Humanitarian aid after Fuego volcano eruption, Antigua, Guatemala

Grand Bargain 3 years on: not enough progress on localisation

It’s three years since the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) in Istanbul, where world leaders and humanitarian agencies committed to scale up support for locally-led humanitarian action.

How has the humanitarian sector done since then?

Two weeks ago, senior donor officials, the UN and NGOs met in Geneva for the annual review of the “Grand Bargain” process – the main follow-up process to the WHS through which signatory INGOs, UN and donors report on progress made, including on localisation.

On the eve of the event, Local to Global published new data suggesting that direct funding to southern actors stands at 0.2% – no increase on last year. Development Initiatives also published data suggesting 3.1% of total global emergency funding ($29bn) went directly to southern-based responders last year, mostly to national governments. Either way, efforts are far off-track on the Grand Bargain commitment to channel 25% to local actors.

Prior to the event, 90 humanitarian leaders and thinkers voted on which Grand Bargain workstreams are the most important for driving transformative change in the humanitarian system. Participation (of people in crisis-affected communities) and localisation came out on top.

Obstacles and ways forward on localisation

Oddly, the organisers had deprioritised localisation (and participation) on the formal agenda for the annual review event. But participants more or less ignored this and raised a host of challenges and opportunities in tackling localisation.

A report is due from the Grand Bargain Facilitation Group in due course. However, two issues struck us as especially important:

  • A UN agency challenged Grand Bargain signatories to promote “true localisation”. This would involve agencies not just reporting on their overall level of funding to local partners, but to also quantify how much goes into strengthening local capacity in a sustainable fashion. They would also report on the extent their programmes put local actors in the driving seat, not just having them implement projects defined by international agencies. This makes a lot of sense. Donors should hold all international agencies receiving funding (especially multi-year funding) accountable for taking this forward.
  • Proliferating, burdensome and inconsistent compliance and due diligence requirements obstruct localisation. As one INGO participant put it, isn’t this fundamentally political? Donors don’t impose this level of bureaucracy on stabilisation funding. Couldn’t donors, and others, do more to educate their parliaments and media on the merits (saving lives and doing so more efficiently) of locally-led humanitarian response? Donors were also encouraged to support the Start Fund pilot to develop a tiered approach to compliance – enabling smaller groups to access smaller funds with less onerous compliance. This could also get packaged with multi-year support so those local groups grow the scale of funding and level of compliance that they can manage over time.

From lip-service to action

One idea we shared in Geneva was that the Grand Bargain might learn from the Charter4Change coalition, which has both INGO “signatories” and national NGO “endorsers” jointly setting priorities and holding reviewing efforts on localisation.

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Each workstream of the Grand Bargain – not just on localisation, but on cash, transparency, joint needs assessments and so on – could reflect on meaningful ways to scale-up the involvement of national NGOs.

In the humanitarian “Cluster” coordination system, the Child Protection and Gender-Based Violence Areas of Responsibility have piloted new ways of involving national NGOs in their work more systematically, not just through ad-hoc, one-off speaker slots with no follow-up. The rest of the humanitarian system should follow.

Likewise, each Grand Bargain signatory – and other INGOs not yet signed up to the process – could develop agency-specific plans to progress efforts on localisation. What makes sense for one agency, say a medical response INGO, might look entirely different from an INGO involved in longer-term livelihoods or food security work. But all can start somewhere and have something to contribute.

Some agencies have already started on this journey – including the Charter4Change INGO signatories – and we are sharing lessons from this with others, including through the Charter4Change 2019 Annual Report.

By this time next year, we hope to see a wider range of humanitarian agencies not just paying lip-service to localisation, but taking practical and transformative steps forward. If your agency would like to join us in that effort, get in touch.

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