Episode 11: Localising funding through circular accountability, flexibility and mutual trust. Steve Murigi interviewed.

About this episode:

In this week’s episode, we invite Steve Murigi back on to the podcast to have a more in-depth conversation about localising funding. Steve identifies localisation as the principal mechanism through which to shift power, and provides us with practical tools to ensure that localisation is effective. He states that localising priority setting and development strategy (what is done with development funding) is even more important than who holds the money.

Steve also warns that localisation risks becoming ‘a box to tick’ for Global North institutions rather than being defined and driven by Global South organisations. We discuss the challenges that come with such a transformative approach, which Steve categorises as structural, administrative and ideological challenges.

The conversation then shifts towards what localisation needs to look like in terms of accountability, flexibility, and agency for those working in the Global South. Steve’s perspective is wide-ranging and he calls upon not only development organisations in the Global North, but also on the mechanisms and organisations involved in funding, including government agencies. Our conversation is highly practical and hands-on, and it allows us to get closer to understanding localised funding as a mechanism to decolonise international development.

Episode 11: Full Transcript

The Power Shift: Decolonising Development

Episode 11

Localising funding through circular accountability, flexibility and mutual trust. Steve Murigi interviewed.

Kate: [00:00:00] Hello everyone. Welcome to the Power Shift: Decolonising Development, the podcast series that brings together thinkers, practitioners, and activists to share ideas, inspire change, and identify tools for practical action. I’m Professor Kate Bird, and today I’m having my second conversation with Steve Murigi, the CEO of Primary Care International. In today’s episode, we have a more detailed conversation about localising funding. We talk about how this is linked to shifting power, taking resources closer to people who understand the problems, and changing who makes the call on how resources are spent. We talk also about trust, capacity, and accountability. Please listen on for more. 

Steve, I just want to thank you for coming on for a second bite of the cherry and we are going to be talking in greater depth about localising funding because we touched on it in the last episode of the [00:01:00] podcast.

But I want to get into that deeper, and I know you’ve got some pretty well-evidenced and well thought-out opinions about localising funding. So first off, for our listeners and viewers, could you tell us why localising funding is important? 

Steve: Yeah. Thank you Kate for having me for a second time.

I mean, really, I think a majority of the listeners, at least to this podcast, will understand why this is important, right. So I think at the heart of it is really shifting power, right? And recognising that when you provide resources to in-country partners who are best able to respond to the need that is most proximal to them because they understand it, they have the relationship, they have the networks, they have their trust from the community, that that indeed is one way to shift power. So I think the reason it’s important is it’s the right thing to do because that’s the current conversation we’re having within the sector.

But I also think it [00:02:00] is the more effective and efficient way of doing development. It allows those with the most comprehensive set of information to have the backing and the support and the resources that are required for them to act. It also allows them to be responsive because for those of us that have been in development for a while now, recognise there’s nothing linear about development.

You know, things change. Priorities change, leaders in government that you’ve engaged for a long time change. And you need to be able to respond and adapt to those changes. For you to be effective, you need to be able to respond to the emerging needs that communities will present to you whether due to the politics of the day, the climate changes that are happening at the moment.

So that’s what localisation, that’s why for me localisation is important. It also just allows for that mutual, respectful, dignifying partnership and relationship to exist between the person who’s [00:03:00] delivering and the institution that’s delivering the work and the institution that’s funding that work.

Kate: Thanks for introducing us to the primary reasons that localisation is important. Now, a question that I think everyone is going to be asking is who is driving this agenda? 

Steve: Yeah. I think that’s a great question because I think perhaps that’s one of the areas where we are missing the trick because it does feel that the localisation conversation is happening, at least in the last few years, that’s is really being driven by the Global North. And I think there’s issues there because then there’s a risk that it becomes one of those things that’s fashionable and it feels that, you know, the Global North now feels that there is a different model to employ to ensure that they’re effective.

But without asking the most pertinent question, which is to the so-called localised in-country proximal institutions. What does localisation mean for you? And then the risk [00:04:00] there outside of not including these significant voices is just, then you end up with more or less the same where you’ve localised by name only.

So you’ve localised by providing funding, for instance, but you haven’t localised the administrative procedures that allow that to happen. So you invite local organisations, as an example, you invite local organisations to participate in a bidding process. But without really reflecting on what that process looks like for our partners in-country, you know, are they able to competitively bid for those resources?

