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Humanitarian Aid on the move # 19, special issue: Aid localisation

Local actors: key resources and supporters in protection
Réiseal Ni Chéilleachair & Dr. Fiona Shanahan

  Table of contents  

 When we need help, we go local

When people are in crisis, they usually seek support from those closest to them, within their own families, social groups and communities. The continuity of presence and consistency of support, regardless of scale or statistics, is what often sets a local actor apart from an international actor. In protection work, local is key; it is where trust sits.

As part of Trócaire’s commitments to localisation and to deeper and more rooted protection support for and with communities, the organisation has recently conducted research in Myanmar, DRC and Lebanon with local NGOs who are delivering protection responses in hard-to-reach, inaccessible or complex urban environments.

For localisation to be meaningful, our research suggests that a ‘localised response’ must mean that initiatives are designed by local NGOs from the ground-up to ensure a good fit between the support needed and the support offered. It is also important to acknowledge that in the protection sector, the vast majority of frontline responders are local women. This is particularly the case in gender-based violence (GBV) response services but also evident more broadly across traditionally female dominated fields, such as mental health and psychosocial support. These women face significant barriers within the humanitarian sector. Local NGOs often deliver responses where access is complicated, there are few if any specialised agencies to take referrals, and programme participants and staff encounter significant risks.

 Complex challenges

Local NGO responders delivering protection services, including GBV response, experience significant challenges. In the contexts studied, local NGO protection actors face access difficulties, including negotiations with armed actors for access to populations in need. Complex patterns of violence in conflict-affected protracted contexts impact on service delivery, particularly when supporting individuals who have experienced multiple and cumulative, potentially traumatic events.

Increasing caseloads and frequent new arrivals to camp or host community settings over a prolonged period also takes its toll on frontline workers, many of whom are from the conflict-affected community. It can also be challenging for local NGOs to assert or retain technical autonomy and control over programming, in contexts where there can be considerable perceived pressures on local NGOs to implement models or methodologies promoted by international agencies.