Local Motion: Accelerating the Shift in Power and Resources to Grassroots Leaders
Calls for locally led development efforts have become more and more frequent. At its core, localization aims to transfer power and resources to place nationally and locally led organizations more frequently and more squarely at the helm of decision-making and implementation. Foundationally, this is a matter of justice — recognizing the dignity and agency of those benefiting from aid, and ensuring their voices are the ones defining development priorities.
Localization is also about efficacy. This movement arose in response to the complexity and specificity of development challenges; local actors own and drive lasting change that meets contextualized needs.
There are numerous challenges still to overcome. How do local organizations build the visibility and connections with bilateral and other development partners needed to secure funding? How do they develop the ability to meet complex compliance requirements — and conversely, how can development partners adjust their administrative and management requirements to better meet the needs of local partners while still protecting taxpayer funds? USAID has led the charge on addressing these challenges head-on.
Facilitating locally led change
The need to shift power and resources is clear. This is demonstrated by the amount of money currently reaching Indigenous and locally led climate action organizations: less than 1 percent of current climate finance, despite ambitious pledges to channel direct funds to Indigenous Peoples and local communities, and despite significant evidence demonstrating the effectiveness of these communities at sustainably managing ecosystems.
Both development partners and international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) have a role to play in accelerating the needed transformation in the development sector to more rapidly and equitably achieve global goals.
My organization, Landesa, works to shift power and resources to the approximately 2.5 billion people dependent on land for livelihood and identity worldwide. Like many INGOs, we are grappling with both the imperative and challenges of localization. Our approach is adopting a systems change lens, committing to transforming our strategy to ensure those closest to the impact we seek to achieve have the greatest decision-making authority and hold the most control over resources. The role for those of us in wealthy country offices is to provide technical expertise; mobilize resources; coordinate across global, regional and local efforts; provide visibility to funders, media and other potential partners; and support integrated, intersectional inclusivity.
Our grassroots partners are driving transformative change. Our job is to facilitate that work.
Transformative change in action
One example of this type of grassroots-led approach is Stand for Her Land, the global campaign advancing women’s land rights. Stand for Her Land is built on collective action with national-level coalitions working toward a shared goal of stronger land rights for women. A coordinating organization in each country receives funding disbursements from the campaign’s Global Steering Committee and facilitates coalition advocacy to drive women’s land rights implementation. As campaign secretariat, Landesa operates as subgrantor and administrator of campaign funding, freeing up capacity of grassroots organizations to focus on direct implementation. The campaign’s Steering Committee (including Landesa) provides resources, tools and support for advocacy in each country, and leads advocacy at regional and global levels, amplifying the voices of grassroots women.
Stand for Her Land coalitions are leading social norms and behavior change to shift views that limit women’s access to and realization of rights to land and natural resources (Colombia and Bangladesh), supporting registration of rights (Uganda), championing changes to law to strengthen rights for pastoralists — including women within these communities (Senegal) and supporting land restoration and livelihood activities on land allocated to women (Ethiopia), to support climate action and resilience.
A second, powerful example of localization can be found in the Women in Global South Alliance for Tenure and Climate, recently launched with leadership and support from the Rights and Resources Initiative, a Stand for Her Land Steering Committee member. This alliance prioritizes direct climate finance to women-led organizations in Indigenous, Afro-descendent and local communities, and has developed with a locally driven decision-making structure, based on deep consultation with grassroots women in the Global South.
The movement toward locally led development can be accelerated while carefully addressing the risks and power dynamics at hand. Grassroots and local organizations are already at the forefront of addressing the greatest global challenges we face. It rests with those of us in traditional positions of power to examine how best, how quickly and how freely we can elevate and resource their leadership.