Do they have the machinery behind it that our other organisations that are based in the Global North employ? So it is those questions. And of course there’s the ideological components as well, right? Where yes, you say we want to provide you with funding, but these are the parameters in which we want you to exercise [00:05:00] those funds, utilise them, this is the project we want you to run in this particular area.

This is how we expect you to report on success, this is the frequency of the reporting, et cetera, et cetera. So you’ve localised broadly by saying we are making these resources available, but you haven’t really addressed the multiple challenges that make it difficult for our in-country partners to do a good job.

And really there’s almost an expectation that they will still mirror what you consider social norms and effective and efficient ways of working. So a very long answer to your short question, I don’t want to assume that the conversation isn’t happening in-country because it is, but in terms of just platforms and how policy around this is being driven, I think it’s still very Global North-centric in my view.

Kate: Okay, in that case, is the localisation agenda, if it’s [00:06:00] being driven by the North, is that a form of shape shifting where development organisations headquartered in the North realise that they have to change something and localising funding is done in such a way as to look as though substantial changes are being made, but actually it’s quite self-protective, it’s protective of the expertise and position power of the development professionals who are headquartered in the North.

Steve: Well, I mean, I look at it two ways. So the first one is, I think it’s a lack of insight. If I remain the ever optimist, I would imagine that is, we want to do the right thing, but we don’t have all of the information to really allow us to make the right call on it. So that would be my initial reflection on it.

And then the second one is just the difficulties of transitioning from a previous model to what [00:07:00] is currently being proposed. So, for instance, if you think about government funding, right? So government funding coming directly from taxes, et cetera, et cetera, right? There will be a whole mechanism around how that funding is deployed and how government accounts for that.

And there will be questions there. So even with the best intentions, there is a process that needs to happen, whether that’s engaging the government and different stakeholders at government level to the wider public that really drives that understanding and an embrace of what the localisation looks like.

Again, really informed by also what the in-country partners are saying they need for them to be able to do their job effectively and efficiently. So I think it’s trying to respond to an ongoing shift that’s happening more widely, but perhaps without asking all the relevant questions or without, or perhaps [00:08:00] without being influenced by all the responses to those questions.

Because it is complicated in many ways, but we’re pleased that the conversation is happening, and this is why we keep agitating and saying do ensure that whatever policies you’re developing, whether it’s the structural component, whether it’s the administrative component or whether there’s the ideological component that just runs through, or the last two, you are engaging the right stakeholders. Because that’s what localisation is. You’re being driven by those in context. So it’s not just about responding in the moment and tagging your response as localisation. 

Kate: Okay. So that’s a very optimistic interpretation of what’s going on at the moment. And what you’re seeing is that it’s kind of, it’s the first step.

Steve: Yeah. 

Kate: There’s a lot more that needs to be done and that requires a bit more listening perhaps from professionals in the Global North, but progress is taking place. We just need to take [00:09:00] it further and I wonder in that case, if you can tell us a little bit more about how the, how about localisation?

So how would an organisation that’s headquartered in the Global North but has branches in the Global South localise its funding? And how would that differ to organisations headquartered in the Global North who are funding other organisations, either through partnerships or through contracts? 

Steve: Yeah, so I think with the first one, and this is probably speaking to some models that I’ve seen succeed, is a) allowing your affiliates, if you’re an institution that’s based in the Global North with affiliates in the Global South, allowing your partners and your affiliate offices to go for the funding directly to bid for those resources, supporting that process, truly supporting that process. So it’s almost a sense where you’re taking a step back and looking at the [00:10:00] technical experts and the people delivering the work and saying, what is it that you need for you to be successful in this bidding process so that the resources are coming directly to you?

What that means in terms of that relationship is once the building is successful, you can have your affiliate office in Kenya, for instance, saying, for your support in this process, this is the admin fee to allow you to continue to be a viable part of the organisation and to allow you to support us in the same way for other bids, etcetera.

So it’s really allowing, it’s becoming a bridge to those affiliate offices, but not being in the way. Because that also allows for the capacity to be built, if you like, right? Because you’re allowing those affiliate offices direct access to your in-country donors.

