CDP’s evolving localization journey

Alex Gray and Taylor Dudley with the Local Response Pooled Fund steering committee in South Sudan. (Photo courtesy of Taylor Dudley)

Many donors want to fund organizations as close to the communities they are trying to help as possible. Locally-led humanitarian response is widely regarded as more effective, more efficient and more likely to improve accountability to and the participation of those most affected by disasters and crises. The voices, knowledge and expertise of those most affected must be heard and respected in developing solutions.

While the aid sector has made broad commitments to localize aid and put agency into the hands of those closest to the issues, progress toward this goal has backtracked to a five-year low, with only 1.2 percent of international humanitarian assistance going directly to local and national actors (LNAs) in 2021. According to The State of Global Giving by U.S. Foundations, this figure is likely higher for philanthropy, with roughly 13 percent of U.S. foundations’ global grant dollars going to organizations based in the country where programs were implemented in the 2016-2019 period.

Smaller, more nimble community-based organizations are the ones that take risks and act as first responders when crisis strikes, and yet they are consistently sidelined when it comes to funding. This lack of funding points to a systemic issue within the humanitarian sector: an imbalance of power. How are we, as funders, localizing our disaster response and recovery funding strategies?

What is localization?

There is no single definition of “localization.” Under the Grand Bargain, the signatories have committed to “making principled humanitarian action as local as possible and as international as necessary,” while continuing to recognize the vital role of international actors in situations of armed conflict.

Localizing humanitarian response (or localization) is a process of recognizing, respecting and strengthening the leadership by local authorities and the capacity of local civil society in humanitarian action, to better address the needs of affected populations and to prepare national actors for future humanitarian responses.

At CDP, we strive to grant to locally-led entities as much as possible. For international grantmaking, we seek to ensure that at least 25% of our grants go directly to local and national stakeholders in the countries where projects are being implemented. When granting to our trusted international partners with deep roots in those countries, more consideration is given to those that empower local and national stakeholders.

CDP believes that aid should be as local as possible, but this can take various forms and offer different degrees of localization. Some examples of localized humanitarian and disaster assistance projects are those:

  1. Implemented by a local (often community-based) organization from the affected area within a specific region of a country.
  2. Implemented by a national nongovernmental organization (NGO) in the disaster-affected country.
  3. Implemented by a regional NGO with a presence in the disaster-affected country.
  4. Implemented by an independent member affiliate of an international NGO (INGO), with separate registration and governance body in the affected country (effectively operating as an independent national NGO).

What is CDP doing?

Since 2021, the international grantmaking team has been working, with the help of our teams across CDP, grantee partners and donors, to embed a commitment to the localization agenda in our work.

In 2022, in line with the Grand Bargain commitments, which have become the industry standard target, we began tracking our local funding in the hopes that we could work toward the 25% direct funding target to local and national actors (LNAs) over the years ahead. We had to start somewhere.

When we realized we were on track to reach 25 percent, we formally committed and started reporting our target on our website to hold ourselves accountable publicly.

We manually tracked this indicator data throughout the year. We were both pleasantly surprised and energized to see at the end of 2022 that we had exceeded this target, with more than 31% of our international funding going directly to LNAs.

Since we were also prioritizing INGOs who committed localization, we also tracked the funds going to LNAs through sub-grants via INGOs. With both measures in mind, more than 50% of our international funds went to LNAs through a combination of direct granting and sub-granting through an international intermediary.

We are already on track to far exceed last year’s numbers this year. We have integrated data collection of these metrics into our grant management system, Blackbaud, by adding a customized field for the international grantmaking team to capture the data as we make grants.

Aside from setting a target and tracking the data, we are also on a journey to adopt an equitable partner and participant mindset rather than “donor.” We are doing this by simplifying our internal grantmaking practices (e.g., due diligence, application, reporting processes, etc.) to reduce the burden on grantee partners, publishing information about our process for accountability to our grantee partners, elevating and amplifying local voices and stories through our impact stories and webinars, and being more intentional about facilitating introductions of LNAs to other funders. We are also investing in LNAs through capacity-strengthening and capacity-sharing program models and ensuring grantee partners get their fair share of operational costs, whether funding directly or through an INGO.

Moreover, we are making investments to pilot, seed and participate in more locally-led pooled funds and other modalities of local funding, including the Survivor and Community Led Response (sclr) approach and evidence generation.

What can funders do?

We invite you to join us and embark on your own localization journey – wherever you may be in the process.

  1. Prioritize programs that ensure communities are included and (co)lead program design, implementation and evaluation.
  2. Invest in the capacity of local intermediaries, locally-led pooled funds and networks, as they are more proximate to the communities being served.
  3. Reflect on your internal grantmaking practices and identify ways to reduce the burden of due diligence, applications and reporting, especially for LNAs.
  4. Start tracking direct funding to LNAs – systematically or even manually – and then set a goal.

If you are on your own localization journey, reach out so we can exchange ideas, challenges and experiences to learn and grow together. You can reach the international team Taylor Dudley at or Alex Gray at

Alex Gray

Alex Gray

Director, International Funds