Home Through the looking glass: Coloniality and mirroring in localisation

It has been more than six years since the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) where humanitarian agencies and donor states agreed to the ‘Grand Bargain’, a key outcome which enshrined localisation as a major aspect of the mainstream humanitarian sector’s reform agenda.

In that time, some modest gains have been made, but structures that create and perpetuate inequity, as well as fortify a top-down system, endure. Despite analysis that the COVID-19 pandemic could force the sector into change and herald a new era of locally-led international humanitarian action (Roche and Tarpey, 2020), these hopes have not translated into lasting transformative change.

What assumptions underpin the concept of localisation as employed by the mainstream, international humanitarian sector? This paper offers only a partial answer to this multi-faceted question. It first considers the meaning(s), or lack thereof, of localisation. It presents coloniality and ‘mirroring’ as two concepts important to understanding the limitations of localisation.


Mirroring rewards states, organisations, and individuals that are able to reflect the mainstream international humanitarian system’s models and ignores or punishes those who do not.

It then considers locally led aid in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, or North Korea), using the example of the Eugene Bell Foundation (EBF). The paper argues that assumptions around the actors involved in local response, as well as assumptions around the existence of NGOs and the normative belief that non-state actors could and should play major roles in response, demonstrate the limits of localisation.

Photo credit: Flags in front of the UN building, Manhattan, New York, United States. © Alamy Stock Photo

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