So that would be the first one. I think the second one is slightly more tricky because perhaps there isn’t a framework or an agreement that binds the institutions together. So if you have a delivery [00:11:00] partner that you’re not contractually bound to, it becomes difficult. But I think in the spirit of trying to ensure that this is successful, it’s also connecting some of those partners with funding that perhaps, you know, you feel that they are probably better placed to succeed in both bringing in, but also in delivering the programme and supporting that process as well. But that one is a lot trickier in the practical sense, that’s a lot more difficult. I think what you see is a lot of organisations that have their head office, for instance, in the UK or in the Global North, but have affiliate offices, what they call implementing offices, previously known as field offices, and delivery partners. And I think the best way to go about that arrangement is to try and support those offices to access the funding directly. And I think this is also what you’re seeing donors asking for. So a lot of donors at the moment, and whether that’s private donors or government, they’re [00:12:00] encouraging for, um, encouraging those in-country institutions to make the applications.

But of course, as we said previously, there is an administrative challenge there, but this is where a Global North entity can have the most impact because they understand that process, they understand that administrative process, and they can help their affiliate institutions to succeed.

Kate: I wonder if you could tell us some of the challenges that you’ve observed around the process of localisation of funding? 

Steve: Some of the challenges? Right. So, I think it is just the ones we were touching on, right? 

So I think the first one is a more structural systemic challenge, it’s where you’re seeing a move by some of the institutions and donors, the move from aid to trade, for instance, it’s the politics of the day impacting where the resources are going. So I think that will have a direct implication on the [00:13:00] localisation agenda because at that point really, the government is thinking that there needs to be that mutual benefit.

You know what’s in it for us to support a particular intervention program or country. So I think that will have a direct implication on the localisation agenda. Some could argue that it makes it easier because then you have institutions that are engaging directly with in-country governments instead of asking what the needs are and where the priorities lie. Although I think that is for us in the third sector, that’s problematic on multiple levels. 

The second one is, as we’ve touched on, administrative, is saying that we’ve localised, that we really haven’t evaluated and examined the process in which these resources that we are referring to are accessible to our in-country partners. So I think that’s a significant challenge. A lot of the bidding process is extremely challenging, extremely complicated, extremely archaic, for a lack of a better term. And that makes it incredibly difficult for smaller organisations or organisations that just [00:14:00] don’t have a lot of resources to compete in that process.

And if you consider how much investment goes into business development for a lot of the organisations, if they’re involved in this process and are then not successful, it’s just very difficult for them to make up the difference. It means there’s a lot of cost going into pursuing new business.

But if that’s not successful, then you are worse off. So a lot of organisations have to be extremely cautious in what they choose to go for. And it’s not because the need isn’t there, it’s not because they don’t have the capacity to respond to the need. It’s just purely from an administrative standpoint. 

The third one is ideological. It’s still this sense of “can we trust you with the resources? Can we trust that you will make the right call? Can we trust that you will be accountable?” And I think that’s problematic.

And attached to that is this idea of, “we [00:15:00] say we’ve localised”, but really expecting those local institutions to mirror our own understanding, our own way of working, our own conventions, our own social norms, right? So we are already going into the conversation saying we’re including all the stakeholders, but around that table, we’re setting the parameters of what the conversation will look like, but also the standard. So we’re measuring them on the basis of how closely they can come towards what you consider a standard or best practice. 

Kate: That’s really helpful. And in terms of good localisation, effective localisation, could you describe how you think that would look in terms of who holds the funds, how the money is routed, who decides how the money is spent, who contracts who, so who’s the lead organisation and how accountability is [00:16:00] ensured? Because for me, these are all wrapped up in the money issue. 

Steve: Yeah. Yeah, no, absolutely all wrapped up, as you’ve rightly said, money and power are wrapped into one, right? So whoever holds the resources, whoever’s holding the overall contract with the donor ends up having more power because they feel more accountable to the donor. So that in itself is one of the things that need addressing. But I think the most, the biggest thing that’s happening within development at the moment is the availability of flexible or unrestricted resources to organisations, I think towards localisation and a big shout out to Mackenzie Scott, right? For making sure that those resources that she’s providing as a private donor are being provided as unrestricted funding. Primarily that is the biggest difference you can make to this conversation. Because what you’re saying to [00:17:00] organisations is we trust you know what the problem is, we trust you know how best to respond to that, we trust that you will use the money effectively and efficiently. And we trust in any sort of reporting you provide to us or however you choose to be accountable to that funding, we trust that. So that’s, there’s an ideological setup there, right? 

The second component is ensuring as we said that you’re reducing the admin challenges and you’re simplifying the process so that everybody, not just the big organisations with lots of machinery can participate in that, but that all the organisations that are doing good work can participate in that. So I think that’s the biggest difference you can make. Now in terms of how money flows, I think that’s really dependent on the type of grant for many reasons, right?

