Article written by Sudhanshu S. Singh, Chief Executive of Humanitarian Aid International, and Michael Mosselmans, Head of Humanitarian Policy and Practice at Christian Aid.

The 15-16 October marked the World Humanitarian Action Forum 2019 (WHAF) in Istanbul. Led by the Humanitarian Forum and the Turkish Red Crescent Society, WHAF brought together over 300 people including civil society actors, networks, philanthropists, and academics. The forum was made up of a series of parallel discussions around four critical humanitarian themes – Conflict, Finance, Localisation and Resilience. Local NGO Save Somali Women and Children co-hosted the Localisation roundtable with the Humanitarian Leadership Academy with support from Christian Aid, Humanitarian Aid International, ICVA and TAAWON. The goal of this roundtable was to connect local actors from across the humanitarian sector to formulate concrete practical steps to advance the localisation agenda.

Despite the goals set out during the World Humanitarian Summit and the Grand Bargain in 2016, localisation has still not yet secured major political or financial investment. The amount of funding channelled to local organisations remains significantly below the 25% goal set out for 2020. Challenges include a lack of adequate funding towards institutional capacity, and a continuing tendency for international NGOs to treat local actors as sub-contractors instead of equal partners.

The Localisation roundtable offered an exciting opportunity to hear from a range of diverse local voices which, paradoxically, often go unheard at major localisation debates. Participants in the roundtable included a number of representatives from Middle Eastern, North African, Asian and Turkish NGOs, as well as prominent Southern NGO localisation champions. The unique geographical representation at the event contributed to an energetic and lively debate.

During the roundtable, participants expressed their concern that the Grand Bargain could end in 2021 without achieving what it had set out to do. The group discussed a range of practical recommendations including the possibility of extending the Grand Bargain to 2030. This would allow it to run parallel to the Sustainable Development Goals and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.

Another focus of the roundtable was the transfer of both financial and security risks from international organisations to local organisations. This, paired with the impacts of displacement, exacerbate the acute pressure that vulnerable local communities face in times of violence, conflict and natural disasters. Limited investment in the support structures of these communities also needs to be urgently addressed and the group discussed the importance of building long-term, complementary partnerships to help tackle this.

Nanette Antequisa, Director of ECOWEB Philippines and a leading figure in survivor and community-led response approaches, reminded us at the event of the importance of putting people at the heart of humanitarian action. These innovative approaches empower local community groups to take ownership of both the design and implementation of their humanitarian responses. Giving power back to the local actors is an essential way of bringing together localisation and participation, as well as maximising cost-efficiency and value for money. Participants in the WHAF Localisation roundtable suggested that donors should make it mandatory that affected populations are involved in the design of humanitarian programming, and that local and national actors should be leading these responses.

Concerns were also raised about the serious challenge that the securitisation of aid poses to the localisation agenda. Increased international and national counter-terror and anti-money laundering regulations make it very difficult for local actors to comply with donor requirements and due diligence.  Tackling corruption within the sector is essential and we need systems in place to ensure that this does not happen. However, if international compliance regulations are rolled out without strengthening the capacity of local organisations, and the complementary support provided by international actors, it simply becomes another barrier between them and the funding that they desperately need.

Whilst the four parallel sessions on Localisation, Conflict, Resilience and Finance provided an excellent opportunity to focus deeply on each strand, the event did feel somewhat siloed. In our opinion, the success of the localisation agenda strongly depends on an integrated approach to conversations, and it would have been good to see a few more activities and talks that brought all four of these key areas together. It was also quite disappointing not to see more donor Governments and UN actors in the room. Luckily, the Humanitarian Leadership Academy’s External Relations Director (and roundtable co-chair), Kate Stevens, was taking part in the Grand Bargain Localisation Workstream Global Meeting in Brussels the following week and was able to advocate WHAF’s core messages and recommendations to attendees there.

A valuable acknowledgement at the event was that UN Country-Based Pooled Funds (CBPF) and the Start Fund are seen by many donors as easy and safe ways to channel funding to local actors. WHAF therefore recommended that: donors begin heavily increasing funding to these initiatives; that both CBPFs and the Start Fund should begin to set ambitious targets for increasing the share of their funding directed to local actors; and that local actors should always have strong representation on the governance boards responsible for these funds. One challenge faced, is that there are currently just 18 CBPFs in existence; however, the growth of the Start Network’s national/regional hubs will go some way to filling that void.

During the event, many were in agreement that real change happens locally and that there is a limit to the effectiveness of localisation discussions held at a global level. Participants presented a strong case for replicating any global discussions at country-level, therefore establishing multi-stakeholder dialogues to develop bespoke roadmaps and action plans toward localisation. It was wonderful to be surrounded by so many passionate individuals, calling for more local leadership.

We were delighted to have the opportunity to be a part of this landmark event and look forward to continuing to push the localisation agenda together in partnership with the Humanitarian Leadership Academy.

Sudhanshu S. Singh - Headshot
Author: Sudhanshu S. Singh, Chief Executive of Humanitarian Aid International
Author: Michael Mosselmans, Head of Humanitarian Policy and Practice at Christian Aid
Charter for ChangeCommunitiesconflictFinancefundingGrand BargainHumanitarianIstanbullocalLocalisationResilienceroundtableWHAFWHS
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