Q&A with Filbert Leone, Executive Director, Humanitarian and Development Consortium (HDC)
Filbert Leone shares with us his views on aid localizion in the conflict region of South Sudan. His organization started as a community-based organization before growing to cover almost all of South Sudan.
NEAR: In what way would you say your organization is empowering local communities in South Sudan?
My organization is called Humanitarian and Development Consortium (HDC). It started some time back as a small community-based organization and has now grown into a powerful organization covering almost the entire South Sudan. We empower local communities in so many ways which include, among others, responding to their basic needs during crises. In the post crises period, we strive to re-establish their livelihoods; flow of incomes and continuous access to food in order to prevent severe hunger and malnutrition; build their capacity of resilience to economic shocks; rebuild trust in one another and promote peaceful co-existence among communities in conflicts; and deliver general protection services that include Sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) and support to persons with specific needs (PSNs).
NEAR: What does localization mean to you?
Localization is all about empowering indigenous actors, who are part of the ‘community in need’, work in the frontlines and are in all cases the first responders, to deliver the most effective life-saving, life-sustaining or developmental services to their communities. Of course, this makes a lot of sense and is the right way to go. I am more than optimistic that this will work well and will significantly reduce the suffering of people. The world is looking for the most cost-effective alternative to adequately respond to the fast growing and also fast shifting needs of people. While needs for aid support are exponentially growing bigger and fast shifting, resources are not enough to adequately and effectively respond to those needs using the traditionally expensive aid systems. New problems need new solutions.
In the aid system, system by itself is not the goal, but a means. The real goal is to reach the person, group of persons or community in need with as much support as possible at the right time. International organizations can do it but at a very high cost than indigenous actors and sometimes not on time. Because of the high cost of their service delivery to the community, only a handful portion of the aid (less than 3%) reaches the target, the community in need. Additionally, reports of deportation of staff of international organization or limitation of their access to some areas by the government are frequent. All these delay and reduce the effectiveness of their interventions. But it is in rare cases that that can happen to indigenous actors. In my views, localization is an answer to all those problems.
NEAR: Talk to us a bit about the role local actors play as first responders in disaster response and some of the challenges they face.
Local actors play multiple roles. They are the first responders in any crises though they do not have the financial resources required. They are always in the frontline and are never evacuated when the worse becomes worse. They are always very close to the victims and coordinate effectively with the government as well as the victims and other stakeholders. They do more with little. They play more effective roles than International organizations, only that less attention is paid to what they do, and the roles they play have not been extensively documented, publicized, advocated or sufficiently covered by media. Nevertheless, affected communities know and trust them more than anyone else. Their main challenge is ‘insufficiency of financial resources’ that leads to a ‘high staff turnover’. Skilled, experienced staff employed by local actors always desert to join international organizations who offer them better packages.
NEAR: How can these challenges be addressed?
Localization as stipulated in the Grand Bargain Commitment addresses all these challenges mentioned above. Local actors have to be empowered financially. Direct funding from donors to local actors is what needs to be achieved. The cost of intervention of local actors is as low as possible and their work is extremely fast because of a reduced bureaucracy.
NEAR: What are your hopes for the future of the aid system?
I hope that the Grand Bargain Commitments, which were made during the first World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) organized in Istanbul, Turkey, in May last year (2016), will be honored and put in action without delay. I want to believe that progress of the implementation of those commitments will be tracked and monitored, documented and extensively shared with partners for purposes of accountability and transparency. Local communities in need will benefit maximally from donations as a result of the honest implementation of the Grand Bargain Commitments.