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Emma Tomalin
and
Olivia Wilkinson

This paper explores findings from research carried out alongside a humanitarian project called ‘Bridging the Gap (BtG): The Role of Local Faith Actors in Humanitarian Response in South Sudan’. BtG aimed to better understand the barriers that stand in the way of engagement between local faith actors (LFAs) and international humanitarians (IHs) and to introduce learning opportunities (e.g. training and workshops) to address these. We share perspectives from the LFAs who participated in this ‘localisation’ project about what it means to become ‘legitimate’ humanitarian actors that are recognised and trusted by the international system and why this is important for them, as well as what BtG tells us about the legitimacy of the international humanitarian system from the point of view of LFAs and LFAs’ legitimacy in the eyes of their local communities. We also reflect upon the ways in which the processes of NGO-isation and professionalisation that accompany this journey to become ‘legitimate’, can compromise and undervalue the very qualities that local actors are presumed to possess. This does not indicate the failure of the localisation agenda, but that bold action is needed to make localisation more inclusive in ways that might challenge some areas of humanitarian orthodoxy.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs