It has been six years since the humanitarian agenda has reached a milestone after the UN Secretary General’s call for turning locally-led humanitarian action at the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016. This was a call to change the function of global humanitarian system as the international humanitarian actors are falling back to meet up with the increasing needs derived from protracted natural hazards and long-lasting armed conflicts. As the costs of services increase and the high level of risks restrict international actors’ actions, aid has come to a bottleneck.
When I look at the news, I see an enormous number of people who need assistance and protection. The average crisis lasts much longer than it used to be and the needs are urgent, forcing the humanitarian system to an obligatory change.
To serve humanity better, the debate in the global humanitarian system revolved around increasing the capacity of locally-led humanitarian organizations, transferring the global funds to local actors and partnering with them to share experience and knowledge for they are the first responders of natural disasters and conflicts. By far, I think the progress towards this goal has remained, reducing the outcomes that has been achieved in that matter.
It is no doubt that the international humanitarian community, especially the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement as the biggest humanitarian organisation, has a long-standing experience and knowledge about how to deliver humanitarian aid in all stages of crises. Though, we have been constantly improving ourselves and our methods to offer the best support to vulnerable communities, there are still problems that we are struggling to cope with when it comes to direct access to disaster or conflict areas.
Think about the conflict in Myanmar or the recent volcanic eruption in Tonga. They are only small examples among many others that shows the insufficiencies in the system. Arrested community channels, zones controlled by armed parties and increasing costs of logistics and services to deliver aid; obstacles come in all sorts of forms, restricting international organisations’ safer access to communities in need. This illustrates how international actors are failing to reach every vulnerable person and provide a complete support when the changing environments and challenges restrict their actions.
Local actors’ capacity to manage and respond to crises and their well-managed humanitarian coordination is a determining factor regarding the faith and resilience of vulnerable communities. While international actors face these challenges in disaster or conflict settings, we once again acknowledge the significance of developed locally-led humanitarian action. But we also should keep in mind that currently many local actors do not have enough funds, technical capacity or an emergency management system to respond to such crises at best.
Regrettably, the humanitarian struggle is not only about restrictions or limited capacity. There is another big problem in the highest international decision-making mechanisms. Due to various reasons, such as social structural discriminations, language barriers and insufficient technical capacities, local organisations are struggling to reach out and talk about their needs and their abilities.
So, the dilemma is clear: international actors have the knowledge and the funds but their safe access capacity is restricted, local actors on the other hand, have much better changes to access disaster areas, understand the needs and solve the root causes of crises because they are more familiar to the context than the outlanders obviously. But they also lack required capacity to provide the best support to the people in need. And the current international mechanisms do not pave a way for both international and local actors to address the needs and integrate their knowledge and methods in common grounds.
The glocalization and the “order of the day”
This brings us to the developing concept of glocalization and decentralising the aid sector. From a certain point of view, the UN Secretary General’s words “as local as possible, as international as necessary” summarizes and defines the whole glocalization agenda.
For humanitarians, the jargonised version of the glocalization refers to “the simultaneous occurrence of both universalising and particularizing tendencies in the contemporary social, political and economic systems.” The simplified version of the glocalization on the other hand reflects the emergencies through the combination of both local and global capacities, and needs with cultural aspects in mind.
It is about interconnectedness, where the international and national actors mutually shape and develop each other with their knowledge and abilities coming from their experiences. It is a progress of addressing the deficiencies to cure them as inclusively recognizing the local actors’ capabilities and thoroughly strengthening their capacities and leadership in the global sense to build resilience to enable good governance for the future humanitarian challenges. This is only possible by aligning global actors’ with the local actors in order to advance local actors’ capacities inclusively.
The way forward
After reviewing all these needs and the current changing environment, it is clear that there are a lot of improvements that we have to do to increase the scale and efficiency of our work. We all need to redesign our services for the changing environment to develop tools that empowers our local actors and grow their capacities.
Glocalization require a significant transformation from the globalised management of the humanitarian field to developed cluster of local organisations.
In light of the Grand Bargain, we need to invest in local actors in four different aspects:
- The first one is partnerships that we need to ensure continuous cooperation between local actors, national governments and business enterprises to form strategic partnerships that increase their capacity, knowledge, quantity and quality of their funding mechanisms. Benchmarking and exchanging the know-how between organizations will advance local actors’ efficiency in humanitarian practices. Connecting local actors such local branches of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the local women and youth organizations will bring such an addition to address the local issues and absorb the local ideas.
- The second one is capacity building that we shall emphasize the local humanitarian organizations’ performance management and structural development for better responding the crises. The use of technological tools and digitalization within this perspective is vital for increasing the efficiency of our service. The global community shall transfer funds indeed, but we should also transfer knowledge and expertise. We need to create a mechanism where each actor can learn from one another to enhance their management capacities and structural development.
- The third is the participatory development of local actors at the global level. Local humanitarians are the first ones that engage with communities in every stage of the crises, hence, their observations, ideas and contributions are highly valuable in the decision-making processes. We need to ensure we have a mechanism in which local humanitarian actors have a strong voice in the highest decision-making levels and have a place in the strategic planning and implementing processes. We are talking about the local actors’ strategic stance because their lore, identity, culture and ideas are the driving force to make a difference when it is combined with the highly developed management skills and capacities of the international actors.
- The fourth and the last one is sustainable financing that ensures forecast-based financing mechanisms for National Societies to conduct their humanitarian practices. Embracing the social impact business models such as social finance, impact investment, pool funding and blockchain will enable alternative and sustainable funding ways for the local actors. As financial instability is one of the most serious challenges that the local actors face, we are witnessing how these actors struggle to mobilize across the country without proper income generation programs. Therefore, there is a strong need for support from the international actors to guide local actors regarding their income generation activities.
The Final Remarks
Each day we are witnessing the fascinating and unique potentials, capabilities, strengths and significance of local actors. As part of the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement, our cumulative experience on humanitarian practices suggest that the decentralization of the aid sector is the crucial next step to take in order to get out of the current dilemma that the humanitarian system faces.
In this direction, we will render our humanitarian practices sustainable by changing our policies, systems and approaches to the concept of respond to the ever-evolving humanitarian challenges. We need to modify our mechanisms in a way so we can enable mentoring and peer-to-peer experience exchange between international and local actors based on lessons learned so they can customize their intervention tailored true to their own needs and requirements. Global coordination mechanisms bringing local actors together in a strong sense will further increase local actors’ presence and accountability in the global settings. Once we acknowledge each one of our components unique added value, we will ensure simultaneous total growth towards our quest in helping humanity.