Localizing development ? When does “local” means “local” ?

Understanding the different terminology around localization

Where did all the “localization” terms come from and what are the differences? People tend to use them sloppily, or interchangeably in ways that undermine the important distinctions they stand for.

These terms emerge from two somewhat related but very different commitments: aid effectiveness between host nations and their development partners, and citizen engagement – the fundamental human right of every person to have a voice in the decisions that affect their lives.

This note attempts to clarify each of those two bundles of terms, plus the stronger critique of decolonizing development.

Country-owned “locally-led” Development – It’s about country ownership and aid effectiveness

One common use of the term “Locally-led Development (LLD)” emerged from the principle of Country Ownership.

Country ownership emerged as a critically important term after the 2000 Millennium Declaration to cut poverty in half (the Millennium Development Goals) and the aid effectiveness debates that followed. The 2002 Monterrey Consensus declared a broad aspiration that each nation must be responsible for its own poverty reduction and that donors would support them as partners. This became reinforced in the 2005 Paris Principles of Aid Effectiveness and the Accra Agenda for Action, establishing five principles, the first of which is ownership: “Developing countries set their own strategies for poverty reduction, improve their institutions and tackle corruption.”

Africa played a leading role in this process with the 2003 Maputo Declaration in which African countries promised to invest 10% of their budgets into agriculture through a CAADP (Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Program) “Compact”

These “deals” led to a significant increase in official development assistance from G7 countries. In the wake of the 2008 Food Price Crisis, it also became the basis for the 2009 G8 L’Aquila Summit commitment led by President Obama to reverse the 30-year steady decline in aid to agriculture, with increased aid for countries that had made CAADP Compacts. Obama’s Global Development Policy established Feed the Future “driven by country-owned strategies” and a Global Climate Initiative based on “country-owned plans.”

From “Country-owned” to “Local” – As nearly as I can tell, the 2010 “USAID Forward” reform initiative shifted the terminology. USAID continues to work in countries which, frankly, don’t have country-owned strategies (which was generally assumed to mean owned by the host government). Instead, USAID Forward states “USAID Missions are using, strengthening and partnering with local systems – governments, civil society, and private sector together – to achieve sustainable development results. Full disclosure – I protested at the time, since in almost every other context, “local means local” – like municipality or county, not nation. But at USAID, “local” suddenly meant “host-country national.” USAID regulations define local in terms of corporate ownership – organizations with majority owners or board members from that country. USAID Missions are using, strengthening and partnering with local systems – governments, civil society, and private sector together – to achieve sustainable development results. USAID created a small, separate program “Local Works (initially Local Solutions” to focus on “locally-led development” – defined in the same way – as organizations of host-country origin.

USAID set a target of 30% of Mission funds going to “local” organizations by 2015, triple the initial situation, although in fact it never exceeded 17%.

Localization – it’s about aid effectiveness in humanitarian contexts

A global increase in humanitarian crises and a widening funding gap led to the 2016 Humanitarian Summit and it’s outcome, the Grand Bargain. Like the Paris Principles, donors agreed to increase humanitarian aid and direct more of it to local actors – a process of localization. It stands to reason that when “first responders” are already in place, response is more efficient and effective. Target #4 in the Grand Bargain is to “Achieve by 2020 a global, aggregated target of at least 25 percent of humanitarian funding to local and national responders as directly as possible to improve outcomes for affected people and reduce transactional costs.” As most of the signatories were “global north” aid agencies, the NEAR Network was formed by “global south” civil society actors to both improve member abilities and drive fulfillment of the localization target.

In June 2021, Grand Bargain 2.0 was signed, putting increased focus on the localization commitment and strengthening local leadership.

Community-Driven Development (CDD) – It’s about participation

The World Bank has always been about country-ownership – governments design a program and borrow money from the Bank to pay for it. However, there have always been people within the World Bank who believed strongly in people’s participation, and many outside the Bank who questioned its very existence due to the widespread corruption in so many national governments – see, for example, the 1994 “50 years is Enough” campaign.

In 1992, the World Bank began conducting PPAs – Participatory Poverty Assessments – and in 2000 in published the first of the three volume milestone Voices of the Poor study based on the “voices” of 40,000 individuals living in poverty. It powerfully delivered several key messages – that NGOs play an insignificant role in poverty reduction, and that the only meaningful public sector institution is community-level government. Mostly, people in poverty are on their own.

At this same time, the Bank began funding what became known as Community-Driven Development (CDD) Projects which ”gives control of decisions and resources to community groups.” These are still country-owned programs, but directly funding projects by local communities.

