By Casey Kelso, Senior Advocacy Officer at WINGS

Last year, 1289  local civic organisations across the world signed an open letter to USAID Administrator Samantha Power calling for USAID funding to truly reach local organisations and not just a few national branches of international NGOs.

This letter, coordinated by CIVICUS, the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC) and the global youth network UNOY, followed Power’s speech at a US university, in which the USAID leader promised big changes inside one of the largest official aid agencies in the world with a budget of over $27 billion. Power pledged greater diversity in her organisation, more focus on the needs and voices of the marginalised, and better listening to local partners in the countries where USAID works.

Global civil society – including foundations and community associations – wants to see investment in local civil society coordination mechanisms. In this case, global civil society asked Power for simpler funding management saying: “Complex USAID funding applications and granting processes have been a barrier for many of us”. 

The issue of localisation, however, is much more than the civil society letter sent to USAID and its response. It’s about a broader global commitment and inclusive discussion to shift power to local actors. WINGS defines localisation as a process by which different stakeholders of the aid system – including aid agencies, donors, and international NGOs – return local actors to the centre of development efforts with a greater and more central role.

Those global themes were echoed in a policy paper on localisation and philanthropy published by WINGS earlier this month and discussed at a workshop of leading development agencies and public banks as a side event to July’s UN High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development. 

At the small group discussion convened by WINGS, USAID Assistant to the Administrator, Michele Sumilas, recalled Power’s challenge to all USAID staff to really implement the organisation’s localisation agenda by increasing USAID funding to local actors to 25% of USAID’s overall budget. Power also committed USAID to ensure that in 50% of all their programmes, local communities either co-design a project, set priorities, drive implementation, or evaluate the impact of development programmes. Over the next decade, local partners should directly access USAID resources and citizens should speak up for the needs of their communities. 

“We want to work on how we fundamentally shift the power dynamic”, said Sumilas, opening the July 8 WINGS meeting titled “Realising the localisation agenda: Promising practices from development agencies to #LiftUpPhilanthropy and achieve the SDGs”.

“That is why we also believe that local foundations and philanthropic efforts are so important”, Sumilas said. “We want to be supporting local funding ecosystems to be able to develop and reach out to their local communities and support what's going on”.

The European Union is also at the forefront of localising resources for local development, including co-sponsoring the discussion as part of its partnership with WINGS. Chiara Adamo, Interim Director for Human Development, Migration, Governance and Peace for the EU’s International Partnerships, said that about 75% of the EU’s civil society thematic programme on democracy, human rights and civil society organisations is spent at the country level. 

“Taking a human rights approach means listening to local actors in co-creating solutions adapted to local contexts with the protagonists there”, Adamo said. “That's why localisation is such an important element of all this: where domestic philanthropy comes in, this is gaining traction. Boosting the development of domestic philanthropy in partner countries can really increase inclusivity, development, and effectiveness of networked civil society”.

Patrick Rabe, who also works for the European Commission, added that the EU’s goal was to link up their work with civil society with local authorities. “Unless that is well connected with whatever local authorities are there in place, those interventions that we do – or you all do – risk not being followed up or followed through over time”, Rabe said.

The WINGS localisation meeting also heard from the Dutch government, which is matching USAID’s effort – providing civil society with €1.5 billion of funding over the next five years. Reinier van Hoffen, an expert at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Netherlands, described how his government fosters local giving as a way to promote more control, more ownership, and ultimately more expression of local citizens’ voices. Ensuring that civil society can express itself independently on policy issues, without relying on outside funding, increases its credibility and legitimacy. 

“This voice is based on increasing local ownership, claiming of rights, and challenging the notion that development is something that is done to communities by external actors”, Reiner said. Building on evidence around new thinking approaches, and leadership that supports local resource mobilisation, Dutch development assistance promotes community philanthropy as a strategy for development.

In just one of many examples that Reiner gave, the Dutch 'Power of Voices' programme supported the Giving for Change Alliance with €24 million over five years. The coalition aims to mobilise domestic resources to increase local ownership in eight countries in Africa, Asia, and South America. WINGS members African Philanthropic Network and the Kenya Community Development Foundation co-lead the coalition, along with the Global Fund for Community Foundations. (Coincidentally, the Alliance was meeting in Ghana at the same time as the WINGS event to discuss similar issues from a grassroots perspective.)

Localisation is a relatively new word in the vocabulary and methods of working at the French Development Bank (AFD), which last year celebrated its 80th birthday as the oldest development bank in the world. “Now there is a whole change of narrative and method in order to be really close by the side of our local partners”, according to Anne de Soucy, the AFD’s Director of Partnerships. With a new facility for funding local NGOs, the AFD plans to double financing for civil society and enhance cooperation with philanthropists, she said. 

“We have a financing facility now which is really dedicated to leverage private resources from French and local philanthropist organisations in order to support projects in developing countries”, de Soucy said. “The idea is really to cooperate between a public development bank like we are, with a philanthropic actor and with a local NGO, and the three of us can build together an adapted solution to respond to local needs”.

The exchanges among development experts from the Global North highlighted how development agencies can really build multi-stakeholder partnerships and help create an enabling environment to harness the collective power of philanthropy. 

“All of the agencies gathered here today have started to develop some collaboration with a few big foundations – but only a few of them”, summed up Benjamin Bellegy, Executive Director of WINGS. 

“So the question is how to structure that collaboration with the broader field and diversity of foundations, especially with local foundations on the ground. It is necessary and possible to build platforms and bridges between us”. 

Following up on that WINGS-convened discussion, development actors will be asked by WINGS to continue to explore innovations that scale philanthropy’s role in localisation and create momentum to influence future financial frameworks to deliver resources effectively at the local level.


DISCLAIMER | This article was originally published by WINGS. Original article is available here.