In brief

In response to calls to become ‘as local as possible, as international as necessary’ during the previous SOHS study period, the system has seen significant efforts and some meaningful progress, with local and national NGOs (L/NNGOs) reporting improvements since 2018. International agencies – especially INGOs – supported initiatives that were genuinely led by local actors, and there was a clear shift in thinking and rhetoric. Monitoring processes for the Grand Bargain and Charter for Change presented a picture of forward momentum in their signatories’ efforts to implement commitments. But there was no real increase in funding for local actors, and for the most part L/NNGOs continued to operate as sub-contractors, with limited influence. 

Overall, the study period was a missed opportunity to progress this agenda: change has been incremental and uneven and neither COVID-19 nor system-wide reflections on decolonisation galvanised significant shifts in power. Frustratingly slow change processes are common to the humanitarian system, but the strong ethical imperative to ‘localise’, and renewed reflections on the system’s colonial past, led some to question whether the status quo persisted because the international humanitarian enterprise is inherently racist.623


It is hard to find another issue that has commanded more attention and urgency in the international humanitarian system over the past four years than the way it treats local actors. The previous SOHS report was the first in the series to assess the system’s performance in complementing and supporting national and local efforts at responding to humanitarian needs (under the criterion ‘Complementarity’). The inclusion of that new chapter reflected growing concern during the 2015–2017 period over who delivers humanitarian aid and holds decision-making power within the system, connected to the World Humanitarian Summit and the Grand Bargain. Since the last report, ‘localisation’ became a key issue for many humanitarian agencies, due to both the practical necessities arising from the COVID-19 pandemic with restricted international access to crises, and the moral necessity prompted by reflections on racism and the humanitarian system’s colonial past. 

However, as observed with previous reforms (e.g. AAP, PSEAH), an increase in rhetoric and attention is rarely paired with immediate meaningful changes in practice. In their five-year review of progress, signatories to the Charter for Change commitments624 on localisation noted country-level implementation ‘is still wanting’.625 Humanitarian practitioners echo that assessment: while generally positive about the overall relationship between international and local/national actors (56% of respondents rated this as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’), they were less positive about the system’s performance on the specifics of supporting L/NNGO leadership capacity (36%), power sharing in decision-making forums (27%), and passing on direct funding (21%). Despite investments and advances, progress has been much slower and more uneven than desired, pointing to the need for localisation efforts to better address the gaps between global-level policy discussions and country-level realities. 

The performance question for this chapter is to understand how the humanitarian system is supporting locally led responses to people in crisis, and how these changes are, or are not, keeping pace with commitments. Below, we summarise the commitments, definitions and debates around localisation that have driven action between 2018 and 2021, then address whether the system has shifted resources to local actors. We then look at how the system has engaged with governments, whether it is shifting power to L/NNGOs, and conclude by outlining the impacts of and lessons from COVID-19.

What does localisation mean?

The study period saw progress in developing localisation both as a fundamental norm and as a concrete set of global policies and practices. Views previously considered ‘fringe’ or radical626 – that the humanitarian system should decolonise, that international actors impinge on the rights of local actors by undermining self-determination627 – entered the mainstream, prompting difficult system-wide conversations, from IASC meetings to donor groups.628 The decolonisation discussions underlined the ethical and reputational costs that the system faces should it fail to shift power to local actors.629

Global definitions of ‘direct funding’ and ‘local and national responders’ were formally agreed in 2018.630 This improved the ability to track funds to local actors within OCHA’s Financial Tracking Service (FTS) and clarified expectations for the Grand Bargain commitments to fund local actors ‘as directly as possible’.631 The Grand Bargain workstream on localisation was seen as the key driver of progress at a global level, providing momentum to international agencies’ policies and mechanisms for localisation. The five-year review of the Grand Bargain concluded that ‘the concept of and rationale for localisation [is] no longer in question’.632

Matters were different at country level. Agencies held varying interpretations of what supporting locally led humanitarian action meant in practice and there was disagreement about the goals of these efforts.633 A prime example is the term ‘localisation’ itself: for some, supporting locally led humanitarian action means localising the international humanitarian system through the devolution of power and resources; for others, this framing maintains echoes of colonialism, whereby local actors achieve formal power only by modelling Western-dominated values and frameworks.634 The decentralisation of international agencies, intended to shift power away from headquarters in Western countries, was, in some eyes, a means by which international agencies could localise while retaining power and resources. For example, a key informant in Somalia explained that ‘international NGOs are becoming more “local” by employing more Somalis. We can say that today 70% or more of the INGO’s country directors are Somalis, so they are saying: “What [do] you mean by localisation? We are local.”’ Some INGOs, such as Oxfam, were conscious of these potential implications and sought to mitigate them by pursuing a long-term strategy of addressing power imbalances in their organisation through increased local leadership in its national affiliates.635

Localisation is also shaped differently in each response by the dynamics of the country-level humanitarian system and its wider context. The notion of international actors surrendering power and resources to local actors embedded in communities is complicated by international actors’ competition with one another and the diversity, complexity and fragmentation within both international and local organisations. Across the SOHS country studies, governments repressed domestic civil society actors while drawing on narratives of sovereignty and national self-sufficiency to limit the space for international agencies. International NGOs and UN agencies fought over who would stay and who would leave if the system moved to a more limited international presence. Elsewhere, UN agencies resisted donor and INGO attempts to localise. L/NNGOs are of course not a homogenous group: there were disagreements over who is more ‘local’ and wide variations in their awareness of the locally led agenda. Global-level commitments were a distant voice in these heated country-level debates; many local organisations said they had never heard of localisation or international agency global commitments to it.

