Localization, which has an inconsistent definition and conceptualization, is best read and understood through the lenses of power dynamics, the right to self-determination, and innovation.
Nonetheless, what international organizations agree on is that localization is somehow interconnected with decolonization as a necessary tool for emerging economies to achieve fully-fledged social, economic, and political sovereignty. Other definitions mention that localization is a "set of internal reforms, actions, and behaviors" that aim to reorient local organizations to take control of their own projects, lead the development of their own local systems, and cooperate with international organizations that are not bound by Western standards.
Benefits of Localization
There are three benefits as a result of applying localizations that the London School of Economics (LSE) has enlisted:
- National and local staff are generally paid less than international staff, making the implementation of projects more cost-efficient.
- Local actors can propose solutions that are well-tailored to the problems at hand, thus reducing unnecessary and irrelevant activities and therefore saving unnecessary costs.
- A local organization’s affinity with its cultural and social contexts allows it to produce strategies and solutions that enjoy more access to resources, physical and human capital assets, and various forms of legitimacy that external actors usually find difficult to attain.
It is also the case that when local development flourishes, more wealth accumulation and efficient productivity become possible. Finally, it pushes emerging economies to separate themselves from hegemonic influences, making them enjoy their self-determination and independence. It is expected of local actors to build stronger and more resilient projects that outstand local obstacles. Local actors can begin leading their plans by strategizing effectively and objectively according to their tacit knowledge of their culture, society, and economy. Local actors will ensure international organizations a favorable position which enjoys an effective “transition from immediate response to long-term development”. Localization can then foster local ownership and sustainbility.
What are some of the challenges that could alter the scope of localization?
1- Power Dynamics and Localization
If we assume that decolonization and localization efforts were successfully executed, then one benefit that could arise is a shift in global power dynamics that does not necessarily delegitimize Western orientations of development but rather integrates and harmonizes different cultures, societal values, and economic objectives together. International Non-Governmental Organizations (INGOs) started to realize that localization shifts tasks, funding, responsibilities, and decision-making, yielding a shift in power dynamics between international and local actors. Thus, rather than it being a one-way direction dedicated to Western organizations influencing local organizations through soft power, it should now become a matter of constructing a two-way direction dictated by the principle of mutual benefits between both actors as well as a demand for power concessions directed solely to Western organizations.
For instance, certain areas controlled by the Syrian government restricts INGOs from implementing their developmental programs, thus forcing them to first foster local partnerships in order to exercise their operations. In order to push localization, INGOs must support and provide the needed assistance and programs that would strengthen local NGOs agency and provide local knowledge that can progress locally led projects such as Cash Assistance in Re-Emerging Markets in Syria (CARMA).
2- Knowledge and Localization
‘What makes knowledge valid’ is a question that has always been a major concern for political economists and international development experts. The reason behind that is because it lacks objective indicators, variables, and methodologies that substantiate the truthiness of knowledge. Thus, due to the imbalances of global power dynamics, it has always been assumed that western experiences and standards of knowledge are ‘universal’, and abiding by them is an imperative to achieve social and economic development. That is, western biases and prejudices are imposed upon emerging economies and societies, leading to the implementation of projects that do not address, directly or sufficiently, the concerns of local communities. In this manner, international organizations not only strips away local actors’ sense of agency but also delegitimizes the actual concerns of local communities.
Nine Tunisian cities have formulated city development strategies led and implemented by local actors who worked together to achieve a common vision towards sustainable development. These local actors have gained valuable experiences and expertise that have enhanced their capacities to manage, direct, and support local authorities to elaborate city developments with minimal to non-external aid or influences. These developments were implemented via collaborations with decentralized, private, and associative actors, in particular youths and women, vulnerable groups, and groups that were traditionally excluded from development processes.
However, it is not a simple task to overturn all developmental models that are predicated on Western policies and ideologies. This requires a great deal of financial and labor investments to establish independent local models that are competent enough to carry out large-scale and scalable developmental projects. In order to address universal values such as diversity, equity, inclusion, and equal accessibility, they must be appropriated to local cultures and values. In other words, local actors must modify the underlying values of these principles so that they can address their local concerns and expedite developmental processes by enabling more effective allocations of capital and resources.
3- Capacity Building and Localization
International actors do not have to provide capacity-building to local actors. There is a novel approach that advocates for capacity building held by local actors through “inter-agency collaboration” and exchanges. The objective of international actors is to facilitate “mentoring between local NGOs, joint emergency simulations and training, international peer exchange visits, and flexible grants for in-country peer-to-peer activities”, leaving local actors and partners to decide on the priorities and strategies for projects.
An example can be found in one of the approaches carried out by the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD). CAFOD produced a humanitarian capacity-strengthening model (HCS) that reflects and highlights each partner’s strengths and priorities. The HCS seeks to facilitate better collaboration between local and international actors as well as enhance the quality of work, work environment, hiring process, and strategic planning of local NGOs. By developing stronger governance and organizational systems via HCS, local NGOs have "improved their effectiveness, organizational culture, and ability to manage donor funds rather than being dependent on international intermediary agencies". Other benefits include the improved visibility and transparency in profiles and systems which have allowed local NGOs to attract donor funding without having to establish prior partnerships with donors. It is notable that CAFOD is taking localization seriously, and its approaches have allowed local NGOs to separate themselves from international actors by producing their own mission and taking independent action to design and implement responses to local challenges.
INGOs have started to construct ‘partner-led capacity-strengthening’ approaches that would strengthen local NGOs ability to share and discuss their own unique strategies. An example is the European Union’s efforts to localize SDG plans in Palestine through local government units (LGU’s). The aim of this project is to finance localization efforts to achieive solutions for local concerns directed towards the socio-economic state of Palestinains. The EU will provide technical assistance in institutional building that helps LGUs to coordinate, assist, monitor, and evaluate projects implementation. This will place a huge emphasis on self-autonomy, directing localization efforts to socio-political empowerment.
4- Localization and Innovation
Entrepreneurial and innovative thinking allows local actors to expand their horizons, resulting in creative, effective, and efficient suggestions for a project’s methodological and operational aspects. For example, a stakeholder in Jordan highlighted that digital expansions of the National Aid Fund enabled all governmental bodies to access a unified national registry to ensure people affected to receive financial assistance. Simply put, the digitalization of cash can support locally led projects such as cash and voucher assistances (CVA’s) as well as strengthen direct relationships between donors and local actors.
However, in order to carry out effective methods for innovation, emerging economies must maintain a framework that structures and integrates their own experiences in such a way that they are able to produce their own knowledge for local socio-economic development. This requires tremendous intellectual efforts and capital investments to support local institutions, whether it be political, financial, or academic, to start reevaluating and reappropriating the concept of knowledge within their own respective cultural and social contexts. This then allows local NGOs to experience their communities’ problems with analyticity and criticalness, enabling them to express and cast their experiences upon their projects, therefore allowing them to craft local knowledge that is effective and relevant in addressing local concerns.
DARPE Research Officer and Reporter