Localization in international development: A global team with local impact

A healthcare professional, smiling at the camera
Written by Danielle Gibbie, Director, Institutional Partnerships, published on February 9, 2021 Sign up for eNews

The pandemic has forced organizations in nearly all sectors to shift their approach to work. This is particularly apparent in the international development sector, which in the past, has relied heavily on staff travelling from high-income countries to implement and monitor programs in low- or middle-income countries. With travel restrictions in place for the foreseeable future, many organizations are having to rethink their strategies.

Fortunately, Operation Eyesight’s approach of providing locally-driven solutions meant we were well-positioned to continue implementing and monitoring our programs in the long term, despite the challenges presented by the pandemic. Although Operation Eyesight is Calgary-based, a significant factor in our success is that we have team members in five countries across three continents. In our experience, we have found that the best way to ensure the success and sustainability of our work has been to apply the principle of localization to our work.

What does localization mean? The International Council of Voluntary Agencies defines localization as a process where international humanitarian actors shift power and responsibilities of development and humanitarian aid efforts toward local and national actors. Localization helps ensure that those who would benefit from the proposed initiative are a part of the solution, meaning they are consulted during every stage of the project, from design through implementation. When local actors are part of the solution, it ensures accountability and the long-term sustainability of the initiative. By strengthening the capacity of local and national actors, we can also enhance the speed, quality and scale of international development and humanitarian response efforts.

As an international development organization, we know we have a responsibility to increase the meaningful participation and leadership of local actors within our work – and we’re accomplishing this through our international and intercultural team, community-focused programs and network of local partners.

Equipped with knowledge of the local language and culture, the staff from our country offices tailor our programs to ensure they are meeting the specific eye health needs of the local communities. This helps to ensure that our initiatives are culturally appropriate and work within existing systems. It also meant that we were able to respond to the pandemic quickly by pivoting our day-to-day activities and utilizing our local team members to help our partner hospitals respond to the immediate threat of COVID-19.

In Zambia, as part of our effort to eliminate trachoma, we rehabilitate boreholes to provide access to clean water. An integral part of our work is to establish WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) committees made up of local volunteers who maintain the boreholes and educate and mobilize the community.

Our program model is community focused. We believe in local solutions by local people. Operation Eyesight-trained community health workers empower people by giving them the knowledge and tools they need to care for their families. By amplifying local actors and engaging them in the solution we can effectively increase the sustainability of our programs.

Partnering with local governments and hospitals is the cornerstone of our work. We work with our network of over fifty-five partner hospitals to ensure they have the personnel, facilities and supplies available to provide quality eye health care to everyone in the surrounding communities. We also establish vision centres that serve as a link between the hospital and community. Vision centres are local eye health facilities equipped with the staff and resources to perform eye health screenings and basic eye health treatment procedures, eliminating the need for long-distance travel to regional eye hospitals. These vision centres are locally owned and financially self-sustaining, which helps to ensure the long-term impact of our efforts.

Operation Eyesight is committed to continuously improving and strengthening our model to ensure we carry out our mission to prevent blindness and restore sight in the most sustainable and impactful way possible.

This International Development Week, we invite you join us as we #GoForTheGoals. Click here to learn how our work contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.