So as we touched on, some governments may feel that, for them to be able to account for how they’re spending foreign aid, they may need a [00:18:00] Global North institution for whatever reason, but I think it’s less a case of how the money flows, I think that’s less important in comparison to who makes the call on how the money’s spent.

I think really that’s at the heart of it, is having those proximal to the challenges and those partners in-country identifying not only where the need is, but how the money is spent, and being open to resourcing that and responding to that request in the way that it’s been made.

How the money flows, which affiliate holds the money, I think that is less significant if that is addressed. 

Kate: Okay, thank you. And we’ve covered quite a lot of ground in terms of the implications of localisation, but I wonder if you could just give me a [00:19:00] picture of how this impacts on organisations in the Global South and in terms of how they actually go about their work and how that differs to if they are contracted by an organisation in the Global North who sets the agenda. So what practical change does localisation make? 

Steve: Yes, I think perhaps we’ve touched on this but I’ll try and cover it. It is extremely difficult to align the expectations of the Global North institution with that of the Global South because primarily they’re bound by this contract that’s held by one entity, right? So you have an office in the UK as an example that holds the contract with a donor, but you’re not on the ground.

So at that point, if you’re signing up to that contract, you are already sort of establishing the framework in which the programme [00:20:00] will run. You’re already agreeing to what the milestones will look like, when the reporting will happen, how much will be spent on staff, how much will be spent on personnel, how much will be spent on fueling the cars to go to meetings, et cetera, et cetera.

So at that point, you’re already negotiating your contract and what tends to happen is that happens outside of the conversations happening with in-country partners. And what I mean by that is ultimately the in-country partner will say, this is what we need. But then you’re negotiating and say, well, that will never be acceptable to the donor, we can only give you up until this much percentage for your overhead. There’s so many conversations where, it’s being really led by the person who’s not closest to the problem. That becomes the issue, right? And then you’re bound by that. So if something happens on the ground and your in-country partners are having to respond, they don’t respond until they have a conversation with Kate, right?

So Kate, we can no longer go to the field because[00:21:00] such and such has happened. Then that’s information that you then receive and then you have to have that conversation with your donor and negotiate on behalf of this person who’s closest to the problem. Right? So what localisation does is the team in-country is able to respond, they’re leading the process. It doesn’t mean that they’re not informing you or being accountable, it just means that they have the agency and the resources to make those decisions more proactively and more urgently. And I think Covid was a really good indicator of that, where for those organisations that had those unrestricted pots of money, or they had that flexibility because they had stronger relationships with the donors, it just allowed them to be extremely responsive to the crisis.

Kate: Yeah. Listening to you, I can immediately see a couple of issues that kind of come up in my mind, and one is about transparency. And one is about [00:22:00] uh, capacity. So you’ve already talked about capacity, the capacity of some Southern organisations to bid for money, and they may choose not to bid for particular money because the costs of bidding is very high.

And if they don’t get that particular pot of funds, that will affect their capacity to bid for subsequent pieces of work. So I mean, capacity can be about money in the bank to fund unsuccessful bids, it can also be around human resources, it can be around administrative and financial management structures.

So one of the issues around localisation, I think is around the capacity issue. And another one is around transparency and how routing money through organisations in the Global North, may be around anxiety, [00:23:00] trust, you’ve talked about trust quite a lot, and it can also be around information asymmetries.

So it can be that the donor organisation actually knows very little about the implementing organisation in the Global South. And so they need an intermediary or they feel they need an intermediary organisation that kind of absorbs the risk, if you like. There’s transparency issues, I think in other respects.

And that is, for example, to do with the costs of Northern organisations. So, my experience as a research manager is that I know quite intimately the costs faced by the Southern organisation because I look over their budgets. They don’t know our costs. So there’s a lack of transparency there. And if we were to flip those relationships and the funding was going to be routed through the Southern organisation and the Southern organisation would choose to hire me in or not, I would need to [00:24:00] make my costs and the costs of my organisation transparent to them. Which would be quite uncomfortable because quite often the cost of Northern organisations are quite high. So there’s a whole raft of issues around transparency and information asymmetries, and then there’s another set of issues around capacity.

And we often talk about capacity as though the capacity is lacking in the South. But what’s interesting to me is why then are we working? Why then are Northern organisations working with Southern organisations? Well, it’s actually because they have a whole load of capacity that we as Northern organisations don’t have.

