Interview with Paula Gil Baizan: What does "localization" of humanitarian aid mean in practice?

24 April 2017



Liz Arnanz: Today we have with us Paula Gil Baizan, who is the Advocacy Coordinator of the Cash Learning Partnership (CaLP). We would like to ask you first, what is “localization” for you.

Paula Gil Baizan: I think that’s a very interesting question, and that we should always start by defining the term because for us, in particular in the world of cash, I think “localization” means working closer with local NGOs when implementing cash programs, but also giving back the important role that local governments need to have in terms of coordination of a cash response.

There are people who include in “localization” the fact that through cash you can reach local actors, and the benefits stay locally. Some even call it “super-localization” when you do cash, but I think it is important to maintain the focus on local NGOs and local governments.

Liz Arnanz: How do you see cash transfer programs actually contributing to the localization agenda?

Paula Gil Baizan: Well, it has a massive potential. So to put it bluntly, there is a lot of opportunity in cash programming, there is a lot of interest behind it, which means there is a lot of money. So looking at really building the fiduciary capacity of local NGOs, then cash is the perfect way of doing that, because there is the political will, and there is the funding behind it.

I think cash also allows local NGOs and local governments to really get close to communities, to understand what their preferences are, and what their needs are. So it is an opportunity to not only build their capacity, but to strengthen their role as a community lead.

Liz Arnanz: In order to overcome all the challenges and gaps that are still in the field, how should the humanitarian system change? What policies should be implemented for the localization approach?

Paula Gil Baizan: That’s a super interesting question. I think that one simple way of saying it is that agencies and donors have to let go of the control. Cash challenges the way that we provide assistance to people, and therefore, challenges the way that we conceive of vulnerability. When you give someone a cash grant, you first need to accept that they understand what they need better than you do. And that they can also procure whatever they need better than you can. So I think that a shift in terms of the way we think about vulnerable people needs to be the first thing to change.

Then, the second thing to change would be our need to compartmentalize the way that we provide assistance. Cash sheds light on that people have a variety of needs, that need to be fulfilled on their own time. I think it is important for us as a humanitarian sector to realize that we can no longer work in very defined silos and in very defined sectors, when needs are not compartmentalized that way.

Liz Arnanz: So do you already see visible, tangible effects already in the field that come from an increasing “localization” approach?

Paula Gil Baizan: I think more and more local NGOs are implementing cash programs where the UN and big NGOs cannot implement themselves. When you are talking about implementing – cash programs in Libya, that will be through a local NGO. When you are talking about Syria, it is always a local NGO. My question would be, do those local NGOs have direct access to funding? I bet you they don’t. Do they have the capacity to implement a cash program without a bigger agency holding their hands, in terms of their accountability? I bet you they don’t. So for me, the biggest change that would need to happen is for them to be able to act directly, to access funding, to be able to implement cash programs at the same level and quality as a UN agency or an INGO could do that. I haven’t yet seen that. But I hope I will see that in my lifetime.