One of the most challenging books I’ve read over the past year is not about conflict or human rights, but about the way development is working. Time to Listen, from the Collaborative for Development Action, is based on interviews with 6,000 people, mainly ‘beneficiaries’ in aid-receiving countries, but also some aid workers.
It is a story of waste and misdirection of aid, arising from a failure to fully involve those people most affected by aid projects, and to evaluate the success or failure of the resulting projects.
Time to Listen provides the evidence that campaigns like Fund the Front Line are needed. Two years ago, Peace Direct, which finds and funds local peacebuilding organisations, began a somewhat broader initiative, Local First, based on three principles:
One of the issues that both campaigns face is that everyone claims they “work with locals”. So we need to indicate the difference between:
Local First is documenting models of how to fund local organisations in a way that allows them to lead, as the Stars Foundation is doing. Models from fields as diverse as the environment and HIV/AIDS show that donors are willing to go even further, and entrust decision-making on grant allocation to local, if appropriate structures and track record can be established.
Among INGOs, we have found clear differences in how far INGOs allow local organisations to lead. The recent Keystone Accountability survey, which gathers data on local partner perceptions of 62 INGOs, shows wide variation between organisations, but Peace Direct’s model was vindicated, when, for a second time, we topped the poll. Clearly, Local First is what local organisations want.
So what could “shift the dial” on local leadership in development?
Here’s a quick rule of thumb. If a charity talks about the work of its partner – what the Mumbai Women’s Textile Collective, for example, has achieved – then it’s likely to be following Local First principles. If it talks about its own achievement, then there’s a question mark about the power relationships involved. Try this test on the next piece of marketing literature you receive.