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Localisation – how can we turn a buzz word into action?

CH1953891 Mary and Cosmas 10 eating lunch outside their home in Balaka state Malawi resized (c) Sam Vox/Save the Children

The development sector has historically been dominated by international actors implementing programmes designed far from the country of focus with little understanding of local needs, and with personnel being brought in from abroad to lead implementation. With minimal consulting or involvement of local actors, programmes often fail to have their desired impact.

To deliver sustainable development solutions that effectively address the complex causes of malnutrition, involvement of local people is vital in ensuring that programmes are tailored to the context and cultural norms and sensitive to local needs and priorities. On top of this, programmes should be owned and led by the people they aim to support. Development should encourage and facilitate people’s autonomy, yet sadly it often does the opposite, reproducing historic imbalances where money, resources and power – and the resulting unequal power dynamics – flow from North to South. Climate change is aggravating these imbalances; for example, natural disasters exacerbated by climate change are so often experienced by those who have contributed least to the climate crisis.

The development sector, including The Power of Nutrition, is looking increasingly at how it can work alongside communities by listening to them and ensuring involvement in programmes, instead of simply providing a product or potential solutions without consultation. This process is called localisation, and it focuses on shifting control of development efforts from international or external organisations to local actors and communities. It acknowledges the vital role that local communities, organisations, and governments should play in designing, implementing and managing development projects.

Climate and localisation

Clearly, localisation has benefits for people by ensuring that the development sector is having a positive impact on communities and hopefully contributing to the reduction in power imbalances globally. However, localisation could be good for the planet, too, and the development sector would benefit from recognising and embracing this. Localised development efforts are likely to have a smaller impact on the environment, the movement of goods and people from North to South having such a large carbon footprint. In parallel, climate interventions must take a localised approach to programming and recognise that climate change affects geographical regions very differently. So, taking climate change into consideration ensures more impactful localised solutions, while localisation supports climate-friendly programming.

The Power of Nutrition’s localisation agenda

At The Power of Nutrition, we recognise the complexities of current development efforts and aim for our programmes to enable and equip communities, organisations, and leaders to take ownership of development . Examples of this includes our prioritisation of building government delivery systems and our work with governments and local institutions to strengthen the capacity to develop, plan, implement and monitor nutrition interventions. However, we recognise that more work needs to be done to shift the power and resources of development activities into the hands of people for whom interventions are designed. Below are examples of our commitment to localisation, in Liberia and Ethiopia, Côte d’Ivoire, and India.

Access Initiative

In Liberia and Ethiopia, we are working with local research entities, specifically the University of Liberia and the Ethiopian Public Health Institute, in a unique initiative called the Access Initiative. It aims to identify demand-side blockers to nutrition interventions, so when implemented, they have more impact. Too often, programmes are developed with a focus on supply, without a real understanding of the barriers faced by locals in accessing interventions. The process starts with small and quick surveys to assess the coverage of nutrition services and uncover the obstacles households face in accessing them. The data is then used to create community-centred action plans, allowing more people to benefit from nutrition programmes. The surveys are then repeated to continually test and improve the programme.

Côte d’Ivoire

The programme in Côte d’Ivoire is designed to support its National Multisectoral Nutrition Plan and is delivered through community platforms, locally known as FRANCs (Foyers de Renforcement des Activités de Nutrition Communautaires). Supported by local NGOs, members of the community are trained to deliver nutrition interventions, such as antenatal care and nutrition counselling for pregnant women, promotion of early and exclusive breastfeeding, education on infant and young child feeding and community-based management of moderate and acute malnutrition. The programme is now being scaled-up by the World Bank and local Government and The Power of Nutrition celebrates that its involvement is no longer needed. The aim of international organisations such as ours should be to ‘work ourselves out of a job’, with programmes designed to be sustainable without international involvement in the long term.


We support three programmes in India, all of which work closely with state governments to implement the national nutrition strategy, POSHAN ABYINHAN. The Maharashtra programme supports government plans and locally developed objectives, strengthening the delivery of interventions that are already well integrated in the region. These include nutrition, health, gender and Early Childhood Development interventions that are delivered through state and community groups. The programme is also building the capacity of local institutions, such as medical colleges, which supports the scale-up of these initiatives not only in Maharashtra but in other states too.

Looking ahead

We are excited about exploring opportunities to ensure that the programmes we support contribute to the development sector’s shift towards localisation. This might look like working directly with governments who would like support in implementing their national nutrition strategies or supporting local NGOs in their implementation of context-specific nutrition interventions. We will also continue to foster relationships with local research entities whose knowledge of local contexts, cultures and communities is critical to understanding where and how the development sector needs to change. We are committed to making sure that programmes are really doing what they were made to do: ensuring that communities can achieve sustainable solutions to malnutrition that address its root causes, instead of implementing short-term one-size-fits-all sticking plasters which have been prioritised historically. The first step towards doing this is acknowledging where there is room for improvement: we encourage other development actors to do the same.


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Read about how we are adopting localisation into our programmes


Visiting the Product Access Initiative in Ethiopia


The purpose of the visit was to observe the programme training and get a hands-on experience of how the data is being collected in community sites.

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How our programme in Côte d’Ivoire proves being led by local partners with a multisectoral approach is at the heart of success


As we approach the end of this multisectoral nutrition and child development programme, it was great to see what they have achieved, learn more about the current priorities, and discuss sustainability and their plans for the future.