Years ago, in one of the first humanitarian responses I joined, I remember a conversation about ‘good enough’. Assessments were needed to determine where to focus and what to focus on. For some on the team, assessments were 12 month activities. The seasoned aid worker on our team looked at us saying ‘this will be an unusually long assessment as we have one week, often at this point in the response we have a day. It is not going to be perfect, we need enough information to make the next decision. What’s good enough for now, not forever, but for now, in the moment.’
One of the challenges with localisation in the humanitarian industry is the need for compliance without an understanding of good enough. As the industry and the agencies grow in size, the need for continued growth and scale sets in. And compliance takes on additional importance because we do not want to upset a donor.
This impacts localisation because when we look for local partners, we look for organisations that look like us. We look for organisations with systems and processes in place that meet our compliance requirements.
And we find very few.
Volunteer groups don’t have them, they are not even a legal entity. Small, legally registered, organisations may have one or two part time staff members working with hundreds of volunteers balancing their books using google sheets because it is free. Churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, and other religous groups may have set up a separate entity for their ‘aid’ work, but it too is staffed by volunteers from the main body. Some organisations are a bit larger and have one or two systems we recognise, but with lots missing.
All over the world, in every country, we find this breadth of local actors. Most of whom are doing amazing work having incredible impact. And we overlook them regularly because they don’t fit our acceptable risk profile.
We need heaps of people, seasoned people who can spend time with these organisations and help us know what is ‘good enough’. Most of them have some sort of way of organising themselves, of tracking things. We need seasoned veterans to see that and then to advocate to our own internal bureaucracies for a good enough approach. But start with what they have already rather than our ridiculously long checklist. Start with where they are at. Compliance may help us get the next batch of funding for while. But focusing on impact looks long term.
Start with them. With what they are already doing. What’s good enough for now, for this context? What needs to be tweaked? And how do we contextualise the ‘tweaking’ for the type and size of organisation we are partnering with? Adding bureaucracy should result in better and greater impact. And impact is almost never measured in dollars and cents.
The choice is up to us.