I was invited to be a panellist at the Humanitarian Congress Berlin 2020: Exposing Power & Privilege in Times of Crisis.
The Humanitarian congress welcomed the following panellists:
Babita Alick, Operations Manager, Caritas India
Florine Clomegah, Director of Operations, AIRD
Leela Ramdhani, Associate Director of Confederation Development, Oxfam
Chair: Hugo Slim, Senior Research Fellow, University of Oxford
The conversation was centred around the theme and questions below.
To ‘commit to as local as possible and as international as necessary’ and to ‘put people at the center’ is nowadays considered part and parcel of good humanitarian action. But have ‘local ownership’ and ‘localization’ become nothing more than buzzwords in the sector? Local, national and regional actors have been at the forefront of any humanitarian response for decades. However, the ‘formalized humanitarian system’ seems to be failing to connect meaningfully with national and local institutions. In the current status quo, incentives for such engagement do not exist: the sector’s power dynamics, culture and financing, accountability and control measures create compelling reasons to remain closed and centralised. Organisational mandates and missions, public perceptions, donor interests and internal targets often drive institutional structures and operational decision-making, at times limiting innovation, inclusion and efficiency. The emphasis on institutional and organisational priorities all too often occurs at the expense of local actors and affected populations. However, the imperative for increased local, national and regional leadership of aid, and the necessity for strengthened international response capacity, are not mutually exclusive. Questions: In the light of imbalanced power structures in the sector, how do we go about better partnerships and a more trustful, more mutual way of working? How can actors engage with one another across their comparative advantages (local, national, regional and international) and complement one another around mandates, technical expertise and/or funds? And what’s the role of major donors in facilitating and driving this agenda (looking at reporting etc.)? Within a centralised humanitarian structure, is localization unlikely to result in the empowerment of local actors?