Women queue in Howrah Maidan, West Bengal.

5 things to look forward to this year in locally led development

As the new Locally Led Adviser at Bond, I am excited to commence the new year with reflection and hope.

In my brief career working in the development space in India, I have realised that equitable participation, a bottom-up approach, and trusting community knowledge do work. However, for this to happen, we must shed power, privilege, and misplaced assumptions.

The past decade was marked by events that shocked the world, some persisting to this day. Yet, it also showcased powerful stories of community-led efforts, such as local journalism in the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the Middle East, sustained protests against police brutality in Nigeria since 2020, the Black Lives Matter movement, India’s farmer protest, and countless other unnamed and unrecognised local organisations putting in heroic efforts in their communities.

Despite these efforts, little has been done to halt the yearly avalanche of adversities. What’s missing is the sincere application of a locally led approach in spirit and practice by the international development sector.

With this reflective context in mind, here are the top things I am looking forward to in 2024, with hopeful fervour for the sector.

Pushing our Locally Led Development Guidebook into the sector’s consciousness

It’s been over a year since Bond, in collaboration with the Social Investment Consultancy (TSIC) and its three locally led development working groups, launched a comprehensive guide titled Becoming Locally Led as an Anti-Racist Practice: A Guide. Apart from the initial flurry in uptake of the guide, it has subsided since then. We need to push it back into the collective consciousness.

This guide is tailor-made to address the need for a structural and decision-making overhaul of international organisations based in higher-income countries. It aims for a more equitable distribution of access power and a locally focused approach in their transition to more locally led practices.

This year, we will proactively implement strategies, working with various organisations based in the UK and LMICs, to further the guide through action learning sets, seminars, and collaborative cross-learning sessions.

Practicing what we preach

Since 2016, multiple instruments and forums have been created to ensure accountability for INGOs to adhere to locally led commitments, such as the Grand Bargain (2016), Grand Bargain 2.0 (2021), and, most recently, the non-legally binding Development Assistance Committee (DAC) Recommendations on Enabling Civil Society in Development Co-operation and Humanitarian Assistance.

Largely, all these instruments are directed towards donors and large philanthropic bodies, designed to hold them accountable. Perhaps we also need to look inward and understand our commitment as INGOs towards locally led development. We need to reflect internally and take our stock by asking hard questions, such as:

  • Where is the decision-making power centered?
  • Who leads the decision-making process?
  • What role do communities play in grant allocation and management?
  • How inclusive and equitable is the impact assessment process?

One option is to simply tick checkboxes for locally led parameters. The other is to ask the above questions to make fundamental organisational changes towards equity, distributed power, and inclusivity. The above questions are just examples of various self-reflective questions that INGOs from high-income countries must ask themselves to become truly locally led in principle and practice. This year, Bond, along with its members, will strive towards answering these tough questions and practice what we preach.

Evaluate and reflect on existing locally led practices by the sector

It is not as bleak and depressing as it once was, given that there are multiple examples of INGOs in high-income countries dedicated to locally led practices.

However, are we aware of them? What can we learn from these organisations? Large-scale funders, philanthropies, charities, and every other spoke of the wheel that makes up the international development sector, must come together to cross-learn, reflect, appreciate, and acknowledge what works and what does not.

Becoming locally led as an anti-racist practice: a guide

This draft guide has been developed in response to the growing demand from the international development sector, the UK in particular, to ensure that organisations change how they work, make decisions, and are structured and governed to become more locally led.

Get the guide

In 2024, we look forward to co-creating and convening such avenues for celebrating and learning from existing locally led practices in the sector. Watch this space.

Anti-racist practices and decolonisation go together with locally led development

Locally led development is complete only when it embodies anti-racist and decolonised values and practices. For instance, we cannot claim to be locally led if our boards and leadership teams lack representation of people of colour. Similarly, we cannot adhere to the principles of locally led development if power is centralised in head offices in high-income countries, or if decisions are made without the consent and consultation of the communities we serve.

This point builds upon my second one. We must practice what we preach. Locally led development, the ultimate goal, is achieved through being anti-racist and decolonised. It goes beyond merely ticking boxes in an organisational year-end inclusivity report.

Becoming Locally Led as an Anti-Racist Practice: A Guide is a step towards this goal, but more is needed. This year, we aim to break the guide out of its conventional silos through active, reflective sessions, seeking areas where anti-racist and decolonised values are fully integrated into the essence of locally led development, without compromise.

Voices from people of colour, more indigenous communities, and grassroots movements

Most importantly, what is locally led development without the communities we serve and the grassroots we work for? There has been a paradigm shift globally where communities are not viewed as mere beneficiaries. Their local knowledge and traditional wisdom are acknowledged as well. They are not just ‘percentages’ to be achieved in our impact reports. We need to make equal space for them to come out of impact reports as opinion leaders in the international development sector, influencing and shaping global narratives.

Being a person of colour from a lower-middle-income country, formerly known as ‘the global south,’ this is a lifelong passion project of mine. To get more voices and celebrate diverse knowledge and wisdom.

This year at Bond, I am especially working towards creating a pipeline of regular voices from diverse people of colour, indigenous communities, and grassroots movements.

So, I may have started with a rather morose situation, but I am hopeful that 2024 will signify a change in narrative, where we push forward, making huge progress towards being locally led. Otherwise, we reflect, re-energise, and restock to try again next year. It is never too late or too far.