CollaborateUp CEO’s Insights on the Latest Trends Shaping Our Industry

What role does localization play in CollaborateUp’s work?

We define “localization” as giving local people and communities authority and agency to set priorities and make decisions regarding the use of resources in and for that community. The history of philanthropy has mostly included rich people deciding what poor people need and inflicting it upon them. This derives from a bias that rich people are smarter than poor people and therefore know better what they need. When we engage in any philanthropic activity — be it one we design with our own resources, one developed by a private donor, or one by an official donor (e.g., USAID) — we try to a) uncover hidden biases about power and authority relationships (like that highlighted above), and b) work directly with responsible local actors to conceptualize and co-design the program. This fundamentally underpins our co-creation methodology, The CollaborateUp Formula, specifically in our Invitation step. During Invitation, we use a form of “stakeholder mapping” which is a fancy word for figuring out who has power, influence, and/or something to gain or lose in a given community undergoing significant change and figuring out how best to invite them to help shape the future together.

How should donors and implementors go about identifying local stakeholders that are truly representative of a developing context?

The first episode of our podcast series on community engagement explores this question: what is a community and who are its “gatekeepers?” The experts we interviewed recommended:

  1. Spending time in the community to develop empathy and trust. Many donors and implementers fly in and out (literally and figuratively) of the communities they seek to serve. Nothing can substitute for time on-the-ground, breaking bread, attending weddings and funerals, celebrating and mourning with the community.

  1. Deeply understanding the community’s needs. Inevitably, a donor or implementer has an agenda. As noble as it may be — from promoting biodiversity to promoting workforce diversity — those goals are not the community’s goals. Their goals will be centered on the community and the individuals that compose it. They will more likely be things like getting better shelter or jobs, access to clean water or healthcare, or improved safety and security. Your goals may overlap with theirs but always start by first understanding their goals and then figure out if/how your goals help achieve their goals. As an example, community representatives told us recently to focus on how giving the community control over their wildlife resources would help bring jobs, reduce human/wildlife conflict, and reduce organized criminal activity.

  1. Looking past formal roles. History has left scars in many communities including the legacies of imperialism, paternalism, and misogyny. These may have eviscerated traditional leadership and/or excluded communities based on gender, ethnicity, disability, or other factors. Moreover donor-funded projects themselves may have inadvertently set up echo-chambers where local people tell donors only what they want to hear. Both to overcome these historical challenges and to improve project execution, we recommend starting by understanding the degree of change you seek to create in a system and then designing community engagement to achieve it.