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Getting out of the way of local leadership

More and more international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) are grappling with how to transition their work towards local leadership.

A resounding call has grown for INGO to wrap up and pass over their activities as part of efforts to ‘localise’, shift power or decolonise their support. But while many organisations and partnerships want to transition responsibly, they don’t know how

This is where Stopping As Success (SAS+) comes in. For the past five years, we have been listening to organisations involved in responsible transition processes to learn what has worked well, why, and what lessons can be adapted to other scenarios. We’ve seen transitions are responsible when intentionally planned, gradual, and jointly led by civil society organisations or NGOs and their international partners. 

In this past year, we have applied our suite of case studies, tools/resources and broader lessons to support active transition processes and organisational strategies. Our goal is to equip organisations with good practice on how to transition responsibly to make way for local leadership in the development sector. Or, as a recent New Humanitarian article puts it, we are equipping INGOs to “get out of the way”.

What does getting out of the way look like?

It will come as no surprise to Bond members that international development organisations are experiencing a crisis of legitimacy. Meeting goals on local leadership and decolonisation is not just the right thing to do, it’s imperative if INGOs are to successfully contribute to addressing the compounding crises facing our world. As has been made even clearer by the response to Covid-19, local organisations and communities are often best placed to lead development in their own contexts, with support from INGOs as needed. As this calls on our sector to radically transform our current ways of working, INGOs are looking for guidance.

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For transitions to be responsible and transformative for all those involved, they need to be carefully planned. Ownership and decision-making should be shared between local and international partners. Yet the vision for ‘‘success’ should be determined by the community members and local partners who will lead once the INGO leaves (or takes a back seat). 

The beauty of transition processes is that there is no one size fits all. As long as relationships are built on trust and respect, everyone involved can contribute to a process that makes sense for their organisational and geopolitical context and shape an outcome that local partners are confident in.

According to SAS+ research, key actions that INGOs have taken to support a responsible transition include:

  • Entering a partnership (or programme or activity) with a transition in mind
  • Planning, alongside local partners, for transition at each stage of the project 
  • Being mindful of the often unseen aspects of power imbalances (such as patronising language and implicit bias)
  • Tailoring capacity strengthening efforts to existing local capacities 
  • Accepting failure as an inevitable part of growth, and planning for it accordingly
  • Ensuring that local partners have access to resources, financial systems and in-kind donations to support their sustainability after the transition
  • Exploring new ways of working together and partnering after the transition in a spirit of global solidarity 

So what now?

This blog barely scratches the surface on the ‘how’ of responsible transitions. SAS+ has a wealth of resources on our website that can be tailored to your needs, whatever stage in the journey you are at. This graphic will help you identify which of our resources are best suited for you. Our initiative is also set up to provide one-to-one advice and hands-on support for you, your organisation and your team. 

SAS+ contact information, including details on how we accompany organisations going through or planning for a transition, can be found on our partner with SAS+ page.

We look forward to hearing from you as we continue to learn from the work your organisations are doing to “get out of the way” in order to realise the promise of local leadership.