Rethinking Localisation: The Case of Muslim NGOs in the UK and France
Localisation is one of the buzz words that have recently been dominating debates about humanitarian aid and international development. In this blog post, which is based on a presentation at the Best Practice Forum jointly organised by the MCF, MBRN and HAD, French researcher Lucas Faure (Institut d’Etudes Politiques, Aix-en-Provence) reflects on the concept by discussing the example of Muslim NGOs in the UK and France.
What can we learn about localisation from Muslim NGOs?
Localisation is one of the trending topics in the humanitarian and development sectors. My doctoral research on localisation aims to answer the following question: what can we learn about localisation through the study of Franco-British Muslim NGOs? As part of my research on Muslim NGOs in the UK and France, I have conducted three years of ethnographic fieldwork in both countries. Rather than using an institutional definition of localisation in my work, I have examined aspects of the local dimension of Islamic humanitarian organisations.
New ways of thinking about localisation
Localisation first emerged at the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit, which was attended by international aid stakeholders from all over the world. In the broadest acceptation of the term, it is a general concept which aims at reinforcing the efficiency of humanitarian aid by taking better account of local actors. The general idea of localisation is not to deliver aid when there is an emergency, but to build trusting relationships and work hand in hand with locally-led organisations and communities. According to this first classic usage of the term, localisation mainly refers to overseas deployment of aid by NGOs. However, the analysis of British and French Islamic humanitarian organisations opens new avenues for reflection on localisation and breaks down the binary distinction between funders and receivers.
Developments since the 1990s
From a historical point of view, the biggest Muslim British NGOs opened fundraising offices in France in the early 1990s up to the 2010s, as France was perceived a strategic location with one of the largest Muslim populations in Europe. Secours Islamique (the former French branch of Islamic Relief), Human Appeal, Human Relief Foundation, and Muslim Hands, are all examples of this trend. During this initial period, funds collected in France were sent to the head offices in the UK, where they would be allocated to different projects, which were mainly international. Since the beginning of the 2010s, a strong inclination towards local action in France is visible (Faure, 2020). This is the result of an increased awareness of humanitarian emergencies in Europe, such as the so-called “refugee crisis”.
Humanitarian action “at home” in the form of domestic programming
Hence, a larger amount of money is now collected and allocated in France by Franco-British NGOs via the creation of domestic programmes, while donors take on a new role as volunteers in local solidarity programmes. As evidence of the popularity and credibility of these Muslim NGOs in France, more and more people are involved locally with humanitarian action “at home”, and one can see localisation as a widening of the humanitarianism sphere. A dual trend is visible with both the desire for NGOs to be closer in the field, and also the fact that the field of action is getting closer to NGOs’ headquarters due to globalisation.
Fundraising offices, field offices – or both?
In this sense, localisation reflects the importance of addressing local needs in situ, including in Europe, where former French fundraising offices seem to increasingly become field offices. At the same time, a similar trend towards local action is noticeable in the UK, with the relatively recent growth of Islamic charities that cater to domestic needs, for example, providing for homeless people and abused women.
Considering national and local particularities
However, despite similarities, these two trends seem to obey different logics, leading to another challenge related to the localisation of Muslim charities. Localisation sheds precious light on the importance for Muslim NGOs taking into consideration national contexts. It also raises questions about governance challenges between British and French NGOs. What is the status granted to French and European antennae by their British head-offices, and how “national” are these international branches? For example, how efficient can fundraising be without considering national and local particularities? Regarding the two case studies which are the focus of my research, France and the UK have different approaches to the management of Islam and, as such, a British discourse is unlikely to be effective or relevant in the French context and vice versa.
Including local considerations at every step of the process
Consequently, localisation is a necessity for Muslim charities in order for them not to be disconnected from their local environment. This can be achieved by including local considerations and diversity at every step of their processes, on the one hand. On the other hand, more autonomy could be given to their decentralised branches. As such, localisation is not a concept that should only take shape during the implementation of programmes, but it has to be incorporated into organisational practice during the conception and design of their interventions. In other words, such a definition of localisation argues in favour of funders and recipients working in concert through the humanitarian process in order to ensure a holistic and relevant process.
Written by Lucas Faure
Doctoral researcher, Institut d’Etudes Politiques Aix-en-Provence
FAURE Lucas. «L’agir « ici » et « là-bas » : questionner les catégories des pratiques du bien au prisme du Secours Islamique France», in Ruiz de Elvira, Laura et Saeidnia, Sahar (dir.), Les mondes de la bien-faisance. (Se) mobiliser pour le « bien », (se) gouverner par le « bien », Paris, CNRS Editions, 2020.