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Strengthening local actors

José Juan Castro (left) and Elias Solis (right). © RCEU

The Grand Bargain[1] has put localisation at the core of humanitarian discussions and signatories have made significant efforts to make humanitarian response "as local as possible, as international as necessary". Local and national organisations, including National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, can help ensure early response, access to communities, and efficiency in the use of resources.

Fostering equitable partnerships between international, national and local actors is critical to addressing some of the existing gaps. Indeed, the Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (DG ECHO) encourages its partners to change their practices in favour of more balanced partnerships with national and local partners. Similarly, localisation is identified as one of the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation Agency's priorities in view of Spain's Presidency of the Council of the European Union[2].

We had a conversation with the Presidents of the Red Cross Society of Panama, Elias Solis, and the Honduran Red Cross, José Juan Castro, to discuss lessons learned and good practices in the application of the localisation approach in Latin American and the Caribbean.  

  • What is the added value of local actors to support communities and how can local actors be supported?

Elias Solis (Red Cross Society of Panama)

Local actors have the privilege of knowing the context and the local communities. They promote resilience, sustainable development and hygienic habits. They are also the first responders in case of risks or disasters. Local actors, knowing these realities first-hand, can be the best intermediaries also for advocacy actions with the authorities. They give visibility to these realities and the needs of the people affected.

However, local actors often need support to reinforce their organisations and structures. A lot of times, these local organisations are small and do not have enough financial capacity, or human resources, to respond to existing and emerging needs. Donors and institutions who want to promote localisation through local actors should reinforce the structures to ensure an effective and pertinent response. Not only financial support is important, but also technical assistance, training and coaching.

José Juan Castro (Honduran Red Cross) 

Localisation is the best way to act in the delivery of humanitarian aid. Investing in local actors is very cost effective, as local actors have less associated costs and a greater impact.

For donors such as DG ECHO, the Red Cross can be a key partner. With an extensive network of 197,000 local branches worldwide, we are truly working at the local level. We are prepared and are even working to be better prepared to work with local communities. We are reinforcing our accountability processes to be more efficient. We are also working on giving visibility to our work to show the impact of the work of the Red Cross with local communities.

  • How can the EU- Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) partnership support the role of local actors?

Elias Solis (Red Cross Society of Panama)

Latin America and the Caribbean is a region with different vulnerabilities. For different reasons, there is a lack of social investment in areas such as education, health and the cultural sector. On the other side, the EU promotes sustainable development and I think the EU can provide technical assistance and guidance to Latin American and the Caribbean governments.

A volunteer of the Red Cross Society of Panama organises an activity in a school. ©  Red Cross Society of Panama

The EU also provides financial support to the region. A recipe for success is to also canalise part of these resources through local and community actors that have demonstrated to be accountable. Therefore, EU support to local actors is key, as they are the closest to the communities and the people with more needs.

José Juan Castro (Honduran Red Cross) 

The EU has always been close to Latin America and the Caribbean, for example in responding to disasters. It has also supported the strengthening of National Red Cross Societies, including the Honduran Red Cross and the Red Cross Society of Panama. This support has contributed to the reinforcement of functional structures, making our organisations stronger each day and ready to act in crisis. Increased cooperation between the EU and CELAC also entails greater trust in local organisations.

  • How is the Programmatic Partnership “Accelerating Local Action in Humanitarian and Health Crises” between IFRC and DG ECHO strengthening the implementation of localisation in your country?

José Juan Castro (Honduran Red Cross) 

The Programmatic Partnership is implemented in 24 countries around the world. This type of partnership allows the National Red Cross Societies to have a clear vision for the next three years.

Within the framework of this partnership, we are working on migration, health, risk management and on our community outreach and engagement in general. We are reinforcing our capacities to be better prepared to respond to a crisis.

The Honduras Red Cross supported COVID-19 vaccination campaigns in the country. © Honduras Red Cross

Elias Solis (Red Cross Society of Panama)

I think that the Programmatic Partnership is an example of how to promote localisation by reinforcing a local actor. The Red Cross Society of Panama is a small organisation which is in the process of developing and growing. We are ensuring transparency and accountability. In our case, with this partnership, we reached different communities to work on risk and disaster management. One of the programmes we have is “Blue schools”; we train children and young people in prevention and disaster response, with the aim to empower the communities that are more vulnerable to disasters.

Panama is in the Darien Gap migration route. The partnership has also allowed us to increase our response to support migrant people. In addition, we reinforced our institutional capacities. We did an analysis of the organisation, and we saw that an increase in capacities was needed to successfully implement the ambitions of the Programmatic Partnership.

For media inquiries, please contact Eva Oyón on: or +32 2 235 09 22

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