Akalya Atputharajah, PhD Candidate, School of International Development and Global Studies, University of Ottawa

Javans Wanga, Master of Arts in Forced Migration Student, Moi University, Kenya

Executive summary:

Localization is not a new agenda, but it re-emerged as a major area of focus for global refugee policy during the World Humanitarian Summit (2016) with the Grand Bargain and more recently in the 2018 Global Compact for Refugees. There are many benefits of localization, including reduced costs, deeper connections to vulnerable populations, and reduced duplication of services (Geoffrey and Grunewald 2017). However, there are also numerous barriers to localization, including due diligence and risk management systems, indirect funding structures, and the perception of international NGOs that local NGOs have insufficient capacities (Emmens and Clayton 2020). In Kenya, the refugee situation is becoming increasingly long-term after more than 20 years of hosting refugees and funding is dwindling, making the country an important case study. To this end, we conducted four weeks of fieldwork in Kenya. This research characterizes the extent of the localization of humanitarian action in Kenya as limited localization. Examples of localization included training, inter-agency and sectoral steering committees, and local hiring by international NGOs. Barriers included gatekept funds by UNHCR and a lack of trust in local NGOs. Informed by Aldrich’s (1976) resource dependence model, we highlight major barriers specifically related to the organizations’ dependence on resources. First, INGOs must mitigate risks in a UNHCR-dominated field and are limited in their ability to localize if they are in implementing partnerships themselves, since they must mitigate their own risks by not deviating from what is outlined in those partnerships. Second, exchanges between the UNHCR and other NGOs have established a strong domain consensus, in which the UNHCR is at the centre, INGOs are close to the centre and LNGOs are at the periphery. Third, LNGOs lack access to resources to engage in equal partnerships. To address these barriers, this paper concludes with three policy recommendations: a stronger UNHCR stance on direct funding to LNGOs, a reconceptualization of localization as an imminent priority instead of an eventual transition, and a formalization of INGO exit strategies to encourage concrete steps toward localization.

Read the full working paper here.

Watch this video to learn more about Akalya and Javans’ research in Kenya.