This blog summarises findings, insights, and recommendations discussed in the webinar Embedding localisation in the COVID-19 response which was held on 22 September 2020, organised by the FCDO- and GDC-funded SPACE initiative (Social Protection Approaches to COVID-19 - Expert Advice).

Why localisation?

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need to empower local actors more than ever – not just in relation to immediate cash response, but also through embedding their role in longer term social protection systems building. This webinar aimed to unpack key elements necessary for successful localisation of crisis response and recovery and why this is pertinent in the context of the current pandemic.

Speakers on the panel included Courtenay Cabot Venton (Deputy Team Lead, SPACE), Shiro Wachira (Senior Manager, GiveDirectly), Maureen Andinda (Strategy and Business Development Manager, Reach a Hand Uganda), and Joe Powell (Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Open Government Partnership). Kristin Smart (Oxfam) moderated the session and Michael Mosselmans (Head of Humanitarian Division, Christian Aid) joined as discussant – providing reflections on the presentations.

You can access the webinar presentation slides here, and view the recording here.


Overview of the SPACE Guidance Note on Localisation

The panel discussions kicked off with Courtenay Cabot Venton, Deputy Team Lead on the FCDO and GIZ Funded SPACE initiative. She introduced the work of SPACE in supporting the social protection and humanitarian response to COVID-19, with a specific focus on the SPACE Guidance Note on Embedding Localisation in the COVID-19 cash response. Courtenay highlighted the necessity of engaging local actors when designing the rapid horizontal expansion of the beneficiary base for humanitarian and social transfers as a result of the pandemic. She pointed to the need to engage local actors throughout the phases of the crisis and across policy, programme design and operations for cash transfers, cash+, and early recovery. The presentation highlighted some practical actions identified from a policy and delivery perspective to facilitate successful localisation. Key recommendations included:

  • Devolving decision-making closest to the served communities by working with and alongside local organisations and networks.
  • Engaging local networks for all communications, including COVID-19 health messaging and specific to cash+ responses to ensure community awareness of intervention purpose and intention.
  • Retaining local actors for a range of processes around targeting, drawing on unique on-the-ground understanding of who are the most vulnerable to ensure broad coverage.
  • Operating within the guidance offered by the Core Humanitarian Standards to fight COVID-19


Uganda COVID-19 cash response – a case study of localisation in action

Building on some of the recommendations embedded in the Guidance Note, the floor opened up to Shiro Wachira (GiveDirectly) and Maureen Andinda (Reach a Hand Uganda) to reflect on their practical experience in localising a cash transfer programme in Uganda.


GiveDirectly – one of the worlds’ largest non-profit organisations providing cash transfers globally – has been active in Uganda since 2013. In her presentation, Shiro discussed how GiveDirectly adapted their programming in the face of the pandemic with an increasing focus on localisation to ensure rising needs were met. In short, GiveDirectly rapidly scaled cash targeting by utilising a strategic partnering approach of working with mobile network operators to ensure broad national coverage in combination with working with community-based organisations (CBOs) as a way to minimise risks of exclusion of vulnerable groups, drawing on local understanding of context and needs. Reflecting on lessons learned in partnering with community actors, emphasis was placed on the importance of building the capacity of local organisations. Some key considerations presented included understanding:

  • Which types of partners to engage and how to build capacity, drawing on relevant strengths and addressing potential weaknesses of smaller partners.
  • The operational challenges and risks faced by local actors to ensure smaller partners are shielded from potential shocks that come with implementing large programmes.
  • The role of local partners throughout the programme cycle by identifying entry points form involvement across programme design and delivery.
  • How to share risk with local partners and flow down funding and share burden of labour as CBOs bear a lot of the frontline operational and reputational risks.

Maureen Andinda discussed the experience of Reach a Hand Uganda (RAHU) – a youth-focused NGO based in Uganda that works with local communities – in partnering with GiveDirectly on localising the cash transfer programme. As a local partner, RAHU were involved in a programme co-design, identification of target beneficiaries, outreach and communications with beneficiaries and local leaders – harnessing their strengths as local organisation with close relationships with communities. As a local organisation, RAHU were able to inform targeting and ensure inclusion of vulnerable groups and build on already established community processes for swift programme roll-out.

Clear community communication was identified as a key priority to successful localisation of cash programming. This includes ensuring that relevant local communities and leaders understand the purpose and intention of the programme and sensitising local communities to avoid misinterpretation, mistrust, and damage to organisational reputation of those at the frontline. The Ugandan lockdown and resulting delays and consequent beneficiary scepticism threw in stark relief the need for clear communication to avoid misinterpretation of programme efforts. The reflections reiterated the importance of building capacity in local actors as a key tenet of successful localisation, investing in their safety and risk management to ensure positive community rapport, the continuity of cash transfer programmes, and positive reputation of local CBOs.


Embedding localisation in government systems

Open Government Partnership (OPG) is an organisation of reformers inside and outside of government that works to transform how government serves its citizens, with a heavy focus on building local ownership of government-led interventions, including cash transfer and safety net programmes. Joe Powell from OGP discussed how open government approaches that emphasise the values of transparency, accountability, public participation, and inclusion can support effective pandemic management. Presenting some practical examples and key lessons learned from OPG’s work, Joe reflected on how an integrated strategy incorporating and integrating local actors and civil society with reformers in governments, accountability institutions, and international partners – working together in a spirit of co-creation and co-design – is the most effective and sustainable model for improving the governance of safety net and cash transfer programmes and building local ownership.

Closing the discussions, Courtenay Cabot Venton (SPACE) highlighted some of the key messages of the panellist discussions, including:

  • Building capacity of local actors, investing in their safety and risk management is absolutely critical.
  • Bringing together local actors allows for programmes to operate at scale, as evidenced by the project in Uganda, challenging the myth that localisation cannot work at scale.
  • There is a need for timeliness, quality and responsiveness of cash delivery of transfers – a key lesson learned from CBOs who have successfully implemented cash transfers from the get-go while international community lagged behind in early stages of the pandemic.
  • The need for a systemic approach to integrating local actors in Social Protection and Humanitarian Response to ensure shock responsiveness and address arising needs. Formalising the relationships between local actors and civil society in an active forum with government reformers helps to embed localisation into social protection systems building.

The webinar finished with an engaging Q&A


This is was the thirty-second webinar of the “Social protection responses to COVID-19” webinar series. The series is a joint effort initiated by the IPC-IGGIZ on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), and the Australia Government's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) collaboration with the platform, and in cooperation with partners from different organisations.

Join the online community ''Social protection responses to COVID-19 [Task force]'' if you want to learn more about the initiative, and make sure to attend the Global e-Conference “Turning the COVID-19 crisis into an opportunity: what’s next for social protection?“ on 5, 6 and 8 October, marking the closing of the webinar series and offering the opportunity to discuss the future of social protection in the post-pandemic scenario.


Social Protection Programmes: 
  • Social assistance
    • Social transfers
      • Cash transfers
        • Unconditional cash transfers
Social Protection Topics: 
  • Governance
  • Global
  • Global
The views presented here are the author's and not's