The town I live near has some amazing shops within it. The UK’s independent bookshop of the year, the runner up wine shop, a newsagent’s with a haberdashery tucked away in the back, a burgershop run by a MasterChef finalist, a butcher, coffee roasters, kayak makers, wetsuit brands, bakeries, and countless lovely food shops. These shops are run by wonderful, passionate, knowledgable people. People who will help you find the right item to meet the challenge you are facing. People who remember your name.
It is easy to miss all this though. There are large national chains as well. It is easy to only see them, to see their size, their familiarity. Their dominance.
At times, we want familiarity. We want to be able to walk into a large, national chain store and buy the same items we always do and walk around a shop that feels familiar even though we are in an unfamiliar town. However, when we want something unique, something special, something ‘just so’, we’re more likely to find that in the local, independent shop. And then there is the economic fact that for every £1 spent in a local shop, it generates £5 in local economic activity.
The same is true in the humanitarian sector. In every response, there are amazing local organisations doing incredible work. Work that is done with a deep, rich understanding of the local context and people. This work is almost always skipped over, missed, overlooked because their ‘light’ is being blocked by the overpowering light of international agencies. This work does not scale in the industrial model of scale that most international agencies use, but this does not mean it is not effective. We miss their beauty because they are overpowered.
Perhaps localisation is not about local organisations becoming more like international ones, but rather the opposite.