Interview with Melissa Pitotti: What does "localization" of humanitarian aid mean in practice?

22 May 2017



Liz Arnanz: Hello, here we are today with Melissa Pitotti from ICVA, where she is the Head of Policy. She has been working a lot on the Grand Bargain and on humanitarian funding. So we would like to ask you, from your perspective, what is “localization”?

Melissa Pitotti: “Localization” is a process whereby we are trying to promote respect for, understanding of, inclusion of, and – essentially – empowerment of national local actors on the ground who are present before, during, and after an emergency.  

Liz Arnanz: With the Grand Bargain, donors have agreed to increase funding to first responders, and we can already see from the UN agencies that there is an interest and they are starting to channel more aid through local partners. What do you see NGOSs – either international, national, or local NGOs – are doing in order to also promote this new approach and willingness to increase funding to first responders?

Melissa Pitotti: Yes, one of the most important commitments coming out of the Grand Bargain is this so-called “target” of 25% of funding that will go directly to national first frontline responders at the local level. We’ve seen some international NGOs come forward with the Charter for Change, where they say they will make a special effort to implement that themselves. But direct funding is only one piece of a much bigger puzzle. We want to see also other efforts to make it much more accessible, to get access funding for local and national actors. And so we really feel it’s important to invest in things like Less Paper, More Aid, where we are trying to streamline and simplify reporting requirements; UN agencies coming together to try to harmonize their approach to partnership; finding a new way to share partner capacity assessments; investing in capacities for the long-term; promoting multi-year funding. There is a whole range of things that we need to be doing, and the Grand Bargain has given us a platform to have donors, UN agencies, and NGOs talk amongst themselves to figure out a way to do it.

Liz Arnanz: And what else should be changed in the humanitarian system in order to allow a greater localization of aid?

Melissa Pitotti: There are two things right now that we haven’t really addressed. The first is the whole issue of the funding gap. We are right now looking at ways of being more efficient, more effective, but we still face a spending shortfall collectively of about 40 to 50%. So we need to really sit down and have a much more strategic conversation about how to close that gap. The second thing we haven’t really addressed yet is how do we address risk collectively. Donors are increasing pressure to show to their taxpayers how they are spending money, so they want to do this through due diligence procedures, which are quite heavy. So we need to find a way through the donors, the UN agencies, the international NGOs, and the national NGOs, about how can we collectively talk about risk, and share the risk.