What does aid localization really mean for donors, international NGOs and local NGOs?
By Linn Dorin, Principal, Global Finance Strategies
On April 30, Global Finance Strategies (GFS), in partnership with Devex and InsideNGO, hosted a panel event in Washington DC on “Going Local: The Promise and Challenge of Aid Localization.” The panel convened development experts to discuss the operational realities of aid localization.
The “Going Local” panel marked the launch of GFS’ new report of the same name, which sheds light on some of the challenges and solutions for operations professionals working on the ground to administer aid programs as a result of increasing localization of aid. This story has gone largely untold, even though it has a direct impact on the overall effectiveness and sustainability of development initiatives.
Speakers included USAID Assistant Administrator Ariel Pablos-Méndez, Save the Children Executive Vice President and COO Carlos Carrazana, USAID Local Solutions Coordinator Elizabeth Warfield, Churches Health Association of Zambia Executive Director Karen Sichinga, GFS Founder and Principal Linn Dorin, and InsideNGO COO Tom Dente. Devex President and Editor-in-Chief Raj Kumar moderated a lively discussion on the challenges of aid localization and the future of international development financing.
“Localization is the kind of issue that everybody agrees with in development, but not everybody agrees on the ‘how,’” Raj Kumar stated at the opening of the panel.
For donors, ensuring sustainability and managing risk remains a significant concern when it comes to localizing aid. “Localization is not an end unto itself,” said Elizabeth Warfield, speaking to USAID’s Local Solutions framework. “The endgame is sustainability and country ownership.”
But the reality on the ground is that many local NGOs struggle to build the administrative and financial infrastructure needed to meet donor requirements. Karen Sichinga, who leads one of Zambia’s largest national NGOs, pointed to challenges tied to donor reporting requirements, complicated auditing procedures and staff retention. “As a local organization it is very difficult to attract competent staff because you are competing against international NGOs and donor agencies that are paying much more,” she said.
Panelists also discussed the shifting roles of donor, international and local organizations in this new development landscape. The increasing localization of donor funding has sparked a debate on how to define “local.” Ms. Sichinga, for instance, argued that “local means indigenous and organic… we do not consider [international NGOs with country offices] as local.”
Meanwhile, the traditional role of international NGOs as direct implementers of aid programs is shifting to a new role as conveners and capacity-builders. Carlos Carrazana acknowledged that “local NGOs can often provide better services because they are closer to the beneficiaries” and added that localization is a priority for Save the Children. Many international NGOs like Save the Children are working closely with local partner organizations to help build their operational and programmatic capacity.
Ariel Pablos-Méndez emphasized that both international and local partners have a role to play in this new landscape. “We need everybody to be behind the same purpose… [and] it is important to support countries moving in this direction,” he said. “Thirty years down the road we will still have needs for international assistance… [and we] will need to learn to work in that space.”
The panel also explored potential solutions to address the challenges of localization. “To have donors streamline and harmonize reporting requirements would be revolutionary” said Linn Dorin, who interviewed more than 50 leaders in the international development field for the “Going Local” report.
Despite varying perspectives, the consensus from the panel was clear: localization is a reality of international development financing, and donors, international NGOs and local NGOs must work together to build local capacity, implement programs and ensure that money is used in the most effective ways. Everyone agreed that the critical first step is for donors and recipients to continue this important dialogue together. “We need to be at the same table,” Ms. Sichinga said.
In doing so, we will be better positioned to achieve smart and sustainable development, now and in the future.