Interview with Cyprien Fabré: What does "localization" of humanitarian aid mean in practice?

9 May 2017



Liz Arnanz: Hello from AidEx 2016, we have here with us Cyprien Fabré. He is a policy analyst working in humanitarian affairs at the OECD, and he recently participated in one of our webinars with ICVA on the overall landscape of humanitarian financing. We would like to ask him, here at AidEx, what is your perspective on the term of “localization”? What does it mean for you?

Cyprien Fabré: Thank you. Well, “localization” is not a new thing, and many local actors or local responders are already on the front much more than some international actors. So it’s not something new, what is new is the way the international community wants to support more directly. So that’s why the Grand Bargain was one of the main provisions at the World Humanitarian Summit. And we see a genuine interest from donors to invest into local response, into local preparedness, because most of the local response is made before a crisis hits to build capacities. Now, you have some real difficulties – real challenges – to directly fund national actors; one is capacity, because you require a lot of capacity at the donor level to manage all those grants and most donors don’t have this capacity. So most likely, what should happen is that local actors will have better access to pooled funds. That is one of main ways and trends we see. For instance, OCHA told us today this year, in 2016, that 20% of pooled funds were directed to local actors, so this is quite encouraging. This is probably one of the main trends, direct funding requires more capacity – more field capacity – that many donors don’t have.  

Liz Arnanz: So you think there is a big impact on preparedness and capacity building thanks to the approach of “localization” for humanitarian assistance. In other terms, does “localization” actually have a tangible effect on preparedness and capacity building already?

Cyprien Fabré: Very much, so “localization” requires us to do things through partnerships, to have a will and a sense of partnership, it requires long-term arrangements, and trust. So if you want to build the capacity of a number of local actors, it can be also at the governmental level – you can have a disaster response agency, for instance. Or you can share some capacity building, and this requires you to have a long-term arrangement, and long-term trust for us to build confidence so that when a disaster hits or strikes, you have trust and you can then support more directly your local partners, and for them not to be a mere subcontractor. Just a mere transfer of funds is not “localization.” “Localization” means that on the field, you have a say, and more than a say in the design of a program, and what you will do.

Liz Arnanz: And you previously mention the Grand Bargain – so do you feel the Grand Bargain is already being implemented in the field with a “localization” approach?

Cyprien Fabré: The Grand Bargain is more or less defining the main trends that are already in motion, so it’s not yet here, and a lot has to be done – but look at the cash issue, for instance. Cash response is not a new thing; cash response has been there for a long time. But the Grand Bargain, and the Summit itself, were created to unleash the energy around that and you see, for example, massive cash projects in Turkey or on the Syria crisis, between the EU and WFP, and the Red Cross of course. So the Grand Bargain is just giving the momentum, and you see from the donors’ side a real effort to take this momentum and to keep it – and the main donors are kind of organizing themselves to deliver against the Grand Bargain. So this is encouraging in this respect.

Liz Arnanz: Ok. So the Grand Bargain has allowed to boost some already emerging trends that were already in place before the Summit?

Cyprien Fabré: Yes, absolutely. So the cash and localization are very transformative and this transformation doesn’t go without difficulties, without challenges. But the Grand Bargain allows us to say that “this is now, this is the direction where we should go.” And you see that the donors are aligning, even donors that didn’t sign up to the Grand Bargain. So it goes beyond the Grand Bargain itself, it’s kind of a tectonic change in the humanitarian landscape for the donor side. But a bargain is a bargain, and there is the other side. The operational side will also have to organize themselves, to make sure that the provisions of the Grand Bargain are getting to the local level. Take for instance the direct funding or the multi-year funding. If a donor will provide multi-year funding to its international partner, we have to make sure that it gets down to the local responder – it has to work like that.