From where I stand: Unpacking "local" in aid

A CDA Virtual Learning Forum


Across all our work, we are hearing increased calls for greater local leadership and enhanced “localization” of aid. CDA and our partners and colleagues have endeavored to highlight the fundamental relevance of shifting how we think about and undertake our work.

In the spirit of infusing this conversation with a fresh set of perspectives, opportunities, and challenges, CDA launched “From where I stand: Unpacking ‘local’ in aid”.

Each week, we will create a space to help bring these critical and fresh, though often neglected, voices – from local practitioners to those working alongside them (including those who work on the policy and programming agenda) – to the forefront. We are asking partners working on these issues in their own context, as well as those seeking system-wide shifts in power, to contribute their perspectives about what works, what doesn’t, what questions should we be asking, and what changes do we, as a community, need to make?

Our hope is to expand our collective thinking and understanding about what “localization” actually looks like practice, no matter how messy it may be. In doing so perhaps we can begin to answer the question: What if the evidence-base for local leadership, aid policy, and INGO practice was instead based on the diverse experiences and ideas of those leading humanitarian, aid, and peacebuilding efforts in their contexts?

For analysis on the themes we are seeing from the first 8 blogs, see our interim reflection piece “Meeting complexity with creativity: 5 themes in unpacking “local” with aid“.

From a rectangle to a circle: It’s time to turn the turn tables on aid

In this post, author Ada Ichoja Ohaba speaks to the need to shift the ways of working between international organizations and local partners. She calls for INGOs and donors to move away from "top down" approaches and move towards inclusive methods focused on equality of all, as a way to fully represent the diversity of experiences and knowledge in decision-making.

Liberation starts at home

In this post, Cecilia Milesi suggests that localization of aid should be a process to share power, decentralize and deconstruct the inequalities inherited of the post-colonial international cooperation system. In this way, international cooperation should be less about "aid" and more about "solidarity" and "horizontal exchange" to ensure mutuality is the central pillar. Cecilia further proposes some ideas for a radical renewal of international cooperation.

The quality of a leader: how photography helped me see peers everywhere

This blog is a question and answer interview format between Sanjay Gurung, Director of Mercy Corps’ Governance and Partnerships Technical Support Unit, and CDA's Chief Collaboration Officer Ruth Rhoads Allen. The piece features highlights from their conversation that touched on Sanjay's passion for photography and analyzes the ability to capture beauty and leadership in profound ways.

Power and accountability: Lessons from Nepal about the value of community ownership and devolution of power

In this post Ujjwal Amatya discusses the value of greater accountability to local communities as a way to enhance local ownership and sustainability. He suggests that to be successful at localizing our work, donors, INGOs, and local organizations must seek to shift power imbalances towards local communities - who need to be at the center of all our work.

Who is Local?

In this post, Paul George writes about the use of the word “local” in humanitarian aid. Through a personal account he shows how the word can lead to ‘othering’, and create challenges for agencies seeking to implement the localization agenda. He honestly questions who is local, who gets to decide, and the impact of this definition on the efficacy of aid efforts?

No Angels, No Devils: a view on ‘localization’ from Cite Soleil

In this blog, Louino and Sabina Robillard, from the vantage point of Cite Soleil, Haiti, take a close look at the essentialized conceptions of the "local" and "international". In holding these terms up against the complicated legacies of aid in Cite Soleil, the authors challenge the way different actors in Haiti have been reduced, romanticized, and demonized by the localization agenda.

Local Leadership: Is it now or never?

In this blog Sarah Cechvala discusses how COVID-19 is challenging the traditional modalities of work in the aid sector. She argues that in the face of a global pandemic local leadership and action will occur out of necessity, regardless of the support from the international community. And so, we need to push for and embrace change now or never.

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Made possible in part by support from Humanity United