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Community Contribution

Locally Led Approaches in Humanitarian Settings: Lessons from Local Partners

Mar 12, 2024
Megan Kelly

Women’s Voice and Leadership in Humanitarian Settings (WHS), funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, is a program focused on locally led capacity strengthening in humanitarian response settings. Working across Afghanistan, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Nepal, WHS focuses on capacity-sharing, learning, and grantmaking for women-led organizations (WLOs). 

In each country, a lead local partner organization works with a cohort of 15 grassroots WLOs to conduct capacity-strengthening activities tailored to their needs. Each country also has a local learning partner, that implements the project’s monitoring, evaluation, accountability, and learning plan. 

The learning partners recently developed a series of briefs to share lessons learned from the first year of the project. While the lead partners worked across many areas with the grassroots WLOs in all of the countries, the case studies each highlight one or two of the key activities. 

Lessons Partners Highlighted

Adapt Rapidly. In Afghanistan, capacity-strengthening activities were adapted around shifts in the local context. When program implementation hit a roadblock after authorities issued a decree barring women from working in NGOs, the lead partner transitioned traditional face-to-face program approaches to entirely online activities, and was thus able to continue delivery of capacity-strengthening activities while ensuring accessibility. The rapid digital transformation included a conscious effort to familiarize the grassroots WLOs with new technologies, and provided a framework to replicate this model in other countries facing similar challenges around bridging the digital divide. 

Strengthen capacity based on demand and historical context. In Colombia, the lead partner oriented capacity strengthening plans around the unique historical contexts of each cohort member. Their approach to demand-driven capacity includes an analysis that delved into the histories and experiences of the grassroots organizations, combining knowledge and collective leadership to confront the suffering of women and girls who survive the effects of the humanitarian crisis. 

Let the mission drive your assessments. In the DRC, the lead partner highlighted takeaways from their initial assessments to identify the specific missions, values, and needs of each cohort member, supporting them to advance their objectives in the local humanitarian assistance and advocacy space. Their case study highlighted a need for one organization to strengthen their legal and financial documentation, which has since helped it enhance its ability to compete for resources. A second organization refocused efforts around strengthening its leadership and networks, allowing it to deepen its commitments to humanitarian coordination in the country. 

Think critically about stakeholder engagement for an inclusive response. In Nepal, the lead partner analyzed the important role of all stakeholders in collectively shaping inclusive and gender-transformative humanitarian responses, highlighting both the learnings of six WLO cohort members as well as the histories of some of the local government stakeholders that are being engaged by the project. By strengthening the capacities of women leaders across these organizations, the lead partner facilitated more inclusive approaches, aligning with the program’s broader goal of advancing gender equality and empowering women’s voices in humanitarian structures. 

Bringing It All Together

At the global level, project coordinators emphasized overarching lessons to advancing localization in humanitarian assistance, seeking to inform other pilot projects. These learnings include: 

  1. the importance of having spaces for cross-country collaboration among partners to enhance program coordination and mutual learning,
  2. the value of locally led, gender sensitive evaluation practices, and 
  3. the positive impact of strengthening the capacity of local women leaders to network at various levels and to advocate for women’s voice and leadership in humanitarian structures. 
About the authors
Megan Kelly

Megan Kelly is the Program Officer on CARE USA's Gender-Based Violence in Emergencies team, based in New York. She works in partnership with women-led organizations in Latin America and Nepal to support the implementation of projects aimed at improving the leadership and participation of WLOs in humanitarian coordination mechanisms and GBV coordination networks. She has five years of experience working in the human rights, democracy, and humanitarian aid sectors, particularly focused on the intersections between gender and migration. Prior to working at CARE USA, she worked with the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) in Washington, DC, supporting grassroots civil society organizations in Latin America. She also conducted a capstone project during her master's degree supporting Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in identifying gaps in services for migrants and asylum seekers in Mexico, with a particular focus on the gendered experiences of people on the move. She also spent one year in Bogotá, Colombia on a Fulbright grant in 2016.