The idea that local actors should be at the forefront of humanitarian response in their own country is increasingly widely accepted.Local actors have the best understanding of the context and acceptance by the people in need of assistance and protection. Recent developments including the Grand Bargain have seen the largest humanitarian donors and aid organisations commit to strengthening local ownership and capacity.

Localisation, particularly the engagement of local actors in decision-making bodies as equal partners that actively set the strategic direction of the response, is one of the important issues that have consistently come up during P2P missions. Despite recent international advocacy efforts, local actors still only receive approximately 2% of all humanitarian funds. On the other hand, critics raise concerns over the inability of local actors to operate in a principled manner as well as fulfil due diligence and quality requirements.

In the P2P webinar As local and possible, as international as necessary: Practical Steps the Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Pakistan, the Humanitarian Coordinator and First Assistant Secretary of the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the Head of East Asia Country Support of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies outlined six important steps for strengthening the role of local actors that are applicable to most contexts:

  • Support activities that can be done locally by local actors. Advocate for international support towards local efforts, and ensure that international response complements rather than overwhelms local structures. Develop frameworks and establish agreements with local actors before disaster strikes, and provide long-term investment with ‘quality money’ to build sustainability.
  • Invest in local capacity. Train volunteers who are normally present in all contexts. Build a culture of volunteerism among communities and people at risk. Utilise staff secondments from international organisations to national organisations. This can help with the transfer of expertise and build experience in complying with detailed ‘international’ reporting requirements.
  • Invest in preparedness. Link to the risk reduction and response efforts of national and local actors. Actively support the development of coordinated contingency and disaster management plans among actors, including agreeing on pre-disaster Memorandum of Understanding between national, local, and international actors. Engage with established community disaster management committees for assessments and accountability, and put in place a strong monitoring system. This will help levels of trust in national and local actors to increase. Governments can agree on frameworks with other governments in advance of a crisis, by setting out a menu of support that can be provided when disaster strikes.
  • Include local actors as leaders in international humanitarian structures. Ensure national and local organisations are represented in Humanitarian Country Teams (HCT) and Inter-Cluster mechanisms. An example of this could be guaranteeing a number of seats. Support the prioritisation of local actors by humanitarian country-based pooled funds (CBPFs).
  • Ensure special consideration for women and other vulnerable groups. Pursue a deeper level of inclusivity with women and other vulnerable groups, to ensure that their voice and priorities are appropriately represented.
  • Engage the private sector. Work with private sector partners to identify what and how they can contribute to disaster preparedness and response, including how response actors and leaders can mobilise private sector resources and expertise. Consider developing a database of local businesses, their specialisation, stock, and ability – to deploy quickly to remote places.

It is important to recognise that strengthening the leadership of local actors will have different challenges depending on whether it is being implemented in a natural disaster or a conflict setting. The P2P team works to identify concrete examples of how the comparative advantages of international, national, and local humanitarian actors have been optimised to strengthen humanitarian preparedness and response. The team is currently preparing a note on localisation.

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