Interview with Julian Srodecki: What does "localization" of humanitarian aid mean in practice?

11 April 2017



Liz Arnanz: Hello, we are here today with Julian Srodecki, who is the Director of Innovative Humanitarian Financing at World Vision International. We would like to ask you from your perspective, how do you define “localization”?

Julian Srodecki: I think that is a really tricky question because it means so many different things to different people. And at the end of the day, words mean what people think they do. But generally, the best definitions we have at the moment are the ones put together by Development Initiatives in their Global Humanitarian Assistance Report – that has five to six definitions of different types of organizations, from local NGOs, “Southern” international NGOs, national affiliates, INGOs, and others. And it becomes a cumbersome way to talk about the issue, but that is because the issue is complicated. I think that when you look at the diversity of humanitarian situations in the world, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. For example, if you are in a conflict situation like Syria or South Sudan, the dynamics around localization are going to be vastly different compare to, let’s say, a natural disaster in Nepal or the Philippines. And I think sometimes at the global level, or at the sector level, if we have general conversations about things that are very different from country to country, we kind of betray the spirit of what locally appropriate humanitarian action could be.

Liz Arnanz: What would you say needs to be changed in the humanitarian system in order to give more room for a "localization" approach in order to deliver better and more efficient aid?

Julian Srodecki: I think at the start of it we need to move away from the consideration of types of organizations, and start from the perspective of what would best serve the needs of the community, and the children affected on the ground. For that, you need organizations that can act quickly, that are already there, that have a presence in the community, that have good relationships; ideally, they have a good robust local governance structure, so it is about being representative of civil society and being able to navigate what can be complex local dynamics with humanitarian values and neutrality; and also the ability to deliver on the ground. And there is a number of ways you can measure that, I would suggest that the source or origin of organizations is one of them, but not the only way to do that.

Liz Arnanz: Given your expertise in humanitarian financing, I just would like to know from a NGO perspective what are you doing in order to implement the goals of the Grand Bargain to channel more direct aid to local and national organizations and actors?

Julian Srodecki: Currently, we are having a discussion, and thinking through how World Vision’s approach is locally relevant in different contexts. In reflection of the complexity of what is out there, and the diversity of contexts in the world, we actually have four different types of national offices, which can range from a program office, which is definitely an INGO in that context, and that is there for a temporary period – several years probably – going all the way through to having a fully interdependent national office, with its own national board. We have spent the last twenty years wrestling with the federation over how can you be a global and local organization at the same time. But there is also a growing appreciation as well that we need to do more local partnering with local organizations. In some programs, for example in our Turkey program, 60% of our funding goes through local organizations, with Turkish organizations founded in our geography. We are participating in the debates at the global level to understand the issues better, the way we can better use the things at our disposal to genuinely support local organizations and local communities that are suffering from the effects of disaster.

Liz Arnanz: One last question, as a faith-based organization, what kind of challenges do you face in the field? How do you think "localization" could be more inclusive with faith-based grassroots organizations?

Julian Srodecki: I think that is a really interesting question. I think when you start talking about faith-based across a larger organization, each national context is going to be again slightly different, because Christianity means something different in different communities, in different contexts around the world. And as a faith-based organization, we have learnt to embrace the diversity of that, whether is an Orthodox in Ethiopia, or Catholic churches in other parts of the world, or Protestant churches. The faith dynamic is there and is real, and we have been really encouraged in recent years with the growth of particularly the Islamic financing, and the Syria crisis has brought faith issues to the table. Also, it is the norm, I think, that for most communities affected by disasters, the default is that people will have some kind of religious belief, whether is Christian, Animist, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or something like that.

We have been missing historically a key aspect of what people consider important when they seek to recover from disaster. For example, in response to the Ebola crisis, one of the key things we were able to do with peer Christian and Islamic NGOs was to work on a safe burial program, because we found one of the potential areas for transmission was traditional practices in different faith practices in disposing of a loved one when they had or might have had the disease. A key space for us was with faith-based agencies to come up with culturally and faith-appropriate ways they could do that, without exposing themselves to the risk of catching Ebola. So that was something we could bring to the table because we understood the faith dynamic of the people we were working with. That was appropriate for that particular context.

So there is a whole set of things that differs context by context, what it is important is that we have to be locally appropriate in each context, and tread that line: being locally appropriate and standing for something consistent that we believe in. I think most faith-based organizations would say that, and to be honest, most secular organizations as well would say that they have their core beliefs that they have to adapt locally, so similar to that. I think that a greater focus on what is important at the local level is only a good thing for that agenda because sometimes religious differences can be the source of the world’s problems, but they can also be the source of some of the solutions to move forward proactively. For organizations like World Vision, there is a part to play in bringing our faith to the table in a manner that is compatible with humanitarian principles, and that adds a new dimension to the international and the local effort to respond to disaster, and to better support people in their biggest time of need.