So I think we need to have actually a clear and honest conversation about what we’re all bringing to the party. Because we all are bringing something to the party, but what is it? Let’s actually be clear and transparent about what we’re bringing to the party, and then we can have a conversation about how we construct our teams and how we construct the best and most effective team that we [00:25:00] possibly can to deliver the work that we’re wanting to do.

I wonder if you can just respond to those themes that I’ve raised 

Steve: there. 

No, absolutely. I mean, absolutely agree. I think, you know, without repeating the points you’ve made, the capacity question is you’re absolutely spot on. So some of it is capacity to respond to the bids in terms of just administrative work.

Some of it is you just cannot afford to fail, right? And for that reason, you’re just not in a position to engage in the process. And I think that’s a significant issue. But as we talk capacity, you’re absolutely spot on.

Capacity isn’t a one way, it’s not a one way street, right? And I think this is what a lot of organisations that are either headquartered in the North with affiliates in the South, or vice versa, have to renegotiate what they’re positioning because the resources are in the North, that process in terms of bidding and frameworks and designing the programme has to be led by our counterpart in the North.

But that can change, right? So much as [00:26:00] our Northern counterparts are bringing in capacity around perhaps understanding the donor, understanding the environment in which that donor is working, because they are proximal, they’re most proximal to that, so it makes sense for them to introduce that component and perhaps they have a lot more resources, particularly subsidised through their unrestricted donations to be able to afford failing just that bit more in comparison to the Global South colleagues. The Global South colleagues also do have a role to play in building the capacity of our Northern counterparts in understanding the context, in understanding the needs, in understanding the politics of the day, in understanding the culture, in understanding the relationships, in understanding the ways of working, in understanding what success actually looks like for that community.

Because sometimes it could be different from what you typically might imagine success looks like. It may be different to things that you can measure and count and you have to be open to that, [00:27:00] right? And that has always been left out.

So for instance, what we do at Primary Care International, when we talk about learning, and this is an example, is this idea around multi-directional learning. Because as you’re providing learning, you too are gathering insight that will inform how you think about the next problem and how you address the next problem.

And it’s what localisation is about. We’re talking about funding, but it’s very similar. But as you say, there is elements, there is limitations for donors just in the form of contracting, right? So, which law applies when you contract with a Southern entity?

So sometimes there’ll be challenges there. If it’s a private company, it could be a question around getting their shareholders to be open or their contracting departments who want to hold a contract directly with a country where perhaps they don’t have any footprint, right? So they may feel a bit more comfortable contracting with somebody they can hold directly accountable, they can have an auditor go to their office, et cetera, et cetera. So those things are also true, but outside [00:28:00] of that, it is ideological, it is, “can I trust you with these resources and can I trust that they will be used efficiently and can I trust that I can hold you accountable?”

And as you say, the accountability also needs to be circular, right? Because much as we are holding our colleagues in-country accountable, they should be holding us accountable as well. In terms of the expectations and the process and what is funded and how those decisions have been arrived at, et cetera.

Kate: A couple of challenges that I see with the localisation agenda, well, there are two big ones that come to mind. One is, how does localisation work or how can it work effectively if you are working in cross-country work? So rather than working with one organisation in one country, you are working across a number of countries.

Can it work or is that an example where having a single organisation that the money is routed through coordinating [00:29:00] a project or a programme where that actually makes sense. And it doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be an organisation that’s headquartered in the Global North, it could be headquartered in the Global South, and then you have South-South collaboration. So that’s one question. And the next question I think is the real clincher. How do we persuade the donors to go for localisation in a practical sense? Because if the major donors don’t accept the process of localisation, it’s not going to happen.

And some of that, as you mentioned, is to do with contracting and anxiety about audit trails and so on, and the practical thing about auditing organisations. But I think there’s something in there as well about information asymmetry and risk, a perception of risk.

Steve: Yeah, yeah. No, spot on. So to your first question, you’re absolutely right. Localisation doesn’t mean that you can’t have [00:30:00] central coordination, right? Localisation doesn’t mean that you can’t have one part of the institution managing a wider partnership. So as the example you’ve provided is those cross-country programmes and regional programmes.

