Localisation and NGOs: Different interpretations, different outcomes

NGOs perform important work wherever their mission takes them. International NGOs, in particular, have the resources and reach to influence and improve lives across the globe. However, acceptance of such help and cooperation in all improvement efforts depends on the reception at specific sites. This article aims at understanding localisation and its importance to the mission of NGOs.

What is localisation?

Localisation is the inclusion of local individuals in the operations of an NGO in an area. The idea is to give the presence, aid, and other aspects of NGO work a familiar face.

Localisation is inspired by The Grand Bargain, an agreement reached by donors and humanitarian organisations to empower those in need and to make humanitarian action more effective and efficient. By empowering the locals, there is faster access to areas and people in need. Decisions are also made to suit the population and respect the local culture.

Locals bring cost-effectiveness to the mission and are in the perfect position to provide early response and access because they are readily accepted by their communities.

What are the benefits of localisation?

Local actors are already on site. They understand the local area, culture, expectations, and problems and probably have ideas on how to resolve any arising issues. Therefore, it makes sense to engage local actors in humanitarian missions from a practical perspective. Here are other benefits of localisation:


Local actors are usually more capable than international actors. There is the assumption that international actors can do a better job than the locals with their knowledge of humanitarian matters, but, in practice, these assumptions do not hold. In addition, the belief that local actors won’t be effective with donor funds is also wrong. Local actors understand where help is needed the most and prioritise their efforts along those lines. They know ways to make savings and ensure maximum utilisation.


There has been criticism of localisation efforts to manage humanitarian missions remotely with no risks on INGOs. However, best practices in the field aim more at inclusion. By including local actors in humanitarian work, decisions will be more sustainable due to a deeper understanding.


It’s worth mentioning efficiency, especially from the perspective of the initial stages. Local actors and NGOs already have the infrastructure to carry out humanitarian missions. If there’s a need for expansion, it will not be as expensive or time-consuming, considering the existing assets. Therefore, humanitarian work will begin faster and at a significantly cheaper cost.

Positive results

In some instances, the interference of international actors in local crises causes more harm than good. Individuals who have little experience in the local culture or an understanding of the conflict are not ideal for bringing a speedy and amicable resolution.

Absence of the saviour complex

Besides causing more harm than good in some instances, international actors may approach the local scene with a saviour complex in mind. Some may feel compelled to solve all the local problems or be seen as the long-awaited saviours. Both instances are unsustainable and short-lived, leaving the original problem unsolved. Engaging local actors bring the humanitarian mission to the local level, where a practical perspective ensures the solutions are long-term. Additionally, the locals adopt a self-sufficiency attitude, taking part more in such efforts since they have a familiar and internalised appreciation.

Less mission drift

International actors are known to lose focus of the mission objectives after staying for long in the area due to the need to generate revenues. The chosen ways to generate revenue may conflict with the original mission of their presence, or it may undermine all progress made thus far. Local actors understand that improvements in the local situation are advantageous to the local community and are therefore keener to stay true to the mission for the long haul.


Localisation complements the efforts of INGOs. While the international NGOs have the reach and resources, local actors make humanitarian efforts more focused, appropriate, and efficient. They also bring lasting solutions and a better understanding of what’s needed.

When setting up your mission in an area, you’ll have your hands full. Let us help you handle the need for local actors in the mission. We have over 13 years of experience in Asia, which makes us the ideal partner for your efforts in the region. Reach out to us and let us ensure the success of your mission.