A year after the collapse of the Somali government and the outbreak of civil war in 1992, a group of Somali women intellectuals from a cross-section of the community came together to create the organization that I work for today, Save Somali Women and Children. Their aim was to provide hands-on support to women who were facing violence, living in poverty, and marginalized by society.
In the long-term, their vision was to contribute to the establishment of a Somalia that is united, peaceful, human-centered, and genuinely democratic. Thirty years later, we are still working towards the achievement of these broader goals, but the organization has implemented a myriad of projects, from supporting women to get into leadership roles and ensuring that their perspectives influence policies and legislation, to hands-on interventions, including supporting women to start and run their own businesses, giving them cash assistance during emergencies, and so on. This has not been without its ups and downs.
In countries like Somalia, departing international NGOs should be creating an opportunity to advance the localization agenda. But is this happening?
As head of programs, one of my main frustrations has been the lack of coordination among international NGOs when assessing the capacity of organizations like mine before they can provide support and funds.
Assessing the capacity of national and local NGOs is a critical part of the relationship between INGOs and us. It cannot be overlooked. But I do believe that it can be done differently.
Between 2019 and 2020, my organization has been involved in seven assessments, and the figure would be higher had the year not been interrupted by COVID-19 restrictions. With no coordination among INGOs, these assessments covered over 90% of the same content. We are engaged in endless interviews that could be streamlined and make the humanitarian sector more efficient. This would not only save money but also a lot of precious time for everyone involved.
We all agree that improving the capacities of local actors is vital in order for us to be able to respond fast and well in times of humanitarian crisis. It also helps ensure better quality data collection, analysis, and reporting. But at times these assessments feel more like a risk-management exercise rather than a real attempt to increase the capacity of local and national NGOs. In my experience, INGOs seldom follow up on the recommendations that we give them during these assessments.
INGOs: 6 steps to effectively assess the capacity of local actors:
1. Commit to the coordination and standardization of capacity assessments for local and national actors.
2. Establish a task force that is mandated to push and develop the standard capacity assessment tool.
3. Develop strategic partnerships with national NGOs that are long term.
4. Facilitate and plan a smooth and sustainable power transfer to local and national actors.
5. Support coordinated and systematic development plan for national and local actors.
6. Advocate for coordinated capacity support based on an accurate assessment of needs.
Furthermore, they do not share the reports that they produce afterward. Of the seven assessments SSWC has been involved in in the past 18 months, we have only received the results from one organization. I believe that it is fundamental that INGOs come together in a coordinated way to share information and resources amongst each other, and also with us.
And we need to go a step further. The data gathered from these assessments must actually be used to inform the capacity strengthening programs that are rolled out. The way that capacity assessments are currently conducted means that often blanket assessments are done without enough consideration of the individual organization’s needs.
We were recently invited to a human resource management training alongside other local actors. As local and national organizations, we were all lumped together in the same training. But in my opinion, not everyone in the room had gaps in HR management and they could have benefitted from a very different type of training. But when local and national groups try to raise these issues, they are accused of not being serious or even worse, of being ungrateful and biting the hand that feeds them.
This kind of unequal relationship needs to change. Over the past few years, much noise has been made in the humanitarian community about building more efficient relationships between international and local actors and changing the balance of power. This has led to a number of international agreements that commit to increasing funding and partnerships that promote more locally-led humanitarian responses. These include The Grand Bargain, the Agenda for Humanity, and the Charter for Change.
While these agreements provide the initial stimulus toward the realization of a more inclusive and effective humanitarian system, the next steps in attaining the goal of making principled humanitarian action as local as possible in the Somali context would require all humanitarian actors — international, regional, national, and local — operating in Somalia to develop strategies and activities that support the localization agenda.
Going forward, all international NGOs must use a standard partnership and capacity assessment tool to assess local actors. This will enhance the categorization of local partners into different classes for ease of creating training and development plans. With the recognition and approval of the harmonized capacity and partnership assessment tools by all INGOs, the strengthening of capacities of local actors will be continuous and systematic and not repetitive nor blanket. This will be a solid basis for a graduation model that is agreed upon by all the actors.
Furthermore, INGOs must commit to being more open, both with each other and with local partners. The results of assessment reports should be shared with the organization being assessed. In addition, the recommendations of local and national NGOs must shape the kind of capacity building programs that are developed.
The good news is that some of this work is already underway. Almost all of the country directors of international NGOs in the Somali NGO Consortium have blessed the move to harmonize the capacity and partnership assessment tool in the country. They have nominated a representative in a task force to discuss the process.
There will be challenges no doubt. Some international NGOs may not be able to participate in the process if they do not get buy-in from their headquarters. In addition, it is likely to take time for the technical task force to develop new frameworks and tools. Another challenge is that different international NGOs have different focus areas – child protection; health; cash programming and so on, which will not allow 100% harmonization of partnership and assessment tools. But I believe that these issues are all surmountable if there is true will and concrete actions are taken.
Localization must be more than a word used in meetings and conferences. It must be the driving force behind all of our engagements in the global humanitarian community.