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Overcoming Donor’s Bureaucratic Barriers and Entrenched Culture to Successfully Implement Locally Led Peacebuilding

Recommendations to move locally-led peacebuilding from policy to action

"Local Voices at the Crossroads" is a series of articles in which local actors of daily peace share their views on the fragilities and resilience of their societies in the face of conflict. Grassroots societies are at the crossroads between local realities and national peacebuilding policies and practices. The series therefore aims to accelerate action at the local level by strengthening the voices of civil society at the political level. "Local Voices at the Crossroads" is hosted by the Civil Society Platform for Peacebuilding and  Statebuilding (CSPPS) and is the result of a collaboration with the Evidence Platform for Peace and Conflict Resolution (PeaceRep) at the University of Edinburgh.

In this new article of "Local Voices at the Crossroads", we focus on the work of the Alliance for Peacebuilding (AfP), Focal Point organisation of CSPPS in the United States, and its efforts to shift the power to locally-led organisations with the challenges this entails. 

The Alliance for Peacebuilding (AfP) is a not-for-profit and nonpartisan network of 160+ organizations working in 181 countries to prevent conflict, reduce violence, improve lives, and build sustainable peace. AfP cultivates a network to strengthen and advance the peacebuilding field, enabling peacebuilding organisations to achieve greater impact. AfP is represented by Liz Hume, Executive Director of AfP. Liz shared the extensive work of Afp in addressing some recommendations to donors in this latest contribution to Local Voices at a Crossroads :

Locally-led development has been gaining traction over the years. While some progress has been made there are still significant cultural, operational, and policy challenges to successfully implementing this approach.

Locally-led development is not a single approach, but a range of ways donors, partners, and communities to shift decision-making power and program responsibility to local actors. While locally-led development is critical in all sectors, locally-led peacebuilding is vital because people affected the most by conflict should have the authority and influence over strategy, implementation, evaluation, and resource allocation. Research and case studies consistently demonstrate that local peacebuilding is critcal to effectively building sustainable peace and prevent violent conflict.  Bi and multilateral donors have adopted  policies and laws that call for increasing locally-led development, including the Global Fragility Act, the United Nations Sustaining Peace Agenda, and the World Bank Group Strategy for Fragility, Conflict, and Violence. Additionally, USAID Administrator Power delivered a speech that outlined a pledge to dramatically increase the amount of USAID's funding to local organizations.

While the political will exists to support locally-led development, as evidenced by these new laws and policies, international donors struggle to overcome entrenched bureaucratic barriers to implement them. The UN’s Community Engagement Guidelines on Peacebuilding and Sustainable Peace, and the UN Peacebuilding Support Office's May 2022 Thematic Review on Local Peacebuilding, identify financing challenges for local organizations and recommend flexible funding. However, these documents also acknowledge the UN's overly bureaucratic financial procedures often serve as barriers. Even though USAID has been working to implement a locally-led approach for over a decade, only about 6% of USAID budget funds local organizations globally. Unfortunately, in Fiscal Year 2021, U.S. funding for local partners fell by more than $200 million.   

International donors are also risk-averse, skeptical that local actors can effectively implement programs at scale, and their government’s policies do not always match their rhetoric. Implementing locally-led development efforts will require donors to undertake a major shift and overhaul their procurement systems. Donors will have to develop less burdensome, flexible, and longer-term funding cycles, improve accessibility to funding, and target outreach to local organizations to increase their knowledge of existing resources and funding. But it will also require international donors to shift their culture to tolerate risk and build trust with locally-led organizations. Additionally, government political policies are also significant impediments to implementing the locally-led approach, because donor governments often support governments and security forces responsible for violating human rights and closing civil society space.

Foundations and private donors have made more strides with locally-led peacebuilding, because they are more risk-tolerant. They have fewer procurement restrictions and can directly provide unrestricted funds and core funding. For example, Humanity United works to change short-term, inflexible practices by focusing on locally-led peacebuilding initiatives and supporting local peacebuilders through a collaborative partnership in South Sudan.

At the same time, there must be a robust commitment to strengthening the capacity of local peacebuilding organizations. It is critical to build organizational, technical, advocacy, and leadership capacity. Capacity development must go beyond traditional training activities to contextualized efforts that include investing in proximate leadership, systems-based and analytical approaches, confidence-building, and practical learning opportunities, such as accompaniment and mentoring. Capacity development should prioritize planning for longer programming timelines, including budgets to implement the plans, and participatory grantmaking to determine the best use of resources. Donors should also support local advocacy initiatives to help strengthen the enabling environment and open civic space. These efforts will promote the capacity and sustainability of local civil society in the long term and create more equity between international and local organizations. Additionally, many international peacebuilding organizations invest significantly in locally-led capacity-building efforts, and strive to develop long-term local partnerships and strategic relations with local organizations. Many AfP partners employ innovative approaches to create durable, rather than project based, engagement. These international organizations create formal, long-term partnership agreements that transcend specific projects.

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However, while locally-led development aims to move more financial assistance, decision-making power, and program responsibility to local organizations, it should not be misconstrued as deploying a zero-sum strategy that pits international and local organizations against each other. Donors must address the inequity of financing models between international and local organizations, while also acknowledging and supporting the critical role of international organizations in international development.

Additionally, many international peacebuilding organizations invest significantly in locally-led development by creating long-term partnerships with local organizations. Many AfP members, including Peace Direct, FHI 360, the International Civil Society Action Network, PartnersGlobal, Counterpart International, IREX, Search for Common Ground, and Saferworld, employ innovative approaches to create durable, rather than project-based, engagement. These organizations develop formal, long-term partnership agreements that transcend specific projects, including instituting partner learning exchanges and connecting people globally through project review meetings, training activities, and research and evaluation events that ensure cross-organizational learning.

While there have been significant efforts, investments, and learning to advance the locally-led peacebuilding approach, more must be done to overcome the challenges to move this agenda forward more intentionally. To successfully implement a locally-led approach, donors will have to develop a culture of accepting risk by developing flexible procurement mechanisms for local organizations, increasing funding for local organizations, and committing to building their organizational capacity. Donors also must consistently monitor and effectively respond to closing civic space early and prioritize the effective use of data to develop evidence-based monitoring and evaluation of locally-led peacebuilding programs. Donors must learn from what is working and not working and be able to apply the learning. Failure to implement these much-needed reforms will perpetuate the locally-led supportive rhetoric without successfully implementing a robust and sustainable locally-led approach. 


For more information please see the Alliance for Peacebuilding’s Report, Locally-Led Peacebuilding: From Policy to Action.  

Liz Hume, Executive Director, Alliance for Peacebuilding


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