CEO Blog: Our Efforts to Localise

Why we’re moving towards, not away from, the communities we serve.

We’ve spent years responding to some of the world’s most complex humanitarian crises. We support families living in countries affected by conflict, natural disasters, displacements, hunger, and disease outbreaks. And throughout more than 30 years of providing humanitarian assistance, we’ve learned one very important lesson: our greatest partners are the communities we serve.

That matters because of localisation. Localisation is a hot topic in the humanitarian sector at the moment. Broadly speaking, it’s the belief that resources and funding should be more directly channelled to national and local responders, rather than through larger organisations – like our own – with staff and head offices located far from the humanitarian responses they implement. In 2016, the World Humanitarian Summit even proposed an ambitious plan called the Grand Bargain. The idea behind the Grand Bargain is simple: to invest more resources and funds into the communities who need them most so as to improve the effectiveness, speediness, and sustainability of humanitarian interventions.

At Medair, we’re focusing on localising with a strategy to Be Global, Serve Local. Here’s what that means.


1. Our responses are people-centred

We believe that the people we serve should be the primary focus of every humanitarian response – not aid organisations or donor agencies. We approach each and every person we meet as a unique individual, and treat that person with the respect they deserve. We are also accountable to the people we serve, ensuring that they can give feedback on our work and our teams. Our accountability mechanisms are certified according to the Core Humanitarian Standard, which sets out how organisations can improve the effectiveness and quality of their work in nine commitments. We’ve also established a Diversity & Inclusion initiative to ensure that our policies, our behaviour, and our communications represent our diverse teams and prevent discrimination at individual and organisational levels.


2. We’re investing in our colleagues

Around 1,500 of our colleagues – 85 percent of the workforce – have grown up in the communities and countries we serve. They bring insight, knowledge, and expertise that we simply cannot function without: context-specific knowledge, history, culture, relationships, language, experience in the non-profit sector… the list is long enough to write a book.

We invest in our colleagues by providing on-the-job training, identifying talent and skills that warrant investment, and developing leadership opportunities for colleagues interested in continuing their careers. This helps build the sustainability of our programme and form responses informed by that best address the needs and context of the communities we’re serving.

We aim to support our colleagues to respond to challenges and help address the challenges they encounter when they’re implementing essential programming. When we have to make the very difficult decision to leave a community or country programme, our colleagues may go on to work for other organsiations – taking the skills they’ve built at Medair to new help local, national, or international organisations respond to new crises.


3. We partner with local capacities and organisations

We’ve learned in 30+ years of humanitarian relief that our primary partners in any intervention are the community members themselves. We work closely with the communities we serve, making sure we listen to them, partner with them, and collaborate with them. This gives us the best insight possible when we work to support their needs. We’re keen to be locally focused and informed while also leveraging our technical expertise, research partnerships, private sector support, and innovative ideas to find sustainable solutions to challenges that cannot easily be solved locally.

Partnering with local organisations means we have access to local knowledge, language, and insight into the challenges and history that each community faces. As an international organisation, that isn’t knowledge that we have immediate access to when we first begin an intervention in a new location – and it is knowledge that we absolutely cannot do without. Where local organisations can help us better understand the context in which we’re working, we can support local organisations by sharing our experiences in things like applying for major donor funding, exceeding exacting technical and global standards, or developing compliance and guidelines that larger partners may require. Our hope is that we can demystify some of the trickier areas of implementing projects with international partners, thereby ensuring that these organisations have the confidence and policies in place for future partnership opportunities, and be in an exceptionally strong position to continue addressing challenges when international organisations like ours eventually leave.

We are working towards committing 25 percent of our programming budget to national partners, communities, and local organisations – for example, by, providing capacity-building activities and gifts-in-kind, paying for goods and services provided by partners, or by helping cover salaries or incentive payments. We support local organisations, communities, and line ministries with tasks like supply chain and logistics, investing in community support networks, and upgrading infrastructure that may have been damaged during a conflict or in a storm – such as health clinics. We continue to strengthen this area of our localisation strategy, developing a toolkit to help with ongoing and future partnerships.


4. We’re building our national and regional capacities

In the last year, we’ve started making a major push towards decentralising our approach and moving more of our support services – like HR, IT, and Finance – to regional hubs in places like Amman and Nairobi. That means we’re working more closely with colleagues who understand the challenges and the cultural context better than we ever could. We still have our Global Support Office in Switzerland to support with major decisions (for example, opening and closing new country programmes), but we’re moving more positions in these hubs in order to capitalise on the immense talent in these areas, and to be more mobile, more agile, and more responsive to humanitarian crises.


Localisation is here to stay. The humanitarian sector is changing and we’re moving in a way that will allow us to meet the demands, the skills, and the capacities of the communities we serve more efficiently and sustainably. Our localization activities are still in the early phases and  have a long way to go, but we look forward to continuing this journey – and, in doing so, to helping build a more efficient humanitarian system that benefits all.

This content was produced with resources gathered by Medair field and headquarters staff. The views expressed herein are those solely of Medair and should not be taken, in any way, to reflect the official opinion of any other organisation.