Reclaiming Lead Space by Local NGOs in Bangladesh

In our new blog series on equitable partnerships, colleagues from local, national and international organisations will share their views on different perspectives on partnership and localisation.

Shrinking humanitarian space for local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) / civil society organisations (CSOs) is a critical issue within the humanitarian community worldwide. Experiences show that local NGOs are the front-line-first-responders. As they are the organisations from the community, by nature they are accountable to the community. It has also proven that the local NGOs are in front line during COVID-19 pandemic response.

A trend is being observed that international actors like agencies of the United Nations (UN) and international NGOs try to take lead and operational roles in Bangladesh. Using local registrations, some international NGOs claim that they are local. In the Rohingya response, direct foot print of UN agencies has enhanced. A study report from Development Initiatives, a research agency from the United Kingdom, has found the funding to local and national NGOs to be shrinking. In Rohingya response it is less than four per cent.

Future roles of local and international NGOs

The UN have prepared a localisation road map in Rohingya response but they are hesitating for its implementation. Campaigns on the implementation of Grand Bargain commitments, Charter for Change and Principles of Partnership are there. The notion of “capacity development” is being challenged with the concept of “capacity convergence”.

Amidst growing demand for aid transparency, Publish What You Fund did a study on aid transparency in Rohingya response. Most of the Bangladeshi NGOs work in development nexus where humanitarian response mingled with development, democracy and human rights initiatives. Micro finance has given a scope of self-reliance among Bangladeshi NGOs. It’s a logical demand that they will take the lead, while they ask UN agencies and international NGOs to limit their role in monitoring and technical assistance and provide more space for local NGOs and CSOs.

Iqbal Uddin is the Joint Director of COAST Foundation and a localisation activist in Bangladesh.