And perhaps in those regional programmes you’re engaging multiple organisations, right? It could be that it’s not affiliate offices, it could be that it’s one organisation here, a different organisation in the other country. I think it doesn’t take away from localisation to have one agency or one entity, or one part of the organisation coordinating the process and that coordinator can be based in the Global North. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as that coordination still respects the context in which the programmes have to be delivered. As long as that coordinator coordinating office is really being guided by what’s actually happening in that country. And it’s being guided by how things are managed, how programmes are managed within that particular country. And [00:31:00] it may be very similar, but it may also be very different. So as long as the principle is maintained, the principle of being led by those who understand the issue, and resourcing that appropriately.

As long as that is maintained, I think it doesn’t take away from localisation. And again, it goes back to your earlier point around transparency where we expect a lot of transparency from our delivery partners without providing them with a lot of transparency on how the institutions in the North are using resources.

So we expect them to tell us exactly how much they spend on absolutely everything. But we are more reluctant in providing the same, and this is what I meant by circular accountability. So whether you have a partner, one in Rwanda, then the other in Senegal, and you’ve had conversations and they’re leading the process, but you’re asking them to account for the resources that they have, that’s absolutely fine. I think that is what everybody expects. But also we expect you as a coordinator to be [00:32:00] transparent on the resources that you hold and how you’re spending that. And I think that then creates that mutual respect and openness within that dynamic.

And that’s what localisation is about. I think to your second point around just engaging with different stakeholders at different levels, you know? Um, sorry. Remind me, I think I’ve already covered that one. What was your second point? 

Kate: The second point was around donors, and I’m thinking particularly here of bilateral and multilateral donors. The big fish in the pond. And I don’t see localisation being a really serious force until the major donors in development buy into localisation. What are the issues here? And what’s the process? 

Steve: Yeah. I agree with you. I think they will probably play the biggest role because historically they’ve been the biggest custodians of the resources, right?

So they have a lot of influence. But I do think it’s changing. So for instance, [00:33:00] if you look at the US government at the moment, there is that commitment to avail resources to in-country partners more directly. I think there’s a commitment there. And it would be good to see that mirrored by other big agencies and institutions and governments that provide funding.

So that’s a really, really good start. Right? But again, it goes back to that question around, it’s one thing to commit to that. It’s one thing to say that’s what we want to do. 50, 60, 70% of all our foreign aid will go directly to institutions that are based in the Global South.

Great. But how are you making those resources accessible to those in-country partners that you want to support? That’s a significant part of the problem, right? And I think perhaps those big donors that you’re referring to just haven’t worked out, haven’t arrived at being able to do that.

And again, a lot of it will be perception of risk, as you say, [00:34:00] some of it will be ideological so much as they want to do the right thing, they still want to retain some level of control. But yeah, I agree with you. I think that’s going to be a significant challenge in the long term.

But the answer is the openness to the trust question. Outside of the legal frameworks, why we’re touching on auditing, et cetera, money trail, outside of those, there’s still a significant trust question. There’s still just being able to say, here are the resources.

I can trust that you will do the right thing by these resources, I can trust that you will do the work and you’ll be accountable for it. I think that is the bigger question. If that existed, there would be less hurdles to jump for these bidding processes. There would be less rigid restrictions around how money is spent and where it’s allocated, et cetera.

It would just allow everybody to breathe, and I suspect it would also allow our Global North counterparts [00:35:00] to relinquish some level of control as well, because part of the reason that it’s difficult for them is because they have to meet all these contractual obligations that they’ve signed up to. 

Kate: Yeah, I think it would be very liberating. And I think what we would probably see, as you’ve alluded to already in this conversation, is greater effectiveness. Because people and organisations would be bringing into the development process their best skills. They wouldn’t be hampered by administrative limitations and so on.

With the major international donors, it’s a bit like shifting a juggernaut. The juggernaut turns very, very slowly. And I think part of that is that they have a whole load of pro forma admin requirements that are required to set up a project, to fund a project, to close a project down, and all of that paperwork, all of those forms have to be changed. And for each one of those to be changed is a massive process. It’s not just one admin [00:36:00] officer sitting there and making a change. That has to be agreed across the house and they’ll have a big process in order to change a small section of a small document.

So I think some of these changes that are going to make big changes in the way that you and I conduct our professional work, it’s going to come down to form filling. It sounds really banal and silly, but I do think that getting the admin right is going to be quite at the heart of all of this.

Steve: Yeah, absolutely. 

Kate: And it sounds ridiculous, but I actually think it’s true. 

