In 2016, the word “localisation” was buzzing around at the World Humanitarian Summit. At first, we at Churches of Christ Overseas Aid (COCOA) wondered what it was. As we learned more, we found it looked pretty much like what we have been aiming to achieve for a while.
Simply put, localisation is about shifting power and leadership to local people.
A localised approach empowers and builds the capacity of local NGOs, rather than sending in an international agency. It recognises that local people and organisations are best placed to lead development in their own country and that the right and responsibility for the direction of development lies with local people.
In both our church partnerships and our relief and development program, Global Mission Partners (GMP) focuses on working with local partners in empowerment and development of further capacity. We only send Australians or other outsiders when we can’t find the right people locally. People ‘on the ground’ know the language and the culture and are invested in the community because they are part of it. This has helped us to focus on our partners’ unique situations and aspirations - partners like Christian Mercy International (CMI) in South Sudan.
The new Return the Rains program is led by South Sudanese local, Paulino Malou, the Director of CMI.
The program was developed to address local environmental issues that have affected the agricultural sector. With CMI in consultation with the government, NGOs, and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, the project is well-planned. So far, local people in the Aweil area have planted 5,000 trees based on training from CMI. Planting trees improves rainfall to help create a better future for growing food, people’s health, and their ability to earn a sustainable income. Currently, the survival rate for trees after three months is an outstanding 99.5 percent! CMI took the initiative in this program, choosing a project that CMI could implement, and that they were motivated to get involved in.
Developing local partner capacity is a crucial strategy for long-term development. To listen, learn, and improve together. This includes informing partners of the latest requirements and introducing partners to ways of gaining expertise they may lack. Sometimes we need to wrestle with ideas or keep partners accountable and insist they meet the relevant standards. For example, standards in child protection are non-negotiable when working with vulnerable people. Occasionally partners opt-out of the process, but even if a partnership with GMP ends, the capacity that partners have gained will continue to bear fruit in their context.
A localised approach creates a deeper impact for GMP and our partners. It puts locals in their rightful place – in charge of the changes that happen in their community. We have respectful, long-term, and often very personal relationships with our partners. We were encouraged by Paulino. “GMP is different,” he said,
“They really listen. If you have an idea, they will listen to it.”