Is the system shifting resources to local and national actors?

Direct reported funding to local and national actors (LNAs) – defined as governments, local/national NGOs and RCRC National Societies – was volatile over the 2018–2021 period, primarily as a result of changes in direct funding to national governments. All local actors saw a significant rise in funding in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic increasing needs and hindering implementation by international actors. Direct funding then declined for all actors in 2021, with governments seeing a drop of 74% and RCRC National Societies, 48%.636

Figure 34: Direct international funding to national and local actors, 2018–2021 

Direct funding to local and national actors was volatile between 2018 and 2021. After a steep rise in 2020, as international actors relied on local capacities to deliver during COVID-19, funding plummeted in 2021.

Source: Development Initiatives based on UN OCHA FTS and UN OCHA CBPF Data Hub.

Notes: Southern international NGOs, which receive funding to operate within the country they are headquartered in, are included as national actors. RCRC national societies that received international humanitarian assistance to respond to domestic crises are included in local and national actors. Similarly, international funding to national governments is only considered as funding to national actors when contributing to the domestic crisis response. Funding is only shown for flows that reported with information on the recipient organisation. Data is in constant 2020 prices.

Figure 35: Proportion of direct funding to national and local actors compared with other organisation types, 2018–2021

The proportion of direct funding to local and national actors remained extremely low between 2018 and 2021, peaking at 3% in 2020, as COVID-19 increased the reliance of international actors on local capacities, and falling to a new low of 1.2% in 2021.

Source: Development Initiatives based on UN OCHA FTS data.

Notes: Southern international NGOs, which receive funding to operate within the country they are headquartered in, are included as national actors. RCRC national societies that received international humanitarian assistance to respond to domestic crises are included in local and national actors. Similarly, international funding to national governments is only considered as funding to national actors when contributing to the domestic crisis response. Funding is only shown for flows that reported with information on the recipient organisation. Data is in constant 2020 prices.

Overall, direct funding637 to local actors remained extremely low as a proportion of IHA – between a high of 3.3% (2018, 2020) and a low of 1.2% in 2021. After small but steady increases in funding to L/NNGOs since 2016, both indirect and direct funding declined in 2021, to around 1.5% of all international humanitarian funding. Even in responses that were considered more locally led than usual, a majority of funding continued to pass through UN agencies and INGOs: in the Sulawesi earthquake response, 65% of funding went through internationals despite the response being led by the government and national NGOs638, and in the first three months of the COVID-19 pandemic, 74% of committed funds to the Global Humanitarian Response Plan (GHRP) were allocated to UN agencies.639

Figure 36: Total direct and indirect funding to national and local NGOs, 2018–2021

Direct and indirect funding to national and local NGOs decreased by nearly 10% in 2021 to $129 million and $328 million respectively. Direct funding accounted for around 40% of the share received by local and national actors in the same period.

Source: Development Initiatives based on UN OCHA FTS and UN OCHA CBPF Data Hub.

Notes: Direct funding is sourced from the FTS, containing all direct funding from first-level donors, such as governments or private donors, to organisations that could be identified as national and local NGOs. Southern international NGOs, which receive funding to operate within the country they are headquartered in, are included as national NGOs. Calculations of indirect funding through country-based pooled funds (CBPFs), either as direct allocations or as sub-grants of CBPF allocations, are sourced through the UN CBPF data hub. Indirect funding from sources other than CBPFs is taken from FTS where reported as net funding received. Data is in constant 2020 prices.

Indirect funding remains difficult to track globally due to poor reporting. Official figures show that indirect funding remains fairly low, with only $328 million in indirect funding TO L/NNGOs in 2021 (Figure 36). But country-based research and data on L/NNGOs expenditures suggest that the amount of indirect funding is much higher than is reported through FTS. 

While not a representative sample, for the 100 or so national NGOs (across 26 countries) included in the SOHS sample, overall programming budgets grew on average by 28% over the period, and national NGOs in the SOHS localisation studies reported an increase in their funding over 2018–2021. Multiple other sources, including reporting for the Grand Bargain and Charter for Change as well as SOHS localisation research, found increases in indirect funding to L/NNGOs.640

L/NNGOs and other local actors also received a greater share of indirect funding through pooled funds: their percentage share of country-based pooled funds rose steadily to 35% in 2021. In some contexts, the increase has been even higher, for example, L/NNGOs' share of funding from the Somali pooled fund increased from 39% in 2017 to over 54% in 2021.641

There is also variation across countries and clusters. Figures 5.3a and 5.3b provide totals of IHA to local and national actors by country and by cluster, for 2018–2021.642

Figure 37: International humanitarian assistance to local and national actors by country, 2018-2021

Between 2018 and 2021, almost half of all international humanitarian assistance received by local and national actors occurred in just three countries: Yemen ($1,067 million), Syria ($417 million) and Lebanon ($133 million).

