The World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) in May 2016 led to a voluntary commitment of major governmental donors and international relief agencies, known as the ‘Grand Bargain’. One key commitment isto provide “more support and funding tools for local and national responders”. This has become known as ‘localisation’.

Over the past year, the precise and practical meaning of ‘localisation’ has generated a lot of focused work but also intensive debate. Both the term ‘localisation’, and the debate, are confusing to many.

In a new paper,  with Smruti Patel, we set out the main parameters of the debate, map out some of the controversies, and identify principal reasons why it remains so confusing. 

We look at what problem(s) with how the international relief machinery operates, localisation is supposed to mitigate, and the different interpretations of localisation this can give rise to. We consider the main arguments against an over-reliance on national capacities, but also some of the counter-arguments to these. We assert that the, legitimate, debate, will remain stuck if it continues to be waged in generalised, rather than more contextualised, terms. We are also concerned that the prominence of the ‘25% of global funding to national and local actors’ commitment, while highly relevant, also risks turning it, once again, into a competition over money. Like other international ‘statements’, the text of the ‘Grand Bargain’ document, also comes with the imprecise language that is needed to obtain consensus. The resulting discussions over the precise interpretation of key phrases is inevitable, but should not distract from the broader strategic analysis and strategic purpose question, that gave rise to the ‘localisation’ idea in the first place.