Are we stuck in a rut?
Across international aid, calls are increasing for “localization” of interventions. Locally-driven approaches can foster efficiency and effectiveness because they are tailored to their unique, complex context. They can also enable sustainability of results because they are created and “owned” by those whose lives and communities they improve. Sustainability is also more likely when social and structural changes are informed by and embedded within the “local system”.
The essence of “local” is that the people who are directly affected by an intervention should be at the center of design, implementation, and sustainability.
Additional stakeholders, including international actors whose presence is temporary, can play important roles as “allies” or “sidekicks”. This paradigm shift from traditional top-down projects to locally-driven efforts is in part due to calls by donors, the UN, and low- and middle-income countries themselves for increased “self-reliance” and a future “beyond aid”.
Localization also arises from the moral and practical imperatives to reorient international aid to respect and leverage the basic human need for self-determination (agency), and its partner, dignity. People, communities, and societies want to directly manage their own well-being, not be treated as dependent children.
Yet, this paradigm shift is currently marked by a gap between localization rhetoric and actual localization. This state of affairs has given rise to new cynical terms like “donorship,” “voluntourism,” “bureaucrats without borders” and “insultation by consultation”. The latter term describes how communities and local institutions are often “consulted” long after the important decisions have been made, including project design, budget, choice of implementers, and work plan. In many ways this has become “localization in name only”, which has led to weak, inappropriate, and/or unsustainable programming. Even worse, it can cause harm by promoting resignation and dependency among those it was supposed to benefit.
This blog is part of CDA’s From Where I Stand series, designed to listen to people most affected by aid as they explore and amplify their leadership experiences, stories, and lessons for the aid sector.