Sounding off on foreign aid localization

Will ‘localization’ be truly local and sustainable? Photo by: Kim Nowacki /

“Localization” has been dominating discourses on foreign aid delivery for some time now, but the conversation appears to be evolving.

In a column last week, Devex President and Editor-in-Chief Raj Kumar suggested that some aid organizations now stress “sustainability” rather than “localization.”

Kumar noted: “Today, because [official development assistance] is so dominant in so many countries, localization has led to real competition between implementing organizations that are truly local, indigenous, and organic, versus those that are affiliates of [international nongovernmental organizations]. But these divisions will become less important as ODA becomes a smaller part of the funding base for NGOs and contractors. [The United States Agency for International Development] itself has shifted its thinking in this regard ... saying that what it’s after is ‘100 percent sustainability.’”

Devex readers chimed in on the sustainability vs. localization debate.

For some, there’s nothing new about the concept of localization; others believe there’s no difference between sustainability and going global.

For Alpha A. Diallo, meanwhile, going local can be unsustainable depending on some factors. To be sustainable, localized interventions must include a capacity development component and be grounded on sufficient controls within local institutions, he said.

Reader Michael Delam asked: “What about increased lack of transparency, mismanagement, corruption, inefficiency, incompetency and lower quality of level of skills transfer that are all associated with localization?”

Localization, Phil Dowton said, is more than just funding and has a lot to do with ownership, commitment and engagement with local stakeholders well beyond the recipient national government. For him, there’s a “need to do more than pay lip service and ensure in practice that implementers and intended beneficiaries, not aid donors, own activities.”

Reader Matius L K noted that aid oftentimes is treated like a guest in recipient countries.

“Local partners want sustainability in relationships,” he said. “And when money dictates the extent of the relationship, aid will always be treated as a guest, not a partner.”

Karl Hofmann agreed that “sustainability could become the new totem,” but urged caution, noting that some public goods will always require a subsidy to work.

Citing the example of vaccination campaigns, Hofmann asked: “Would we really want such efforts to prove their ‘sustainability,’ which often means their ability to continue without any donor funding, at the price of ending?”

He added: “Development isn’t so simple that either localization or sustainability will work quite as the proponents may think in all cases.”

What’s your take on the localization debate? Have your say by leaving a comment below.

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The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the author

  • Ma. Eliza Villarino

    Eliza is a veteran journalist focused on covering the most pressing issues and latest innovations in global health, humanitarian aid, sustainability, and development. A member of Mensa, Eliza has earned a master's degree in public affairs and bachelor's degree in political science from the University of the Philippines.