Beyond 'localisation': embracing locally led practices

For almost 30 years, institutional discussions have emphasised local ownership, the active involvement and empowerment of local communities and local stakeholders in decision-making and development. Yet significant progress in its implementation remains limited. So, the question arises: Why haven't these efforts led to substantial change?

We need to change

In search of answers, cinfo initiated a series of collaborative workshops to explore the role of international cooperation professionals in this process:

  • What happens at the individual level?
  • To what extent can professionals perceive and understand alternative perspectives?
  • How can professionals actively contribute to making local ownership more than just a topic on the agenda and put it into practice?

Building on these efforts, this blog post draws on insights from the first workshop in the series, in preparation for our Immersion Day in November 2023.

Why now?

The first workshop, entitled "Why Now? Understanding Local Ownership & Locally Led Development and Response in Practice", explored the motivations, interpretations and challenges associated with locally led development.

cinfo convened staff from many of its member organisations to reflect on the integration of balanced power dynamics and decision-making within global cooperation and humanitarian efforts. Professionals from the humanitarian and development sectors, as well as academics, participated in the workshop.

In these collaborative sessions, they explored the core issues of locally led development, stakeholder perspectives and tactics for strengthening local ownership. 

This article provides an insight into the outcomes of the workshop, presenting the experiences and insights of professionals involved in this crucial issue.

Levelling the playing field

Despite global commitments such as the 2016 Grand Bargain, substantial changes towards localisation in institutions are still to come.

While some organisations are moving forward with transformative reforms, many are just beginning their introspective journey. Progress will inevitably be uneven until key institutional actors fully embrace and support localisation in global cooperation.

In order to foster rich dialogues rooted in mutual understanding and values, it is critical for organisations to align on fundamental aspects. This includes understanding the core principles of localisation, grasping its implications and recognising its indispensable role for a more equitable humanitarian and development landscape.

To foster dialogues rooted in mutual understanding and values, it is critical for organisations to align on fundamental aspects.

The humanitarian and development sectors have compelling reasons to strengthen locally led initiatives.

A key reason is to increase impact, optimise processes and improve cost-effectiveness. The heavy reliance on intermediaries in the current global cooperation framework often leads to unnecessary expenditure of human and financial resources. However, focusing solely on these efficiencies - especially when viewed predominantly through a Western lens - can overshadow the deeper, more intrinsic challenges.

This underscores another crucial rationale: the imperative shift towards locally led approaches for a more inclusive and empathetic aid sector.

But we must also acknowledge the historical weight of the situation. Deeply rooted in remnants of colonial perspectives, the sector needs to confront and break free from its past in order to truly empower local entities. Addressing ingrained biases, privileges and prejudices is an essential step in this transformation.

The sector needs to confront and break free from its past to truly empower local entities.

Individuals are the agents of change

Digging deeper into the challenges, the push for more locally led practices underlines a fundamental shift in power dynamics. But one might ask: why hasn't there been more progress? In a system that has traditionally favoured top-down directives, initiatives such as aid localisation inevitably run up against institutional barriers.

Strikingly, despite the profound interpersonal dimensions of the issue, many efforts have focused disproportionately on the superficial and technical aspects of localisation.

Real change requires introspection.

However, strategy alone won't suffice. Real change requires introspection. It is essential for individuals to reflect deeply on and acknowledge their own role, even if this introspection is often challenging.

Such self-awareness is essential for catalysing change both within organisations and in the wider landscape.  

Recognising this, in its role as a competence centre, cinfo is determined to promote this change within Swiss international cooperation, one professional at a time.

Our journey into this crucial topic doesn't end here. Stay tuned for the next blog article on this topic - there's more to the story you won't want to miss!

Continuing this momentum: Dive deeper at Immersion Day 2023

Do you want to play an active role in reshaping global cooperation? Dive deeper into the conversation and challenge your own perspectives at Immersion Day 2023. Together we will redefine collaboration and catalyse individual and collective transformation.

Reserve your place and be part of the transformation: