to the localisation of humanitarian aid, not everyone is. Although motivations such as the decolonisation of the sector, existing power imbalances and social injustice were mentioned, arguments such as cost efficiency, effectiveness and the ever decreasing humanitarian funding featured more prominently. More than once we heard demands for evidence and proof that demonstrates that working with local and national actors really is worth it.

Certainly we need more studies and evaluations that demonstrate the benefits of working with local and national actors, but we could also ask the reverse question of why the international humanitarian system (and actors) do not demonstrate their efficiency and effectiveness compared to local/national actors (assuming that they have to fulfil the same requirements that local and national actors have to follow).

Why not local as default?