Interview with Naomi T. Solanke: What does "localization" of humanitarian aid mean in practice?

27 February 2017



Liz Arnanz: I am here with Naomi T. Solanke from Community Healthcare Initiative, a local NGO based in Liberia. It was founded right before the Ebola outbreak, and they were very engaged during the crisis. Naomi, could you tell me what ”localization” means to you, as a local responder?

Naomi T. Solanke: ”Localization” for me is recognizing the roles that people play at the community level – recognizing the local stakeholders ownership of their own development for sustainability purposes and growth.

Liz Arnanz: I know that you are very concerned about the role of women in crisis response. What is, in your view, the role of women in ”localization”?

Naomi T. Solanke: The role of women in ”localization” is that women are first responders in humanitarian crises. I saw that face-to-face during the Ebola outbreak. Local women in my community came together, they responded to the crisis, created awareness and sensitization, they were knocking doors and at the front line. But their roles were not recognized. These women helped in preventing the spread of the disease.

Liz Arnanz: What about local leadership? Do you think humanitarian practitioners coming from abroad listen to local actors? Is there space for local leadership?

Naomi T. Solanke: At present, there is no space, that is why we are pushing for localization. If an international group comes to a country and allows the local to participate and assert themselves… when you are at the local level, you see the problem – the problem is with the people in the community. If you teach them how to handle those problems when you leave, they continue to manage it. But if an international group come to the country, as they usually, bring their experts and the experts learn from us, they learn from the locals. They come and ask the locals about the local views or the local efforts – which is then not recognized on the international level. It is not mentioned that the people from this community, they helped us with the way forward, they owned it, they were willing to work. So we need to recognize the role that the people play at the community level. Because without them you can not go and implement. When we start to include local people, we start to make them partners of the work that we do, we see that the work that we do at the community level, we have more impact and it will be more sustainable.

Liz Arnanz: What do you think needs to be changed in the whole humanitarian ecosystem, in order to improve and promote ”localization”?

Naomi T. Solanke: The first thing is that local actors have direct access to funding. We have the whole pooled funding thing that is happening – donors raise millions of dollars at the international level, and it makes its way through the pooled funding track. The international actors have access to that funding before they then start working with local groups. The local groups then go to the communities and start working with community-based organizations. Then the people in whose names the money was raised, they do not feel the impact of what we are doing. If we cut the systems and bureaucracy, make the local group build their capacity, give them access to direct funding, it is about accountability to the people in whose names we are raising the money and the people feeling the impact. That can change and strengthen the humanitarian response, that we are all calling for. The people will feel the impact and there will be change in the community because they are going to own the project, because they are part of the project.