Source: Development Initiatives based on UN OCHA FTS and UN OCHA CBPF Data Hub.

Notes: Funding to local and national actors includes all direct and indirect funding to NGOs, government agencies and RCRC national societies for humanitarian response in the country they are based in as reported to UN OCHA’s FTS and by country-based pooled funds. Data is in constant 2020 prices and shows aggregate funding over 2018–2021. Locations that received funding of less than US$20 million over 2018–2021 were aggregated as ‘other’ for clarity.

Figure 38: International humanitarian assistance to local and national actors by cluster, 2018–2021

Between 2018 and 2021, more than half of all international humanitarian assistance received by local and national actors occurred in just three sectors: health ($713m), coordination and support services ($553m), and food security ($538m).

Source: Development Initiatives based on UN OCHA FTS and UN OCHA CBPF Data Hub.

Notes: Funding to local and national actors includes all direct and indirect funding to NGOs, government agencies and RCRC national societies for humanitarian response in the country they are based in as reported to UN OCHA’s FTS and by country-based pooled funds. Data is in constant 2020 prices and shows aggregate funding over 2018–2021. Clusters that received funding of less than US$30 million over 2018–2021 were also aggregated as ‘other’. Data with multiple cluster entries were coded as ‘Multiple Clusters’, separate to the ‘Multi-sector’ cluster that often represents refugee responses.

Most of the funding for COVID-19 (99%) went to governments, as well as the bulk of direct international humanitarian assistance for the health sector (70% in 2020, 62% across 2018–2021). Food security, by far the largest sector in terms of overall funding reported to FTS, is the third-largest sector in terms of funding to LNAs. L/NNGOs also accounted for the bulk of funding received in the shelter, NFI and WASH clusters, approximately $200 million over 2018–2021.

More generally, the system’s failure to financially support local actors continued to raise important questions of equity. The lack of direct funding perpetuates inequalities in the system, as local actors are unable to benefit from indirect cost sharing (see Box I). As described in Chapter 2, the top-three UN agencies receive 47% of all international humanitarian assistance, effectively becoming the ‘Amazon’ of the humanitarian system: while everyone believes they should ‘buy local’, the convenience of working with large conglomerates that provide quality-assured services at scale is too tempting.

The most significant barrier to increasing the volume of funding to local actors was the perceived inability of many L/NNGOs to meet donor accountability and compliance expectations, and the lack of support for strengthening the systems required to do so. As one country-level humanitarian practitioner in Turkey explained: ‘It’s kind of a chicken and egg situation. You don't want to give them something because you’re not sure about their systems, but then how do they improve their systems if they don’t have significant funding to improve their systems?’ For donors, there is a capacity challenge; even the largest lack the staff required to manage thousands of direct grants to L/NNGOs and therefore remain reliant on intermediaries. Donors also face pressures from other parts of their government and from domestic media, where localisation may be less of a priority. As a result, even committed donors acknowledge that it will take some years to find a feasible alternative to large bulk contributions to international agencies.643 Despite this, ambitions are increasing, including in the commitment by the US, the largest humanitarian donor, to provide 50% of all funding to programmes which ‘place local communities in the lead to either co-design a project, set priorities, drive implementation, or evaluate the impact of our programs’.644

Even committed donors acknowledge that it will take some years to find a feasible alternative to large bulk contributions to international agencies.

Funding quality, as well as quantity, is a growing concern as poor quality funding can disempower local actors even as their access to resources grows. There were mixed findings about the quality of funding available to local actors, particularly L/NNGOs. Positively, most of the L/NNGOs surveyed by NEAR in Somalia and Turkey reported receiving some support for overhead costs, staff training, coordination and project management. But this support is not consistently provided, nor is it available to all L/NNGOs in every response; the largest NNGOs tend to benefit disproportionately from having their core operating costs covered. In the limited cases where internationals receive flexible, multi-year funding, they rarely pass this flexibility on in their partnership agreements with local actors.645

There were mixed findings about the quality of funding available to local actors, particularly L/NNGOs.

Box H: COVID-19: A missed opportunity

When the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic started to become clear in March 2020 and international humanitarian staff began withdrawing from responses, it seemed that localisation’s moment had arrived. Except for a handful of agencies, the international humanitarian system had no choice but to pass more resources and implementation responsibilities to local actors. 

Local actors rose to the occasion, delivering PPE, re-skilling to provide health messaging, delivering food and NFIs and keeping shelters open for those facing gender-based violence. Some did so with more funding, but their proportion of overall funding did not change – including through the Global Humanitarian Response Plan (internationals also received more in 2020) – and the funding received was largely indirect and slow to arrive.646 International agencies had to work in unprecedented ways, consequently discovering the capacity and potential that exists in crisis-affected contexts. For example, UNHCR relied on tens of thousands of Rohingya refugee volunteers to provide ‘the backbone of service delivery’ while camps were locked down by the government while international actors in Turkey spoke of local actors having ‘proven’ themselves by demonstrating capacities for risk management and implementation that surpassed international expectations.

