Teamwork and action concept, the yellow sphere moves ahead of the blue squares
Teamwork and action concept, the yellow sphere moves ahead of the blue squares. Credit: GOCMEN

Beyond talk: changing donor policy and practice towards locally led development

Global donor policy and practice need fundamental change if they want to truly uphold the rhetoric on locally led development.

Bond’s Changing Donor Policy and Practice working group renewed its work earlier this year to encourage action, beyond the talk.

Recent positive commitments

In December 2022, USAID made a Donor Statement on Supporting Locally Led Development that was endorsed by 15 further national government aid agencies. The year before, a recommendation by the OECD DAC on Enabling Civil Society in Development Co-operation and Humanitarian Assistance also offered some promising commitments towards more progressive local, flexible and predictable funding approaches (more on this here.)

…But slow progress towards real change

The headlines in the latest Donor Statement appeared positive: shift and share power to ensure local actors have ownership, channel funding as directly as possible, and publicly advocate for locally led development. However, the statement also acknowledged that these ‘actions’ are built on similar declarations and statements made since 2005…nearly two decades ago.

More transformative, action-oriented change is needed if we are to see these statements play out in practice. On a more positive note, with these kinds of refreshed policy statements, could now be the time for the long overdue shift in international development funding dynamics? Is there a chance that powerful funders actively move away from white saviourism, top-down approaches, inequitable partnerships, and expat-led efforts for good? Will the sands shift in ways that give people the resources, autonomy, power and right to decide, own and lead in their own contexts?

We want to support this change and do the work

Bond, with support from its members, has committed to supporting locally led development, in practice. Action is taking many forms whether national convenings on power, collating stories to design new funding approaches, and attempts to influence donor policy and practice.

Launched in 2021, our working group on changing donor policy and practice aims to lay the groundwork for advocating for this shift. Since then more than 150 Bond member representatives signed up, all eager to support how donors work for a more equitable development system. While we do not limit our work to the UK, our added value in this conversation has led us to focus on the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and where it sits compared to other donors that are taking the lead in this agenda.

Join the Changing donor policy and practice working group!

Bond’s Changing donor policy and practice working group works to influence donor policy and practice to shift how donors work for a more equitable development system. It is open to all Bond members and is welcoming new members who want to help shape a new funding ecosystem where people in communities drive change.

Join the group

An opportunity to influence UK donor policies and practice came in the UK’s International Development Strategy, which included a clause that stated: “The difficult reforms and good policies that drive progress must be locally owned. Our country partnerships will be anchored in our respect for the rights of our partners to self-determination” (clause 49). However, despite this we’ve seen little follow-up in practice or consultation so far, resulting in the UK falling behind other major donors. Ongoing turbulence in British politics means our group is taking a multi-pronged approach, including best-practice sharing, as well as direct and indirect influencing, to push for practical action and the fundamental change needed.

We’re also working hard to shape our approach so we are in direct consultation with and led by partners in the Global South, via Bond’s Decolonisation Advisory Group and national networks. This is a must for any UK advocacy on international development in general, but especially so given our priorities.

Framing, showcasing and supporting

To this end, Bond’s Changing Donor Policy and Practice Working Group has identified three interconnected objectives:

  • Frame the debate and identify opportunities to collaborate and persuade donors, like the FCDO, as they shape their ‘localisation’ policies and practices, and support new ways of working.
  • Showcase donor case studies on funding locally-led development, and identify the policy & practice changes needed through examples of what works and doesn’t.
  • Support the UK INGO sector to examine their role, intersection and influence with donors, and identify shared commitments for building greater local leadership in the sector.

It seems that many donor agencies are now hearing the case for locally led development. Some are even making policy commitments. A smaller group is actually modelling concrete approaches. Over the next few months, we’ll shine a light on some of those more progressive funding practices (and some practices that hinder progress) framed as practical actions that funders can choose to take if they really want to be locally led.

If you’ve got an example to share, please get in touch or join the group…and we strongly encourage you to sign up if you or your organisation is not already a member!

Rachel (GlobalGiving) and Kit (Peace Direct) co-chair Bond’s Changing Donor Policy & Practice working group, with support from the Steering Committee including Melisa (BRAC), Lola (FrontlineAIDS), Gulru (Aga Khan Foundation), Irahyma (Start Network), Nina (Save The Children), and Matthew (CBM UK). We welcome members to join us to shape a new funding ecosystem where people in communities drive change.