It has been a challenging two weeks for the Pacific region, most of all for Tonga which was hit by a tsunami and extensive ashfall from the eruption of the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga Ha-pai volcano.
With international communications largely cut off and the airstrip out of service, the eruption and its fallout have shone a spotlight on the importance of ensuring that humanitarian response is led by the governments and communities most affected. The Solomons Islands and Kiribati, previously covid-free, are also experiencing their most significant outbreaks to date.
On these challenges, the Pacific Islands Association of NGOs (PIANGO) states “these crises comes at the most difficult time, as the Pacific is grappling with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and during the hurricane season… Now is the time to be inclusive of CSOs in their response and demonstrate their internal capacity and strengthen their existing response system.”
What do we know about local humanitarian leadership across the Pacific?
Four years ago, Humanitarian Advisory Group (HAG) and the Pacific Islands Association of NGOs (PIANGO) established a research partnership seeking to define a Pacific approach to measuring localisation. Localisation or locally led humanitarian action refers a process of recognising, respecting and strengthening local and national leadership in humanitarian action, in order to better address needs of affected populations. We set out to measure progress in four countries across the Pacific – Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands. This was led at the country level by umbrella bodies for non-government organisations (NGOs) in the four countries – FCOSS, VANGO, CSFT and DSE.
This week, together with PIANGO we launch our final report on locally led response, the culmination of four years of research on localisation in the Pacific. At a time when the humanitarian sector is trying to reorient approaches to support local leadership, this research shows how far we’ve come – and how far we’ve yet to travel.
So where are we at now?
Across the Pacific, change is occurring differently and at different speeds across countries as well as in the key areas of practice that we measured to assess progress.
• Progress is uneven across the seven areas of localisation we looked at. There are pockets of positive progress however there continues to be little or no progress in others. Overall, there have been improvements in the quality of partnerships, shifts in coordination and complementarity of roles, positive changes in national drive of policy influence and advocacy on locally led response and a small shift in the participation of affected people. Leadership continues to be strong, whilst there has been limited to no changes in the areas of funding and capacity.
• Change is occurring in different ways – more so at operational level, and less so on strategic aspects that will drive structural change: In general, there is less evidence of change in strategic aspects that require a more fundamental shift and are intended to create change at a goal or outcome level. For example, although there have been positive actions to embed better actions and approaches to partnership, the research found little evidence of transition of power within partnerships to local actors.
“There is less evidence of change in strategic aspects that require a more fundamental shift and are intended to create change at a goal or outcome level. For example, although there have been positive actions to embed better actions and approaches to partnership, the research found little evidence of transition of power within partnerships to local actors.”
• Perceptions of change are not consistent across international and national/local organisations. As with our baseline studies in 2018, international actors continue to give more positive evaluations of progress than local and national organisations. This raises questions about why a perception gap persists. Is there a lack of dialogue about experiences and challenges? Are changes and priorities being evaluated differently by different actors? Whose expectations and views are being heard?
Key steps in progressing change
While the progress is pleasing, more ambitious steps are needed. As our research demonstrates, there is increasing recognition of local actors and local staff, greater use of their expertise and value, but continuing limits on their opportunities to contribute to key decisions about funding allocation, relevant capacity support and their own organisational growth. Stronger change will require more concerted action from powerholders, more collective pressure from those seeking to hold them to account, and more systematic sharing of what works and what doesn’t.
As PIANGO state “There needs to be more efforts invested in consultation and dialogue. We do have the expertise and capacity, what we lack is a seat at the table. We need to see local actors determining their own agendas. What we bring to the table are lived experiences on a daily basis by our communities and with what funders and other stakeholders bring to the table, we can complement each other.”
1. Focus on strategic change: There needs to be greater focus on deepening and speeding up strategic change at a structural or broader level. It is time for powerful agencies to initiate braver reforms, and test and scale up effective approaches, challenging as this may be in the ongoing pandemic context.
2. Formalise progress and commitments through localisation frameworks and plans at the national or regional level: The research process has supported discussions and thinking about what success would look like at a country level. While some practical steps have been taken to promote localisation, developing tailored national agendas with collective points of agreement would further support localisation.
3. Embed positive ways of working that have emerged over the last 18 months: In many organisations and collaborations, positive shifts have enabled and supported local leadership and partnership. Those that were improvised because of the COVID-19 context need to be embedded and resourced within day-to-day practice, so that gains in the space and voice for national staff and local actors are not undermined once borders reopen and travel is permitted.
4. Shift intermediary practices through both motivation and incentives: Intermediaries are needed to act as a bridge between large international donors and smaller organisations active on the ground. Donors, international NGOs, United Nations agencies and other international actors – in partnership with local actors – need to agree on appropriate and fit-for-purpose intermediary models in the Pacific context, through which localisation practices can be incentivised and motivated.
The Pacific Islands Association of Non-Government Organisations (PIANGO) is the major regional non-governmental organisation (NGO), with membership in the 26 countries and territories of the Pacific Islands. For over 25 years PIANGO has served the Pacific through strengthening and building the capacity of the civil society sector, giving it a voice for policy formulation and development, and strengthening National Liaison Units (NLUs) or umbrella organisations in member countries.
About the NLUs
PIANGO’s membership is made up of national bodies called National Liason Units (NLUs). These are organisations of NGOs which are broadly representative of NGOs in their respective countries. As its national CSO platforms in 26 member countries and territories of the Pacific, it focuses on the call for a transformative partnership for a resilient and sustainable Pacific that is rooted in the Pacific Principles of Development Effectiveness.