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Local Ownership and Leadership Matters in Development

Carolyn Hayman co-founded Peace Direct with Scilla Elworthy and was appointed Chief Executive in 2004. Peace Direct is a nonprofit organization that supports local action to stop conflict and save lives. After gaining a double first class degree at Cambridge University, she completed a Masters in Development Economics at the School of Oriental and African Studies (London) with Distinction. She began her career in the Ministry for Overseas Development (now DfID), then joined the Cabinet Office Central Policy Review Staff at the age of 26. Her interest in emerging ‘game changing’ technologies led her to consultancy and venture capital, where as Joint Managing Director of the Korda Seed Capital Fund, she chaired two investee companies, Cambridge Animation Systems and Atraverda.

Most development projects “work with locals” but are they locally led? The way development organizations work has a big impact, both on the local organisations and on the effectiveness of the work. Local First, a book of case studies published by Peace Direct, gives examples of why locally led projects make a difference. The book launches today in the United Kingdom. (Full disclosure: Building Markets contributed a chapter for the book.)

To give a hypothetical example: suppose the UK was being offered advice from outside to tackle our on-going problem of domestic violence. Over 100 women are killed each year by their partners. This number has been stable for some years. A ‘locally led’ approach would invest time in finding organisations or individuals that had successfully tackled the problem in their own area, and encourage them to operate on a wider scale, sharing their optimism and enthusiasm with communities elsewhere. A ‘locally owned’ approach would consult with the existing organisations to hear their ideas and construct something out of these that would be effective. A ‘locally delivered’ approach would take something that the donor believes to be the best solution, modify it slightly, and pay local organisations to deliver a service along those lines.

Local First distinguishes between:

  • ‘Locally led’ where local organisations, of all kinds, identify the need and a strategy to meet it, and internationals support them with resources and contacts.
  • ‘Locally owned’ where ideas comes from outside, but there is a serious intention to transfer ownership to local institutions over the course of the project or programme.
  • ‘Locally implemented/delivered’ where the idea comes from outside, and local people simply implement a project into which they have had little input.
These approaches look first for the local capacity for action, before bringing in international resources and solutions. Local First recognises that much of this capacity will be found outside central government and believes that self-help is vital to effective development. It suggests that ‘locally led’ should be preferred wherever possible, because it is more likely to be appropriate and long lasting, by backing existing organisations and helping them to grow. ‘Locally owned’ focuses on developing programmes, rather than backing existing organisations, but if done well it can lead to the creation of valuable new social capital.

Existing practice is a response to incentives that will not be changed easily. These incentives include spending large amounts of money fast, minimizing risk by putting money into ‘safe hands,’ and counting quantity even where it is hard to count quality.

Therefore Local First concentrates on changing behaviours, in ways that we believe will, over time, give local organisations greater leadership. We want to bring together organisations that already work in a Local First way, and those that would like to move their practice in this direction. We work to encourage mutual learning and mutual solutions to challenges. We are working with different groups on the behaviour changes that they think will have the biggest impact.

To begin with, here are some examples of behaviour change that organisations could adopt to move their work towards Local First:

  • Match every needs assessment with a capacity assessment, seeking out local organisations that are effective and dynamic and encouraging them to grow.
  • Measuring success according to indicators chosen by the local participants.
  • Look for voluntary effort, rather than formal governance structures, as an indication of accountability to the community.

We want to bring together all the organisations and individuals that recognise the value of a Local First approach – whether donors, philanthropists, NGOS both local and international, multilaterals and academics – to jointly promote these behaviour changes within their own organisations and elsewhere.

To learn more, purchase the book, join the debate or visit Peace Direct’s Web site.

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