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Local action, local power: How it’s working in Myanmar

20th August 2019

For many years it has been clear that driving localisation is the way forward to transform humanitarian response and meet the needs of those most affected by crises. The Grand Bargain, developed at the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit, cemented commitments by getting global buy in to put meaningful localisation at the top of the agenda. Key elements included the allocation of 25% of global humanitarian funding to local humanitarian responders by the end of 2020, the removal of barriers to meaningful partnerships, and the increase in multi-year humanitarian funding. Since then, the international development community has been encouraged to work together with local actors, supporting their role as decision-makers and implementers of solutions impacting their country.

With 3 years passed, are we closer to meeting these goals? Disaster Risk Management Officer, Nao Tokavou, of The Pacific Community has reported that localisation is currently being embraced in at least 15 countries across the Pacific.[1] So, what does this look like on the ground? The Humanitarian Assistance and Resilience Programme Facility (HARP-F) is an ambitious, DFID-funded, Crown Agents-delivered, project based in Myanmar. Designed to provide both emergency relief AND build the strength and resilience of local communities, it offers insight into how effective local action can be in relief operations, as well as the challenges the sector faces in meeting the localisation agenda.

Myanmar exists in a state of protracted crisis, with long-term conflict and climate change effecting multiple regions of the country. HARP-F aims to meet the needs of newly displaced peoples and those in remote areas. Simultaneously, it seeks to address the long-term drivers of these needs, to reduce the vulnerability of affected populations and increase their ability to withstand emergencies, at a community level. This work is done by partnering with a network of national actors who not only have in-depth knowledge of local communities and relationships with authorities, but are ideally placed to assist in the hard-to-reach areas of the country.

‘Partnering for Resilience’ is run as part of HARP-F’s drive for collaboration. Overcoming preconceptions that development and humanitarian work should be separated, this programme works across the development-humanitarian peace nexus to tap into the under-used capacity of development actors in the area, for humanitarian response. The programme works with the DFID supported, Access to Health and LIFT fund’s local grant partners – many of whom are civil society organisations – to participate in resilience training. This helps them better prepare themselves to respond to emergency situations, and enables for faster, more locally driven responses.

With the Grand Bargain 2020 commitments in mind, already 21% of HARP-F funds are allocated to small local organisations who would not traditionally be able to access direct donor funding. Rather, they would have to receive funds through an intermediary, such as a larger international organisation, or the UN. Predictable, multi-year financing also goes to 86% of HARP-F’s grant partners, affording them the time and space necessary to trial different ways of working, to best provide solutions to the complex situation in Myanmar.

The humanitarian sector has been criticised in the past for holding local organisations as passive recipients of the programme implementers or their support. The HARP-F programme challenges this view by ensuring that these organisations are capable of driving projects. This is done by strengthening local expertise through a series of capacity enhancement assessments and tailored capacity building plans. The framework for the approach offers the organisations a chance to reflect on their status against recognised best practice, identify elements that needs enhancing and define their own organisational development strategies.

This support can be uniquely tailored to the needs of local communities. In the state of Rakhine, 9 organisations have undertaken training on disaster risk reduction and conflict sensitivity, and 6 partners have worked alongside HARP-F to develop finance, procurement, safe-guarding and anti-fraud action plans. In Kachin state, HARP-F seconded a Protection Advisor to work with two organisations, Pyoe and Grip Hands, to enhance their child protection knowledge. By working side by side to deliver humanitarian protection services in 46 conflict-affected villages and IDP camps, they have reached a total 30,826 people.

Another obstacle to delivering on the commitments of the Grand Bargain is data collection and assessment. According to Stephen McDonald, Director at the Centre for Humanitarian Leadership, “One of the [localisation] challenges is that responders often present data they have collected to international or UN agencies in the time of a crisis but are not believed that it is true or accurate. There is a preconceived notion that anything local is not as good as international.”[2] The HARP-F programme counters this by relying heavily on local data, particularly in hard to reach areas, where international humanitarian access is limited. For example, the team are piloting the Community-Based Analytical Model in Rakhine, which is designed to consolidate local data and use affected population interviews as a source to enhance Rakhine-focused responses. Additionally, HARP-F is building a Humanitarian Training Unit, which will educate and train current and future generations of Myanmar humanitarian professionals using country-specific educational materials, based on local evidence and data.

To date, by ‘partnering for resilience,’ the Facility has been able to meet the humanitarian needs of 366,000 people in communities affected by conflict and displacement. Looking forward, the programme is set to expand, with increases in funds allocated to local organisations and over 500 civil society agency staff to be trained in emergency preparedness and response, by early 2020. HARP-F is demonstrating, what strong evidence suggests, that the humanitarian ecosystem can be strengthened and response methods made more effective, through the paralleled investment of local and international capacities.


Learn more about the HARP-F programme and for more information about our work in Myanmar contact Crown Agents HARP-F Fund Director, Sonia Zambakides at

[1] [2] Lisa Cornish, 2019, ‘Putting localisation at the centre of the humanitarian future’