Localisation: A Paradigm Shift Towards Local Leadership in the Global South

By Deborah Mowesley, Innovation For Change Intern

communityIn recent years, words like “localisation” and “locally-led” have garnered significant attention. There has been increasing discussion and emphasis on these concepts in all sectors. But what does localisation actually mean, how did it come about and why is it so important? 

Localisation is about more than just aesthetics. At its core, it is about a shift in the balance of power, a shift to being locally led.  It is about changing focus from external actors to local communities, where local actors lead the way in identifying and addressing issues that affect their communities. This means engaging in grassroots efforts to understand the unique needs and desires of the community, and working collaboratively to design initiatives and spaces that reflect those needs and values. 

In the past, international organisations and aid agencies have often been the drivers of humanitarian and development initiatives in the global south. These organisations would often take a top-down approach, where decisions were made at the international level, and projects were implemented by local partners. This approach led to a lack of ownership and engagement from local communities and resulted in initiatives that were not necessarily aligned with the needs and priorities of those communities. 

The shift towards localisation is not just about giving local communities more agency. It is also about recognising the value of local knowledge and expertise. Local actors often have a deeper and more nuanced understanding of their communities, their needs, the challenges they face and the socio-political context within which they live and operate. By leveraging this knowledge, the localisation movement enables the development of more relevant, effective, and sustainable solutions.

The importance of localisation cannot be overstated. When communities feel that their voices are heard and that they have agency in shaping their environment, they are more likely to feel a sense of ownership and pride in their community. This in turn leads to increased civic engagement, social cohesion, and overall wellbeing. Localisation is an important component of effective and sustainable development both in the Global North and Global South. However, it is particularly critical in the Global South, where historical power imbalances and complex challenges require a more collaborative and community-driven approach to development.

A great example of a successful localisation initiative is the Community Health Strategies (CHS) currently seen in multiple African countries. The CHS is a community-led approach to health care delivery that emphasizes the involvement of local communities in decision-making and the development of local health systems. Each community elects Community Health Volunteers (CHVs) who are responsible for providing basic health education, promoting healthy behaviors, and identifying cases for further care. Volunteers receive training and support from local health workers and are integrated into the broader health system. The system has been successful in improving access to health care services and reducing health disparities in rural and underserved communities. By prioritizing the involvement of local communities in the development and delivery of health care services, the CHS has created a more collaborative and sustainable approach to health care that is grounded in the needs and priorities of local people.

Localisation is not a one-size-fits-all solution either, it requires ongoing engagement and collaboration with the community to ensure that efforts are respectful, inclusive, and effective. Despite the growing recognition of the importance of localisation, there are still many instances where localisation efforts fall short. There is a need for more investment in local organisations and actors to strengthen their capacity and ensure they have the resources and support they need to lead development initiatives. Additionally, there is a need for greater collaboration between local and international actors to ensure that initiatives are aligned with broader development goals. In some cases, localisation is treated as a checkbox to be ticked off rather than a genuine effort to engage with the community and build meaningful connections. This is leading to tokenism and superficial engagement, rather than genuine efforts to build trust and collaboration. There are also unintended consequences if not done thoughtfully. When localisation is implemented in this way, it can perpetuate inequalities and reinforce power imbalances between different groups within a community.

It's essential that localisation efforts are designed and implemented with a focus on equity and fairness, ensuring that all members of the community can benefit from the opportunities created. Great to see this at CIVICUS with the Local Leaderships Lab Initiative which aims at ensuring that the civil society support ecosystem is informed by the needs and priorities of diverse local civil society actors to enable solidarity and political support for local leadership that recognizes the agency of traditionally excluded civil society actors. 

In conclusion, localisation is not just a buzzword. It is a powerful approach that prioritizes the voices of local communities and brings sustainable change. There is, undoubtedly, a need to create space for more local actors to actively participate in and lead decision-making processes.  It’s a responsibility that we all share, whether we are civil society, policymakers, donors, urban planners, or simply members of the community, we have a role to play in creating communities that are inclusive, equitable, and reflective of the needs and values of the people in them.



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