Despite this, it was clear by 2021 that COVID-19 was not going to lead to long-lasting or significant changes in how the system operates. In Somalia, 55% of L/NNGOs international agencies surveyed said that the pandemic had undermined, rather than strengthened, locally led humanitarian action, and in Turkey opinions were split evenly on this question. In its 2021 Annual Report, Charter for Change signatories noted the ‘lost opportunity’ of the pandemic, as the quality of decision-making and power-sharing in partnerships declined due to fewer joint strategy reviews and opportunities for collective project design, which typically take place as in-person workshops.647 Discussions on decolonisation were similarly disappointing, with no real changes reported by international practitioners in how they engage in partnerships or think about their business model.648

In Somalia, 55% of L/NNGOs and international agencies surveyed said that the pandemic had undermined, rather than strengthened, locally led humanitarian action, and in Turkey opinions were split evenly on this question.

Is the system working well with governments?

  Power can be given or it can be taken away. In the period since the 2018 SOHS, many crisis-affected states opted for the latter, exercising greater control over how humanitarian response is delivered and by whom. This, combined with growing authoritarianism, produced a range of dynamics between INGOs, UN agencies, L/NNGOs and governments. In some contexts, such as Bangladesh and Ethiopia, the relations between international actors and the government was strained, while L/NNGOs felt shut out by internationals due to the close working relationships between international actors and the government. In South Sudan and Indonesia, governments required international organisations to work entirely through local and national actors, with the Indonesian government only allowing Indonesian nationals to work in the Sulawesi earthquake response. In Venezuela and Turkey, governments restricted the space of their own civil society, sometimes using L/NNGOs' proximity to international humanitarian agencies as a pretext. 649

As multilaterals, UN agencies have tended to have relatively strong relationships with governments, where the political situation allowed. While there were notable successes in collaboration on joint data collection and programming – such as health campaigns, school feeding programmes and social protection systems – the quality of UN capacity strengthening initiatives for government staff in many countries was considered poor and not as strategic as it could be.650 Donors also made efforts to work more directly with crisis-affected states. Donor funding for state-run social protection systems, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, ‘turbo-charged the shock-responsive social protection agenda’ and saw substantially increased funds going directly to governments.651

Governments had mixed views on how well the humanitarian system coordinated with them and respected them. While respondents to the government SOHS survey largely felt that relationships had improved, they also reported ‘poor communication and consultation with host governments’ as one of the biggest weaknesses in the international system. Government officials have increasingly taken the lead in coordination but frequently complain about the lack of transparency and collaboration from international agencies on the funds they have received and how they are using them. In some contexts, governments felt in direct competition with an international system that actively disregards them. 

Is the system shifting power to local non-state actors?


Capacity-strengthening is a contentious aspect of localisation – international and national NGOs alike see technical capacity-building as a valuable step in shifting greater responsibility to local actors, yet critics have questioned the framing of capacity as being overly compliance-focused and reflecting the priorities of Global North donors and agencies. 

For the most part, local and national NGOs interviewed for this edition of the SOHS were positive about capacity-building and -strengthening efforts, seeing these as a step towards greater resources and critiquing international partners for not providing enough support. In Turkey, L/NNGOs appreciated the training and capacity support for PSEAH provided by internationals, while in Yemen, more capacity building was desired: ‘International organisations have the knowledge and skills, but they do not share them with local organisations. International organisations are conservative about the experiences, knowledge and data they have.’652

The perceived lack of technical capacity and inexperience with disaster response among L/NNGOs was a consistent challenge to localisation, and the cause for what evaluations referred to as an over-reliance on short-term international staff for highly technical and thematic programming. In some contexts, particularly in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic or in responses where governments restricted the entry of international staff, international agencies ‘saturated the market’ with demand for partnerships among a limited pool of skilled local groups, placing immense pressure on L/NNGOs.653

But L/NNGOs also challenged this framing, suggesting that the capacity issue was more political than technical:

As if the capacity building university is some black hole that you enter into as a local NGO and never graduate. No one tells you what to do to get this capacity, how to support you to build this capacity … So, I think the matter is not about capacity of local organisations, it is about [a] political decision … to give more trust and more power to the local actors to act themselves and set the agenda themselves.654

In Haiti in particular, the 2021 earthquake response presented a number of fresh tensions between local and international actors on capacity. For some L/NNGOs, capacity building did not enable more direct access to funding, while others felt the focus on local actors’ capacities for anti-corruption compliance was a double standard:

The bottom line is [in] 2010 no one was held accountable and there were no reparations and I’m not talking about slavery; no reparation when it came to this highway robbery where money was spent, no accountability, no report of outcomes and everything else. And you want to actually raise the issue of corruption and trust in terms of local organisations. Seriously? That is some nerve.655

Local actors said that capacity continues to be defined primarily by international agencies and expressed a desire to have more say in defining their capacity needs.656 In the SOHS practitioner survey, when asked to rate the quality of support for local actors’ leadership and capacity, over 63% said these were either poor or fair (25% and 38%). Evaluations also note the poor quality of many capacity-building efforts by international actors, which have been limited in scope, use ineffective methods657 and have kept local actors reliant on international partnerships for funding despite years or even decades of experience in disaster response.658

