Development theorists have debated the best methods to foster sustainable development since the advent of international development. The development industry is now recognizing that those it intends to help must lead the way and this is achievable through locally-led development.

The Importance of Locally-Led Development

Locally-led development recognizes that development is not a one-size-fits-all solution and acknowledges that the countries, cities and communities receiving foreign aid have unique needs, perspectives and expertise that groups must consider when designing and implementing development programs.

Through locally-led development, local actors such as communities, networks, governments, private organizations and individuals own the development process, creating programs that address their needs within their unique contexts.

International development actors such as foreign governments and development contractors take an advisory role, supporting the capacity and resources of local actors as they work to solve their development needs. Locally-led development plays an instrumental role in promoting sustainable development, particularly through its potential to promote inclusive political and economic systems.

Inclusive Systems

Inclusive systems are vital for the long-term growth of a country. Nations with inclusive political and economic institutions, where governments distribute power widely and people can participate in the political and economic process, tend to be more prosperous. In contrast, nations with extractive political and economic institutions, where power is concentrated in the hands of a few and most people face political and economic exclusion, tend to struggle with poverty and underdevelopment.

Inclusive systems prioritize the participation and representation of all members of society and ensure that everyone has a voice in decision-making processes that affect their lives and that governments design programs and policies to benefit the entire population, not just a privileged few. This is alongside prioritizing innovation, investment and economic growth. Ultimately, inclusive systems ensure that governments design policies and programs to benefit those who are most marginalized and disadvantaged.

According to the United Nations (U.N.), inclusive institutions are not the natural or inevitable outcome of economic development or technological progress but are the result of negotiation and internal political reform. The creation of inclusive institutions requires a broad-based coalition of citizens who are willing to challenge and dismantle extractive institutions that concentrate power.

Locally-led development is vital for foreign aid to work in building inclusive systems because it allows change to be led from within instead of being orchestrated by an outside force, a necessary aspect of constructing inclusive systems.

Making Locally-Led Development Work

USAID and other key donors have begun acknowledging the importance of locally-led development. The organization announced goals for localization, such as committing 25% of its budget by 2025 to local institutions taking part in development activities. Additionally, “50[%] of programming will place local communities in the lead by 2030,” according to USAID.

In addition, USAID has developed a locally-led development checklist that allows its missions and partners to gauge the amount of local adaption and development in their projects. Donors are also working with governments to build inclusive systems in foreign aid through direct cash transfers. Direct funding shifts the paradigm of international development projects, moving away from the traditional project life cycle where a government contractor goes into a country to accomplish a particular development objective over a selected amount of time.

Instead, funding is directly given to national governments to facilitate the delivery of inclusive services while development practitioners work with governments to manage the cash flow and protect against corruption through risk mitigation, monitoring and capacity building. A current USAID program using direct funding mechanisms has seen scalable success in Malawi.

Key Facets of Successful Locally-Led Development

  • Development must recognize the critical roles of civil society, community leaders and advocacy organizations while empowering governments as conveners and connectors. Without this step, inclusivity will not manifest.
  • Strengthen local and preexisting capacities to achieve their own missions versus restructuring them to become donor contractors or grantees.
  • Development agencies and country partners must align with common development objectives for which the local partners are accountable. This is achieved through co-designed work plans and risk mitigation plans that outline the main activities for funding and supporting local agencies.
  • Development partners are responsible for supporting and advising local partners, rather than executing work on their behalf.
  • Establish a shared understanding between the development agency and country counterparts regarding milestones and necessary resources. This roadmap may include indicators as triggers for payment milestones. Prior to implementation, both parties must agree on the potential investments and resources required to achieve each milestone.
  • To balance the power of national governments, the focus must move to involve building the capacity of local institutions such as community-based organizations, local government bodies and civil society organizations. These institutions can act as conduits for citizen participation in systems and provide channels for feedback and accountability.
  • Development initiatives must prioritize marginalized communities, including women, youth and minorities.
  • Place focus on local economies by promoting community entrepreneurship and local enterprise development. This can help create jobs and increase economic opportunities, which can, in turn, lead to greater participation in systems and decision-making processes.

A Look Ahead

Overall, inclusive systems can help promote pro-poor growth by ensuring that economic policies and programs benefit the entire population, especially the marginalized. Locally-led development plays a critical role in building inclusive systems by empowering local communities and marginalized groups and facilitating participation in the decision-making processes.

By putting funding in the hands of the communities that require aid, locally-led development can be the catapult for the formation of inclusive systems that promote sustainable long-term growth.

-Andrew Giganti

Photo: Flickr