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Leading to Local

How philanthropists can learn to better partner with locally led organizations

In response to the pandemic and the inequities it has brought to the surface, a new set of giving practices has been on the rise amongst philanthropists: more partnerships, fewer regulations, faster disbursement of funds and a more conscious look at power and other social justice issues. With a growing realization of philanthropy’s power to shape social change agendas—and an aim to make better use of philanthropic funds and better address structural causes of inequity—these practices rebalance power and place decision-making authority closer to the nexus of change. For the same reasons, and in parallel, there has been a new resolve to invest more in local communities and locally led organizations and processes.

In the field of international development, however, such initiatives are not so new. For more than a decade, the question of how to channel more assistance to recipient country entities has—albeit with some remaining questions about what constitutes locally led and how to actually fund them—become more or less standard. And while the obstacles for philanthropists are different, there is much to be learned from the efforts of other donors. For example, a 2021 report from the Overseas Development Institute reviewed bilateral and multilateral efforts to support localization and found challenges and obstacles that will be familiar to philanthropic donors: inherent power imbalances, lack of agency for local institutions, competing internal policies, perceptions of risk and lack of knowledge of local context. The same report offered up recommendations for philanthropy that will feel no less relevant: support locally led efforts that may be overlooked by other donors, model more progressive funding practices, and promote anti-racist and de-colonial practices.

While there are no roadmaps to power-sharing, there are fellow travelers on the same journey. The insights below sync up with the broad recommendations coming from the experience of donors in international development; they also are meant to provide practical guidance on lifting up locally led organizations.

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