In recognition of this, donors paid greater attention to capacity-strengthening and adopted a more hands-on approach in recent years: ‘For donors, it’s a change of mindset. It really means that it’s not only [about] giving the money, and letting the field work it out with INGOs and local actors’.659 Several international agencies and ministries, including USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Catholic Relief Services, , Christian Aid and Oxfam, developed capacity-strengthening approaches that were either co-created or driven by local actors’ priorities. In some cases, capacity strengthening required working with partners that were less experienced in disaster response, in order to build longer-term in-country capacity.660

Partnerships and decision-making

The quality of partnerships was mixed, but potentially showed improvement. Some international actors – the IFRC and several INGOs – intentionally worked to make their relationships with local actors more equitable. The Cyclone Gita response in Tonga offered strong examples: the Tonga Red Cross National Society and local NGOs took greater leadership roles and had more power in programme design and decision-making.661 In Turkey, a small number of L/NNGOs reported that they had assessed the capacity of an international partner, reflecting a more equitable approach to partnership. 

Despite some progress, the exclusion of L/NNGOs from decision-making is a recurrent theme in evaluations.662 A large majority of practitioners also felt that the opportunities for leadership and participation of local actors in decision-making forums in their context were either poor or fair (33% and 39%). Both international and national staff reported that partnership agreements treat L/NNGOs as sub-contractors, their skills and knowledge relegated to the implementation of projects. L/NNGOs staff described being ‘owned’ by internationals: ‘What we call civil society organisations are actually dynamic organisations. But international organisations are looking for sub-contractor type of civil society organisations to whom they say, “I will give you the money, you will spend it as I want and I will only pay for the operation”.’

International organisations are looking for sub-contractor type of civil society organisations to whom they say, “I will give you the money, you will spend it as I want and I will only pay for the operation”.

Risk is a key issue in partnerships: donors pass compliance risks to intermediaries, while intermediaries pass operational and financial risks to local actors. This results in local actors being required to comply with anti-fraud and anti-corruption policies managed by INGOs and UN agencies, while also implementing projects without sufficient funding or the risk that failed delivery that will not be compensated. Somewhat contradicting the claim that local partners lack capacity, international and national staff described a practice of internationals selecting the ‘best’ or ‘easiest’ projects to implement themselves, while passing on riskier or more difficult projects to L/NNGO partners (see Somalia case study).


Over the study period, there was a push to include local and national actors more in formal humanitarian coordination mechanisms, with clear progress made. NNGOs comprised 44% of cluster coordination membership globally in 2020 and in Turkey L/NNGOs reported being actively encouraged by internationals to join coordination meetings. There were also improvements in the use of appropriate local languages in coordination meetings, with 74% of clusters using an official or local language of the country of operation.663 L/NNGOs interviewed in the SOHS country-level research felt that the value of coordination meetings was mixed, but that they did at least provide opportunities to share information and influence decision-making. 

However, meaningful leadership roles for L/NNGOs in coordination mechanisms remain rare. In 2020, L/NNGOs occupied just 11% of co-chair positions in the cluster system and only 6% of HCT membership positions. In several contexts, local actors feel their engagement is largely tokenistic and not adequately representative of their organisations.664 Insufficient resources remain a barrier for L/NNGOs to engage, meaning that typically only the largest L/NNGOs are able to participate. L/NNGOs sometimes disengaged from coordination mechanisms due to issues of mistrust between national and international actors, as was the case in the Ethiopian drought response in 2019.665

Looking ahead

The past four years of localisation efforts have revealed genuine practical barriers to donors and international agencies shifting power to a more locally led model. The failure to seize the clear opportunities presented by the decolonisation debate and the pandemic for longer-term change was for many a sobering reminder of the political difficulties inherent in localisation, both within the system and outside it. As a result, international and national actors both believe that meaningful change will take time. As one L/NNGO representative in Turkey told us:

The challenge is the lack of willingness to let go. And the fact that most of the international actors, whether they’re donors or UN agencies or INGOs, they don’t have incentives to let go ... And until that incentive structure changes, I don’t see much change happening.

This was echoed by a donor representative: ‘If we think that within the coming five years, the systems that we work in will be changed, I can already tell you, that’s an illusion.’ 

More positively, there is some hope for future progress, as there is a wide consensus on the importance of these reforms: when asked what the biggest challenge was facing the humanitarian system in the future, locally led action was the most frequently cited answer to the open question in the SOHS practitioner survey.

Box I: Locally led humanitarian action in Somalia

Author: Khalif A Abdirahman, Researcher in Somalia

There have been some efforts to strengthen local leadership of humanitarian action in Somalia, with 62% of respondents in the ALNAP-NEAR survey believing that support for locally led humanitarian action has improved since 2017/18. However, both national and international actors agree that funding to L/NNGOs, as well as partnering practices, have not changed significantly. 

