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Local First: putting ‘local’ at the centre of peacebuilding

  • Published

    11 October 2013
  • Written by

    Carolyn Hayman

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:

  1. Look first for the capacity within countries before bringing in external expertise and resources
  2. Recognise that much of this capacity is found outside central government
  3. Understand that local people need to lead in their own development

One of the issues that both campaigns face is that everyone claims they “work with locals”. So we need to indicate the difference between:

  • Locally led, where the local partner leads on overall priorities and project design: this is the ideal of Local First
  • Locally owned, where the approach comes from outside but there is a determined effort to ‘transplant’ ownership to local implementers
  • Locally delivered, where the approach comes from outside and a local organisation is selected to implement it, with no involvement in design and no transfer of ownership

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?

  • MDGs or their equivalent post-2015 goals should clearly embed the principle that local capacity should be used and funded in preference to bringing in outside resources
  • Multilateral agencies such as UNDP should take the Keystone survey to understand how local partners feel about the roles they are allocated in UN-funded projects
  • Individuals who support development charities should question how they work with local organisations.

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.

This article originally appeared on The Guardian


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