Localization: Shifting Aid Decision-Making to Local Communities

Localization is the process of shifting decision-making power and resources to the local level in aid efforts. The concept has received renewed attention because the US Agency for International Development (USAID) has embarked on a major initiative to put local leaders in charge of aid efforts. The agency says,


There is now widespread consensus that development and humanitarian assistance needs to be more responsive to the needs and priorities of local actors and communities and embrace their ideas for how to address them. The world’s development and humanitarian challenges are vast and complex, but they are also inherently local.


However, the concept isn’t new, and many aid groups had adhered to the perspective for years before it even had the name, localization. Mano a Mano, a US-based nonprofit, is one of these organizations, putting themselves in a supportive role to their local counterparts in Bolivia to create and implement development projects.

One of Mano a Mano’s co-founders, Joan Velásquez, describes their approach in the book Gaining Ground: A Blueprint for Community-Based International Development. It provides a valuable resource for aid organizations seeking to adopt a community-based approach to development. Velásquez outlines their principles, emphasizing the importance of understanding and engaging with local communities, building long-term partnerships with counterpart organizations, and supporting projects designed and managed by local actors.

picture of people in Chuquisaca building a clinic.
Community members organized by Mano a Mano Bolivia are completing a clinic in Chuquisaca, joining a network that had over 500,000 visits in the first half of 2022

By engaging with local actors, aid organizations can increase the likelihood that development efforts are more responsive to local needs and priorities and can build stronger relationships with local communities. Mano a Mano has successfully built strong partnerships with local communities and encouraged counterpart organization growth in Bolivia, resulting in sustainable development projects meeting each community’s specific needs.

Localization is a powerful approach to aid that can achieve more sustainable and effective development outcomes. As USAID and other large agencies take the lead from long-time localization practitioners like Mano a Mano, the aid landscape will evolve and implement more sustainable solutions developed by local communities. 

Further Reading:


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