A review by Susan Chase explains when James Wolfensohn became Bank President in 1995, he was a strong believer in decentralization and centralized the CDD portfolio, which has grown to an estimated 27% of Bank lending.

CDD projects were initially quite different from what we describe below as CLD – Community-led Development, in that they were nearly always short-term infrastructure projects. The Bank’s own meta-study across its CDD portfolio in 2012 showed that the most effective CDD projects were those that involved local governments as well as community-based organizations, and those that included components of capacity strengthening.

Since 2016, MCLD has engaged very directly with the CDD department of the Bank, and it now states that CDD “programs [note – not projects] operate on the principles of transparency, participation, local empowerment, demand-responsiveness, greater downward accountability, and enhanced local capacity.”

Community-led Development – it’s about systems change

Communities have been the nexus of economic and social activity for thousands of years. Nation states only became powerful economic actors since colonialism and industrialization, and the dramatic rise in inequality that it generated.

In the post-World War II birth of global development activities, many attempts were made to revitalize traditional community development approaches. Critiques of those early approaches were that they reinforced existing unjust power structures, structures that had often been corrupted or co-opted in colonial times.

The term “Community-led Development” was born in the late 1990s in the context of rural poverty reduction in the US, and adopted in 2012 in the context of wealthy countries finding a dignified way to interact with indigenous communities in Canada and New Zealand. The authors Sherri Torjman and Anne Makhoul wrote:

“Community-led development is a unique approach to tackling local problems and building on local strengths. It is guided by several core principles.

  • The voice and views of citizens lie at the heart of community-led development.
  • Community-led development seeks to empower community members to ensure they have the competencies to identify and formulate key questions.
  • Community-led initiatives are guided by local leaders who typically co-create a governance process to help plan and advance the ongoing work.
  • Community-led development involves the identification of key questions to be addressed. This focus is then framed as a set of aspirational goals or vision that the community seeks to achieve.
  • Despite their differences, community-led development approaches are bound together by a set of guiding principles.
  • Community-led development assumes that all communities and their members have strengths, skills and resources on which to build.
  • Communities can harness and apply their identified assets through conversations that help create frameworks for change.
  • Community-led development is an evolving process that involves the translation of aspirational goals into specific steps to be taken in respect of that vision.
  • Community-led development is not a straight pathway. It is a process of continual learning and checking of progress against objectives.
  • While community-led initiatives are guided by local residents, they require support from the government. Governments can play three major roles in support of this work – as exemplar, investor and enabler.”

This focus on the change process, rather than projects, resonated with the groups that founded MCLD. Subsequent collaborative research among member organization resulted in a broader and more nuanced definition:

“Community-Led Development is a development approach in which local community members work together to identify goals that are important to them, develop and implement plans to achieve those goals, and create collaborative relationships internally and with external actors—all while building on community strengths and local leadership.

Community-Led Development (CLD) is characterized by 11 attributes: participation and inclusion, voice, community assets, capacity development, sustainability, transformative capacity, collective planning and action, accountability, community leadership, adaptability, and collaboration.”

Three terms you don’t hear so much about anymore as they don’t relate to aid per se but to governance and are vital to CLD: Decentralization, Devolution and Deconcentration. These refer to shifting political, financial and administrative power from central government to local government.

Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) – it’s not about money!

Many examples of community-led development, such as the formative years of the Sarvodaya Movement of Sri Lanka and the Swarnivar Movement of Bangladesh (and The Hunger Project’s program there today) do not involve resource transfers at all. Today, Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) is an intentional methodology, and is incorporated into many forms of development.

Decolonizing Development

From the time of Mahatma Gandhi onwards, many leaders strongly criticized the Western (and what many consider a White Supremacist) idea of “progress” that underpinned the colonial era and most post-colonial development efforts. Writers in the 1970s and 1980s challenged the very use of the term “development.” Throughout the post-colonial era, African writers have struggled to “decolonize our minds.” Indigenous communities around the world fought for their rights to define their own political and cultural lives, free from the imposition of modern nation states.

Decolonizing Development” began to push itself from academia into the global mainstream in 2018 and received an unexpected boost from the publication of The1619 Project and Black Lives Matter movement, both of which demanded a re-examination of the systemic causes of inequality, and the ways that colonization and slavery had built American power and the modern world. One of its best champions is PeaceDirect.

Dylan Matthew, head of Peace Direct, defines decolonization as “deconstructing and dismantling colonial-era and neo-colonial ideologies of the superiority and privilege of Western thought and approaches.” It can serve as an intentional process to co-create a more just and sustainable future.

This blog is based on a blog originally published in May 2022 by The Movement for Community-led Development.

Featured Photo by Chang Duong on Unsplash