Steve: No. Absolutely, and I think I’ve probably mentioned this so many times in this particular podcast today, is a lot of it is admin. And I think this is what I suspect isn’t communicated as much when we have this conversation on localisation.

Right. I think a lot of the time we only cover the ideological component that, oh, it’s a trust question. And it’s the intersections around who has power and who doesn’t have power, whether we’re looking at it using decolonisation lens, et cetera.

But it’s [00:37:00] usually centered around the ideological component and we miss out the structural component and the administrative component .The structural one being that governments will have their own agenda, and that in itself is a very political conversation, right, that limits how localisation will happen. And we see it often if you look at the US between when you have a Democrat and a Republican government, you know what gets supported is slightly different. So that will shift how localisation happens at any given time. I think the UK is a fantastic case study.

 Just looking at the transition from DFID to FCDO and bringing aid and trade, merging those two worlds together, that will have its own implications. Perhaps that’s not discussed as much when we’re talking about localisation. It’s almost seen as separate to the conversation.

Then the second element is administrative, right. It’s just being able to work out how difficult will it be to change all [00:38:00] those application forms, to change all those reporting frameworks that we’ve used for decades. And I think if there was more honesty around that, it would be, then it provides more practical next steps.

At the moment, it just feels like, oh, it’s the right thing to do. It ensures that we’ll be effective. I don’t think there’s anybody who argues with that. I suspect a lot of people will be brought into that. And perhaps what Global North institutions that have affiliate offices in the South, perhaps they too should be airing that a bit more to say, you know, it’s difficult for us, as much as we’re brought into the process. If we’re signing up to these commitments and we’re being bound contractually by these commitments, it makes it very difficult for us. Open up and allow things to flow in the same way that we want them to flow. And I think all those are real conversations.

As much as we appreciate the shift that’s happening, as much as we are happy to see donors saying that we encourage [00:39:00] local organisations to apply or we only want in-country partners to apply. That’s welcome and it gives space for organisations to be a bit more creative and to be able to renegotiate what each part of the organisation does.

And more so, in terms of just as a successful way forward, is the unrestricted income that we are seeing being provided by private donors. That in itself is a game changer. And if that’s the direction of philanthropy, then we can be extremely optimistic. Because then it also allows organisations in the Global South to really demonstrate what they’ve been talking about all along, right?

In terms of, trust us, we know what needs to be done. We’ve got the relationships, we’ve got the understanding, we’ve got the capacity in terms of professional capacity and competence to deliver programs. It just gives them the opportunity to demonstrate that without being bound by all these restrictions, that usually come with [00:40:00] institutional funding and how you deliver those programs. 

Kate: Hmm, absolutely. So if you were to leave our listeners and viewers with one last thought on localising funding, what would it be? 

Steve: Localising funding. I probably said this to you off cameras, you know, just don’t relent.

 Just continue to listen, but also don’t relent. I sense that there is a pushback on localisation because of the many things that we’ve discussed. I would agitate pushback on the pushback. I think this is an extremely important conversation, and it’s extremely timely and we are not going to fix the world’s problems if we can’t fix ourselves and the way we see things and fix the way we do development, right? So we need to fix our own system, including funding and our financing of international development for us to actually then fix those global problems that we are all committed to fixing. And [00:41:00] if outside of all of that, we’re the good guys.

Whether we’re those bringing in the resources or those doing the work, so we can agree that we want to be as effective and efficient as possible, but also recognising the different layers that will make that possible. 

Kate: And just making a start. You can’t get to where you want to get to if you don’t make a start. So thanks Steve for joining me for this second bite of the cherry thinking through the localisation of funding. It’s been really helpful to hear your thoughts on this issue and I’m looking forward to the discussion that we will have going forwards, because I don’t think we’re done yet.

I imagine that you and I are going to keep having a conversation over the next months and years, so thanks very much.

This weeks guest:

Steve Murigi, Chief Executive Officer at PCI (Primary Care International)

Steve is the Chief Executive Officer at PCI (Primary Care International), leading the organisation’s work to strengthen the delivery of primary care globally through innovative and cost-effective models. He is a public health leader and advocate of inclusive, adaptive, localised, and people-centred development practices, with extensive experience in international development across Africa and Europe. Prior to joining PCI, Steve was the Head of Programs and Strategic Partnerships at Amref Health Africa UK. Over the years, he has worked across senior communication, advocacy, partnerships, and programme disciplines to drive organisational growth.

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