What the localisation of humanitarian aid really means, and how Charter4Change is ensuring that INGOs walk their talk

For World Humanitarian Day this year, I wrote a blog about what I have learned throughout the ten years I have been involved in the humanitarian aid sector.

One of the points I wrote about was on the ‘localisation of aid’, a powerful catchphrase adopted by the humanitarian sector in recent years.

The sentiment behind this catchphrase is extremely important, yet difficult to police. Ten years ago, very few aid agencies spoke about localisation, which can be described as the push for local non-government agencies to have more autonomy in the disaster management cycle and control over the funds that flow in after a disaster happens.

The rationale behind localisation makes sense; local agencies understand the local context better than any other, and – as is increasingly happening due to national governments resistance to international involvement – are the only actors allowed access to a disaster site in the immediate aftermath of an emergency.  

A real push in the momentum towards the localisation of aid occurred in 2016 with the World Humanitarian Summit. Here, the Grand Bargain was launched, a unique agreement between some of the largest humanitarian organisations and donors, who have committed to get more means into the hands of people in need and to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the humanitarian action.

The practical implementation of this agreement is organised and led by Charter4Change, which requires those agencies who have signed on to the charter to self-report each year.

My current organisation, the International Planned Parenthood Federation, is one of the signatories. It is through my role with IPPF that I have learned the importance of localisation and what it really looks like in action.

The most relevant ‘commitment’ to my role as Communications Advisor is number eight*: ‘Promotion’. It calls for INGOs and donors to purposefully message their visual and written communications to promote the role of local actors to the media and public. This is a fantastic initiative. After all, it’s our local staff members who do the work, and this should be reflected in our communications. 

The Charter4Change agreement has been a constant guide for me throughout my role and during various deployments to emergency settings to conduct communications visits. I often find myself asking: how can a communication piece better showcase the work of our local Member Association? Can this media interview or blog come directly from one of our local staff members? Does this image have to show our logo, or is the Member Association logo more important?

For IPPF – a globally federated structure made up of local, autonomous NGOs – our humanitarian responses are more likely to be locally-led by default. But what does not happen by default is how INGOs portray their humanitarian responses and the parties involved. Too many, too often, still showcase humanitarian responses by focusing on the international staff member who flies in as part of surge support. With their focus on publicity and fundraising, international aid agencies can easily forget to acknowledge the work or even the name of their local partner. But without the groundwork of local aid workers during the first few hours of an emergency, a meaningful response by the international community would not be possible. They are there before, during and after the disaster, and this must be reflected in our communications.

I’m proud that IPPF is a signatory to the Charter4Change initiative. For our sector to remain relevant we must evolve with the times; both with our programming and our communication style.

*The seven other C4C commitments include: direct funding, partnership, transparency, recruitment, advocacy, equality and support). To read about the other commitments see https://charter4change.org/

Article by Nerida Williams, Senior Humanitarian Communications Advisor, IPPF  

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