Interview with Petra Righetti: What does "localization" of humanitarian aid mean in practice?

19 April 2017



Liz Arnanz: We are here today with Petra Righetti, Program Manager at Oxfam Netherlands, and now working on a project called ELNHA, which means Empowering Local and National Humanitarian Actors. Since she is working so closely on the topic of “localization”, we would like to know her perspective on this term. Petra, what does it mean for you?

Petra Righetti: Localization is something that is not really new on the development and humanitarian agenda. It is a new name to something that in many ways we were already looking at in different ways. It is about partnership, it is about coordination, and it is about having local actors leading on the actions that are happening on the ground, and it is about capacity development – ensuring that you have a sustainable system on the ground, that does not have to have international organizations always engaged, and always taking on the responsibility. It is really about looking at things we’ve done before, but putting more of a weight on it in terms of how do we do this now in practice – what do we mean by partnerships, what do we mean by building capacity.

It’s very important this is happening now, because it has also brought a lot of people together, a lot of organizations around a common agenda, which we call “localization.” It’s good, so you have everybody on the same page, but it’s more about the things we have done in the past, but trying to do things better in practice.

Liz Arnanz: Thank you. So you already see changes, but do you think the humanitarian system should undergo further changes in order to have more room for a greater localization approach towards humanitarian aid?

Petra Righetti: Yes, I think it is all about changing the mindset in how we do development, or we do humanitarian. It’s also about taking a step back, and a bit of self-reflection in the way we approach what we call beneficiaries, or local actors, or countries; and having a bit more of humbleness in the way we believe we actually have a say in the way things are done in these countries.

The big thing that we are also learning from this conference is not just about changing the way we do things, to build their capacity, or to make them; but also about what they can do to improve how we do things, to really look into what we do ourselves, and what it is that constitutes a barrier in the way we work to improving the effectiveness of our work. So localization is very much about building our own capacity as well, to be better at what we do, to be more effective in supporting them.

Liz Arnanz: True, it has been mentioned the importance of mutual learning. Since you work so closely on those issues, I would also like to ask if you know about the actual perception of local communities, affected people, beneficiaries; how do they see this new approach, do they feel it already in the field? Do they have any say on that, any voice?

Petra Righetti: Right, so through this project that Oxfam has started this year – called as you said ELNHA, Empowering Local and National Humanitarian Actors –  we are looking at both Uganda and Bangladesh as examples to work at the district level with local actors on humanitarian capacity development. And there is a lot of traction already at the local level both from governments and civil society in this concept. They are of course very interested in it, and they appreciate that change in mentality. So partnership in that sense is already there, and that ownership of the principles of localization are there, so we are working now through the project in finding very practical ways of making localization contextually appropriate, and effective locally.