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Why local humanitarian response matters

October 29th, 2018 by Posted in Uncategorized

22539819_10210042365997762_2517349751404460903_nMM Jakaria, a member of the Oxfam ELNHA team, and monitoring and evaluation expert, talks about why localisation of aid in Bangladesh matters and what the future might hold for local and international NGOs.

Firstly, what is the ELNHA project?

ELNHA stands for Empowering Local and National Humanitarian Actors. It’s a programme run by Oxfam in Bangladesh and Uganda. The project is designed to shift the humanitarian sector, we want local and national actors to take a greater leadership role in humanitarian response activities and we want to shift the thinking of international NGOs and donors. We are promoting localisation of aid, building the capacity of local and national NGOs, advocating for them to have a greater voice and space in the sector – a more visible seat at the table. We started in early 2016.

Why should we care about localisation?

Localisation is important for effectiveness, sustainability and more appropriate humanitarian response.

How so?

The typical top down approach we’ve seen in the last 40 years in the humanitarian sector doesn’t reflect local needs and demands. We know that when a disaster happens first responders are the local people, they have the ability to respond effectively and cost efficiently. And speed is important in humanitarian response.

What are the challenges?

Localisation is a global movement and so many global parties are involved, but few local organisations are there at the global level discussion. There’s one or two organisations that repeatedly represent local organisations, but they fill up the quota. Local people are not present globally when they are discussing local people – and if there is some, it’s very selective.

Why is that?

These international organisations talking about localisation have double standards. We can’t deny this challenge. The problem is, they’re talking about localisation, but they’re not practising it.

What does localisation mean for the future of international NGOs?

It is a question of their existence. What is the role of international NGOs?

There will be a role for international NGOs, but it’s changing. Localisation is not possible without support from international NGOs. They provide a lot of capacity building, strategy and design expertise, an understanding of Brussels and what’s happening globally in the humanitarian sector.

Ten years ago we didn’t think of this. Ten years ago we were thinking about delivery, not the system. Now we are thinking about the system.

Why is change slow?

This is not like any other project. It is not time bound, it is not an overnight system change. It will take time for people to understand and come on-board. It needs support from all sides. There are so many parties in humanitarian architecture, it will work effectively when everyone endorses the system properly.

Also, this is a very recent discussion.

What changes have you seen between the government sector and NGOs in Bangladesh?

The government is endorsing local actors and providing more space and recognising their contribution to society. Local actors are complementing the government’s work and local government and government departments appreciate the localisation agenda.

It also means that local actors will be less demanding of government. Local government is part of the movement, they are a local actor.

As Bangladesh goes into being a developed country the paradigm must be shifted. Our ways of working must change.

Is everyone on board?

Not all local actors or national actors are supportive, they’re not all dancing for localisation.  Localisation will make them more competitive. There will be some tension. That’s why we promote consortium.

Where do alliance networks fit in?

To promote localisation we need a joint force, the National Alliance for Humanitarian Actors in Bangladesh is playing that role. They act as a nucleus.

But networks and alliances are not without challenges, they have to listen to all their members, not just the big NGOs.

Why are you working with both the small and big NGOs in Bangladesh?

If you have five years of funding, say, and plan to build the capacity of local and national NGOs, to develop better policies, better financial management, better governance, it is very tough because it is very short term. In five years you can’t get a very small organisation with limited staff managing 15 million USD. But the larger national NGOs can, they have experience and can scale up more easily. So we focus on both small and big NGOs, the larger NGOs help us move the localisation agenda forward.

What do you think will happen with your role, and roles like yours, in the future?

My role will be different. The development sector is like science, it’s changing every day. The role of Oxfam will be different, I don’t know exactly what. More advocacy, more technical support. They could become a knowledge hub, a resource centre with expert knowledge, that’s where I hope it goes.

Why do you do this work?   

I love working on localisation because it’s not typical of humanitarian or development projects such as livelihoods, education, or health.

The localisation movement deals with core organisational strength. It’s about softer skills. It deals with the humanitarian system which is very challenging. You’re trying to promote a system which is not really in place right now.

We’ve faced a lot of challenges, but we’ve learned a lot by doing. Future localisation projects won’t have as many challenges, it will be easier for the next project to find the way forward.

ELNHA is ahead of its time. And we are the pioneers.

What do you think about the future for localisation?

I’m very optimistic. My belief is that whenever a new concept comes everyone says it won’t work, it won’t be sustainable. But if you work hard it will.

People want effective, transparent, fast humanitarian response. We need this change in the humanitarian sector.



Interviewer – Tasha Black Eleanor


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