Humanitarian assistance is delivered by a large number of local, national and international NGOs. Limited local resource tends to go to more informal community and religious groups, while local and national NGOs depend entirely on international actors for funds. The majority of funding is distributed to international and national NGOs via UN agencies. For example, Somalia’s Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) for 2021 sought $1.1 billion to respond to the humanitarian needs of 4 million people. The actual amount received ($776 million) was 70% of what was required.666 In addition, there was $221 million in non-HRP funding, making the total humanitarian spend $991 million.667 Almost all of this funding went through international actors. 

Donors can manage only a limited number of contracts and therefore prefer funding NGOs through consortiums of mainly international NGOs, which both implement directly and have partnerships with local and national NGOs. The main INGOs have joined forces, grouping under three consortiums, to pool their capacity to handle larger projects, as major donors are under pressure to keep contracts to a manageable minimum. Following their lead, eight well-established national NGOs have also grouped under the Nexus Platform668 to build their capacity to the level of the major INGOs and to support smaller national NGOs. They are making progress but do not command anywhere near the volumes of funding as the major consortiums with which they must compete. 

The value and duration of partnerships with internationals are improving slightly, but not enough to be felt by the majority of L/NNGOs. There is a move towards more co-applications, increasing cooperation between national and international actors. This is encouraged by donors, which sometimes require a national actor co-applicant. Yet local organisations’ continued lack of access to direct funding means they miss out on the indirect cost share, normally 5% of the project budget, which could be used to bridge funding gaps between projects.669

Even where local NGOs have been allocated a greater proportion of funding, this does not necessarily mean more resources in absolute terms. According to the Humanitarian Coordinator/ Resident Coordinator for Somalia: 

‘The localisation agenda remains central in the Somalia humanitarian response as it is an essential part of the Grand Bargain commitments. I am committed to making the Somalia Humanitarian Fund [SHF] a pivotal instrument in delivering on the localisation agenda. In 2020, 53 per cent of its funds was allocated to front-line, national NGOs’.670

Indeed, the percentage share of the SHF allocated to local actors has increased every year since 2016. However, the size of the fund has decreased, resulting in actual funds shrinking year on year. In 2021 it was $39 million, down from a peak of $67 million in 2017. 

The operational models of some international actors prevent progress by asking local actors to deliver high-risk elements of projects. For example, local actors are used to access insecure and hard-to-reach areas with increased operational costs, as explained by one staffer from an international NGO: ‘When I am faced with an activity to be carried out in a high-cost area with risks or I have a tight deadline or shortage of technical expertise, I pass the problem to [a] local organisation. There is no benefit for them, the whole thing is only risk transfer.’

In terms of decision-making, the Somali government states that, except for registrations and consultations, they do not interfere with humanitarian aid, regardless of who is delivering it.671 Inter-agency coordination and interaction is mostly carried out through cluster meetings. Local and national NGOs stated that, while they do participate in meetings, their contribution is minimal due to power imbalances and limited resources to engage extensively. There is also concern that Somali NGOs are not able to access the most influential spaces. A national NGO leader clarified: ‘Cluster meetings address limited local issues. Real decisions are made at the capital level and local and national NGOs don’t have much say.’

Finally, there are fundamental challenges that slow down the localisation process, most significantly the lack of adequate NGO governance structures and regulatory frameworks, owing to the 30-year absence of state institutions in Somalia. While many social services are provided by civil society organisations, the government does not have the ability to enforce quality assurance of NGOs beyond a simple registration process. As a result, the compliance and governance expectations of the international community can exceed those of the local, provincial or federal government, leaving many local organisations ineligible for international or bilateral funding.

Box J: Locally led humanitarian action in Turkey

Author: Support to Life Turkey research team

Since the start of the Syria crisis in 2011, Turkey has become host to the largest refugee population in the world, hosting Syrians as well as displaced populations from Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran, among others. Turkey is also prone to natural disasters. The country has a vibrant civil society, with many NGOs active in the delivery of humanitarian aid. Local organisations are among the first responders to disasters, including the refugee crisis.

Over the past decade, the diversity and competence of local organisations in Turkey has grown tremendously as they expanded their operations and many professionals gained extensive experience in the humanitarian sector. The Syria crisis saw a large number of international NGOs entering the country. Likewise, UN agencies expanded their presence as significant funding flowed into Turkey. From an initial reliance on direct implementation, as the crisis became protracted INGOs moved to a mixed model of implementation and partnership with local organisations, while UN agencies gradually shifted to partnering exclusively with local organisations.

Many local organisations describe the nature of their partnerships with international organisations in the humanitarian system as project-based and often functioning as a subcontracting relationship. As one local organisation representative put it:

‘Even with the best of intentions, what seems to be the biggest problem is the upward accountability that is imposed by the humanitarian system. The deadlines and workplans and project cycles that are all designed towards upward accountability leaves us very little space to manoeuvre. It does not turn into a genuinely meaningful partnership that is equitable and that is respectful of ground realities.’

In the experience of many local actors, strategic partnerships that value the organisation and the relationship are rare. Multi-year programmes run by local partners are almost non-existent. The formal humanitarian system is also rarely able to engage with informal support mechanisms at the community level and tap into them to amplify impact.

