Since its creation at the Bretton Woods Conference nearly 80 years ago, the architecture of the international finance system has had inequity and colonialism baked in. It is only very recently – the last decade or so – that these power imbalances have begun to be publicly acknowledged – the first step in their being tackled head on. At the 78th UN General Assembly (UNGA) last month, there was an encouraging cluster of discussions that dug into the issues of decolonization and localization. Degan Ali, Executive Director of Adeso, was a key voice across many discussions at UNGA, highlighting the challenges that local organizations face and outlining ways that the UN system, bilateral aid agencies, and international NGOs can move the localization agenda forward.
Two discussions, in particular, brought these issues into stark relief.
The first panel was hosted by The New Humanitarian on ‘Rethinking Aid Financing: How Locally Led Organizations are Financing their Future’, included representatives from USAID, NEAR, Start Network, The White Helmets and GiveDirectly. Despite the 25% target of funding intended to go to local organizations, local leaders still face significant barriers in accessing resources, thereby prompting several leaders to explore alternative sources of funding.
For instance, Hibak Kalfan, Executive Director of the Network for Empowered Aid Response (NEAR) described an agile and responsive funding mechanism called The Change Fund that piloted in 2021 with Funding from Conrad N. Hilton Foundation that enabled NEAR to disburse humanitarian funding within 72 hours with an important component being a governance structure where all decisions were made by elected members. These decisions include which crisis to support, and how much funding they should give.
“From there we were able to get 1.5 million dollars out of the door in 67 days and you can imagine, we would have been able with that same capacity of volunteers and staff within the secretariat, been able to get 10 million dollars out just in the same year. And so, we are on this path of trying to figure out what can we do, what kind of infrastructure can we build to be able to get resources to local actors and to be able to have proof of concept for bilateral donors and other donors and to be able to get resources to local actors as well.” said Hibak Kalfan.
It was also highlighted that all solutions did not have to do with funding. Adeso, for example, launched the Pledge for Change 2030, which focuses on re-imagining the role of INGOs in the global humanitarian and development aid system as a way of shifting power to decision makers who are closest to the problem.
A second panel discussion titled ‘Creating an Enabling Environment for Localization-Pathways to Action’ was hosted by WINGS, Adeso, Network of Engaged International Donors (NEID Global), Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, Council of Foundations and included representatives from Adeso, USAID, Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, The Inter-American Foundation, The Avina Foundation, The United Nations and EPIC-Africa. Degan Ali had the opportunity to highlight the essential infrastructure that Adeso is building to help facilitate and direct more funding to local actors facing the barriers of visibility, access, and lack of trust. These initiatives include KujaLink, aimed at enhancing the visibility of organizations in the Global South to potential funders, and CORE, which will offer vital backend services that will enable organizations to be perceived as less risky through assisting them in meeting compliance standards.
“We are not out of ideas as the Global South, what we have a hard time with the resourcing of those ideas… we need to stop this rhetoric and actually make real investment in infrastructure” said Degan Ali.
Funders Sign on To Locally Led Solutions
During UNGA, a key announcement was made as 18 funders alongside USAID signed on to a donor statement emphasizing locally led solutions as a central rather than secondary, focus in the development sector. This critical announcement signifies a positive step forward in implementing local solutions to local problems, and it is encouraging to see many stakeholders within the ecosystem undertaking initiatives to contribute to transformative change.
Shift the Power Summit
Following on from Adeso’s UNGA experience last month, we are looking forward to continuing the conversations at the #ShiftThePowerSummit in Bogota in December, that will be bringing together local CSOs globally to partake in global conversations that puts communities in charge of their own development. This continues to be an issue of real urgency, given that only 1.2% of direct funding going to local organizations and over 400 million people in need of humanitarian assistance.
Community philanthropy, proximate funds, citizen accountability, participatory decision-making and new networks and alliances that are grounded in the Global South and / or at the edges of the mainstream system are among the features of this emergent system which embraces both new ways of thinking and working, and strategies aimed at engaging and influencing actors in the formal philanthropy and development system. We look forward to exploring what Shift The Power looks like and means to us, especially against the unfolding of humanitarian crises such as Gaza.