Locally led

The time is now: a call to practice locally led

If you work in the international development sector chances are that you have heard about ‘decolonising aid’, ‘shifting the power’ and ‘locally led development’.

I would also assume that you agree with the general view that our sector needs ‘restructuring’ at the very least.

You might, however, have felt lost when attempting to translate these concepts into practical, everyday work. One reason may be that, as my fellow steering committee member Daniel Gebremedhin, Global Capacity Strengthening Advisor at CAFOD, brilliantly puts it: ‘We are trying to renovate our home whilst still living in it’. We have work to deliver while changing the way we deliver it.

Another reason may be that further strands of discussion have spun off from the original debate. These try to figure out the best theoretical approach to take forward and answer some crucial dilemmas, like are we abusing the term ‘decolonising’? What do we really mean by locally led? Is this just another way to exercise power by ‘Global North’ actors, who seem to want to dictate the pace, modality and processes of ‘localisation’?

But while the more philosophical debates continue (as they should), there is a widespread feeling that something concrete and immediate needs to be done.

Bond started its own journey towards ‘locally led development’ in 2021. One of the first steps was the creation of locally led-specific working groups, which looked at changing donor policy, discussing pathways and challenges, and concrete actions that UK INGOs could take to move the locally led agenda forward.

Perhaps the biggest achievement to date has been the publication of Becoming locally led as an anti-racist practice: a guide which provides organisations with a framework to assess and reflect on where they are in the locally led ladder, so to speak. The guide was launched at the Bond’s Power in Development Conference: Building an Equitable System, which was held in September 2022.

In June 2023, a survey to members of Bond’s locally led working groups highlighted – surprise surprise – the need for more focused and solution-oriented discussions on practical challenges, specifically in two main areas of work: Programmes and Funding and relationships with funders. Which brings us up to date.
If you want to be part of the change, whatever your role is, here are some practical actions for you.

  • Join one or more of Bond’s working groups to be part of the conversation, push the agenda, share ideas and gain valuable insights into other organisations’ practices. You can find a list of groups here. The Practice for Locally-Led Development group, which I am a part of, is having a meeting on 16 April where we will be launching the Action Learning Sets. We’d love for you to join us.
  • Consider joining an Action Learning Set. These are small groups in which participants discuss challenges they face around operationalising locally led development. It is a 6-month commitment, with monthly meetings, starting with a plenary introduction on 30 April 2023 with the following dates yet to be confirmed.
  • Have a go at using Becoming locally led as an anti-racist practice: a guide to support INGOs and provide us with feedback on it. This guide is a working document and we are already thinking about version 2.0, so all comments and questions are welcome

And if this is not enough, get in touch with ideas and suggestions on how to push the agenda further, we would love to hear from you.