Local organisations in Turkey clearly see that, for international actors, localisation would mean changing their entire business model by allowing local actors to set the humanitarian agenda and shape humanitarian programmes. They find it unlikely that the current power imbalance will change any time soon: ‘We see more talk on localisation in global platforms, but practice hasn’t changed much. Sometimes we are so hopeless that things will change, we feel the only way to do it is for us to become an international NGO.’

For most local organisations in Turkey, capacity-strengthening still overwhelmingly takes the form of one-off training with limited impact and sustainability. Local organisations are clear about having more say in defining their capacity needs and programmatic priorities. Several local and national actors pointed to high staff turnover as a challenge in sustaining the progress they have made in improving their capacity. Not being able to retain staff with considerable skills and experience hampers gains in organisational capacity and continuity.

Despite the challenges, local organisations in Turkey have made progress in risk sharing with their international partners and accessing funding for management costs and institutional development. Likewise, space is opening for more local organisations to take an active role in coordination mechanisms. 

Ten years into the war in Syria, refugees have set up a wide network of organisations all over the country. Having played a significant role in the humanitarian response to the Syria crisis, national NGOs are reaching out to these community-based refugee-led groups to equip them with the capacity to deliver aid in compliance with international humanitarian standards. This model of national NGOs acting as intermediaries represents an alternative to capacity strengthening through peer-to-peer learning and mentorship.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also demonstrated the ability of local civil society to mobilise funding and resources. In contrast to Somalia (see Box I), solidarity among civil society organisations and collaboration with local governments and the private sector have opened up new avenues for local NGO leaders to take humanitarian action into their own hands. Local civil society is well-organised around refugee protection and can be activated quickly. Two examples are the Refugee Council of Turkey and the Civil Society Disaster Platform, neither of which has any connections with the formal humanitarian system. The Disaster Platform has successfully fundraised from private citizens and the private sector to respond to crises, including the Izmir Earthquake in 2020 and the wildfires in the summer of 2021 when external funding was not present.

Through networks such as the Localisation Advocacy Group, civil society actors in Turkey have mobilised local leadership and have pushed forward the localisation agenda. Local organisations and networks aim to retain the capacity they have gained over the years, improve the quality of their partnerships, play an active role in coordination forums, and advocate for a humanitarian response that favours, appreciates and builds on local actors and existing capacity.


DA Global, Is Aid Really Changing? what-the-covid-19-response-tells-us-about-localisation; P. Currion, ‘Decolonising Aid, Again. “The Unfinished Business of Decolonisation Is the Original Sin of the Modern Aid Industry.”’, The New Humanitarian, 2021.


The Charter for Change is an initiative led by INGOs and NNGOs to implement a range of commitments to support locally led humanitarian action, and was formed in the lead up to the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit. Charter 4 Change, ‘Charter for Change Annual Meeting Report (7-9 December 2021)’, 2021.


H Slim, ‘Is Racism Part of Our Reluctance to Localise Humanitarian Action?’, HPN, 2022.; Currion, ‘Decolonising Aid, Again. “The Unfinished Business of Decolonisation Is the Original Sin of the Modern Aid Industry.”’


S. Patel, ‘Localisation, Racism and Decolonisation: Hollow Talk or Real Look in the Mirror?’, Humanitarian Practice Network (HPN), 2021.; Good Humanitarian Donorship, ‘Co-Chairmanship Priorities 2021-2023’, Good Humanitarian Donorship (GHD), 2021.


A. Bagious, Internal presentation to the Good Humanitarian Donorship, November 2021


Although these remain contested by some local actors.


IASC HFTT Localisation Marker Working Group 2018


Baker et al., Response to Cyclone Idai. ; G. Storer et al., ‘DFAT – Australian Red Cross Humanitarian Partnership 2015–2018’ (Canberra: Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade/Australian Red Cross, 2018).; K. Tong et al., ‘Formative Evaluation of UNFPA Approach to South-South and Triangular Cooperation’ (New York: UNFPA, 2020).; SANDE CONSULTORES LDA, ‘External Evaluation of Cyclone Idai and Kenneth Response in Mozambique’ (Oxford/London: Oxfam and DEC, 2021); UNICEF, Work to Link.


A. Baguios, , ‘Localisation Re-imagined: Essay series’, ALNAP, 2021-2022.; Somalia in-country research 2021


L. Ramdhani et al., ‘Can INGOs Go National in the Global South without Recolonising Aid?’, Humanitarian Practice Network (HPN), 2021.


RCRC figures may not reflect true totals, given that these numbers are based on FTS and some RCRC national societies in crisis countries rely more on non-Western donors that do not routinely report to FTS.


Direct funding includes what FTS considers as ‘new money’ to the humanitarian system (largely funding from governments and private donors). To capture international humanitarian assistance, DI exclude funding by governments for domestic disaster response. Indirect funding contains funding flows from FTS using that are not classified as ‘new money’ to the humanitarian system and also excluded domestic government responses.


HAG and Pujiono Centre, ‘Charting the New Norm?: Local Leadership in the First 100 Days of the Sulawesi Earthquake Response’ (Humanitarian Advisory Group and Pujiono Centre, 2019).


Jeremy Konyndyk, Patrick Saez and Rose Worden, ‘Inclusive Coordination: Building an Area-Based Humanitarian Coordination Model’ (Washington DC: Center for Global Development (CGD), 2020).


