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SHIFTING THE POWER – building capacity of local organizations to lead humanitarian response.

The growing frequency, unpredictability and complexity of emergencies mean that more and more people are being affected by crises, and the current international system is being stretched to its limit.  Research has found that partnerships with national and local organisations help to enhance the relevance, appropriateness, and accountability of humanitarian responses and ensure smoother transitions and better connectedness (Missed Opportunities: 2013) . However, for local actors to be able to deliver more effectively, take decisions and  provide strong  leadership,  much greater investment is required to create  and reinforce permanent local capacity to prepare for and, crucially, to respond to emergencies. 

We  need change that seeks to shift power away from the current humanitarian architecture which is heavily led by the northern humanitarian actors  which is not appropriately, adequately and efficiently meeting the needs of people affected by disasters and conflict, and towards women, women’s organisations, local and national organizations, and national governments. This doesn’t mean that actors from the global North are irrelevant; they still play a critical role. 

According to the recently released Global Humanitarian Assistance Report, less than 0.2% of all international humanitarian funding was reported as channelled directly to local organisations in 2014 , despite them often being better placed to deliver humanitarian assistance. Local organizations are in the frontline, led by local communities, respond first and understand the needs of affected populations. Further, the State of the Humanitarian System Report 2015, showed that on listening and responding to the needs of affected people, only 33% of aid recipients had been consulted on their needs and of those 33%, only 20% said the agency had acted on the feedback they had given to make improvements.  


ActionAid is working with consortium members of Oxfam, Christian Aid, Tearfund and  CAFOD and with eleven local and national organizations in six counties of West Pokot, Isiolo, Maralal, Marsabit, Wajir and Turkana in advocating on priority for; 


I. The recognition of the centrality of women in emergencies, valuing the vital leadership role that women play as responders in humanitarian crises, as beneficiaries, leaders and implementers.

II. Promotion of key humanitarian signatures of women leadership, accountability to disaster affected communities and building local partnerships in emergencies.

III. To strengthen the ability of national and local organisations to prepare for and respond to disasters and to be involved in disaster management decision-making. A strong focus on capacity building will empower organisations often closest to the affected communities or representatives of the communities themselves.  

IV. Support national and local organisations in their access to resources and their engagement with relevant networks and disaster management platforms; supporting their leadership and governance role as well as building stronger peer-support relationships at sub-regional and national level.

V. Generation of evidence and knowledge base on locally appropriate capacity building approaches and partnership practice, documenting this learning in order to increase understanding at the international level of the credibility of local organisations and to share the best ways for local and international actors to work together. 

The organizational capacity assessments have already been carried out at the county levels including with local organizations and individual capacity development plans already developed. Organizations capacity development is based on the Strategic Humanitarian Assessment and Participatory Empowerment (SHAPE ) framework which looks at key areas of leadership and governance covering; organizational foundations, humanitarian capacities, power, influence; advocacy, resource mobilization and preparedness and response.

Editors' notes

[1]Missed Opportunities: the case for strengthening national and local partnership-based responses’ (2013)

[2] Global Humanitarian Assistance Report 2015, page 74.

[3] State of the Humanitarian System Report 2015,page 98