Over half of international actors surveyed in Somalia and Turkey reported having targets for increasing funding to L/NNGOs, with some country-level donors and agencies reporting passing over 50% of their funding through L/NNGOs. At the global level, 13 Grand Bargain signatories reported giving more than 25% of their funding to local/national actors in 2020, up from seven in 2018. Amongst the Charter4Change signatories, 23% of those surveyed at HQ level ‘reported transferring 25% or more to local and national counterparts’. See: Metcalfe-Hough et al., Grand Bargain at Five; Charter 4 Change, ‘Charter for Change Annual Meeting Report (7-9 December 2021)’.


Research conducted by NEAR for this report in Somalia.


The data on both funding per country and per cluster is strongly influenced by funding from Saudi Arabia to the Yemeni government, which totalled $874 million in IHA over the period 2018–2021 – this inflated the amount of LNA funding not only for Yemen, but also for the ‘coordination and support services’ sector, under which half of this funding was reported. In Yemen, the health and food security clusters accounted for the majority of the rest of the funding to LNAs.


Global key informant interviews and ALNAP Meeting 2021, Panel Discussion: Is Risk Really Shared between Local and International Humanitarian Actors? (online, 2021).


USAID, Administrator Samantha Power On A New Vision For Global Development (Georgetown University Washington DC, 2021).


Key informant interviews and a survey conducted in Somalia and Turkey in 2021


Charter 4 Change, ‘Charter for Change Annual Meeting Report (7-9 December 2021)’.


A. Khan et al., ‘Learning from Disruption: Evolution, Revolution or Status Quo? 2021 ALNAP Meeting 19–21 October 2021 Background Paper.’ (ODI/ALNAP, 2021).


HAG and Pujiono Centre, ‘Charting the New Norm?: Local Leadership in the First 100 Days of the Sulawesi Earthquake Response’.


UNHCR, Country Operation, Afghanistan; UNICEF, ‘Review of Progress in the Advancement of Child Rights in Africa: Reflecting on the Past and Future Challenges and Opportunities’ (New York: UNICEF, 2020).


Storer et al., ‘DFAT – Australian Red Cross Humanitarian Partnership 2015–2018’; UNICEF, ‘Formative Evaluation of UNICEF Work to Link Humanitarian and Development Programming’ (New York: UNICEF, 2021).


Key informant interview in Yemen


CARE Canada, ‘Annual Impact and Learning Review The Humanitarian - Development Nexus’ (CARE Canada, 2019). UNICEF 2021; CARE Canada 2020; ADE 2021; SANDE CONSULTORES LDA, ‘External Evaluation of Cyclone Idai and Kenneth Response in Mozambique’. D. Stone and K. Chowdhury, ‘Christian Aid’s Rohingya Crisis Response in Bangladesh’ (Christian Aid, 2019); Maillard, Setyawan and Juillard, Real-Time Evaluation UNICEF, ‘Formative Evaluation of UNICEF Work to Link Humanitarian and Development Programming’; Baker et al., Response to Cyclone Idai.


ALNAP Meeting 2021, Panel Discussion: Is Risk Really Shared between Local and International Humanitarian Actors?


Key informant interview in Haiti


In-country research Turkey and Somalia 2021; Charter 4 Change, ‘Charter for Change Annual Meeting Report (7-9 December 2021)’.


HAG and CARE, ‘Tropical Cyclone Gita Response Program Evaluation’ (Humanitarian Advisory Group and Care, 2019); Sida and Schenkenberg, Rohingya Response Evaluations.; FAO, ‘Evaluation of the role and work of the Sub-Regional Office for North Africa (SNE) 2017-2020’ (Rome: FAO, 2020).; FAO, ‘Evaluation of the Emergency Prevention System (EMPRES) Programme in Food Chain Crises’ (Rome: FAO, 2018); Storer et al., ‘DFAT – Australian Red Cross Humanitarian Partnership 2015–2018’, 2015–2018.


Global Key Informant Interview


ALNAP Meeting 2021, Panel Discussion: Is Risk Really Shared between Local and International Humanitarian Actors?


Stone and Chowdhury, ‘Christian Aid’s Rohingya Crisis Response in Bangladesh’.


Storer et al., ‘DFAT – Australian Red Cross Humanitarian Partnership 2015–2018; K. Sutton and E. Latu, ‘Tropical Cyclone Gita Response Program Evaluation’ (Geneva: CARE International, 2018). 


IASC, ‘Note on IASC Coordination Structures at Country Level in 2020’ (Geneva: IASC, 2020).


OCHA, Somalia Humanitarian Response Plan 2022 (December 2021)’ (Somalia: OCHA, 2021).


OCHA, ‘Somalia Humanitarian Funding Overview (As of 31 December 2021)’ (Somalia: OCHA, 2021).


Nexus, ‘Stronger Together’, n.d.


Indirect costs, sometimes referred to as overhead expenses, include real costs incurred for the delivery of programs, including general and administrative expenses (e.g., rent and utilities).


OCHA, Somalia Humanitarian Response Plan 2021 (February 2021) (Somalia: OCHA, 2021).


According to a key informant in Somalia.