“Local is Lekker” is a common South African phrase meaning the things close to home are often the best. Lekker (adjective) is the Afrikaans word meaning delicious, but it is generally used to describe something as nice, cool, awesome and many more similar descriptions. The best sounding English word that sounds like ‘lekker’ is lacquer (as in lacquer thinners), or if you prefer the phonetic spelling (lăk’ər). The most important part is the rolling “r” at the end … lekk-irrrr.

This phrase was made popular in a campaign to promote buying locally made South African products … a trend generally found globally. It even went as far as developing the “Proudly South African” brand, which is indicated with a very easily recognizable logo on all products that support this campaign and it is wonderful to see that this does in fact have a great following.

I don’t think anybody disputes the importance of supporting local trade from an economic point of view. Especially in the food industry, “going local” is taken even a step further, by encouraging consumers to buy goods directly from the source to ensure transparency with regard to origin, manufacturing, farming and harvesting methods.

It seems that even in the development and nonprofit sector, “going local” has become the new “It-phrase”, complimenting of course the other buzzword: “capacity building”. Again, I am not disputing the importance and significance in following this route, but as a South African, I have experienced all too well that these words mean well in theory … but have seldom seen them implemented successfully.

Part of my experience as an Atlas Corps Fellow is to share my knowledge and experiences of working in the nonprofit sector back home, with those working in the sector in the USA, while at the same time getting a glimpse into how things work in this sector at HQ level. It is almost like getting to the heart of the “funding mother ship” and seeing the inner workings. In most of the presentations and talks I have attended so far, I keep hearing how important local engagement is, but that is where it seems to remain … a talking point! How feasible is the practice of this? Ultimately it implies that a billion dollar industry in the developed world, would become a passive financing industry. In my experience though, those working in the nonprofit sector do it, because they want to, at some stage at least, witness personally the work done and travel to the developing world for some field experience. The importance of doing this cannot be disputed, as it provides a better understanding of what actually happens on the ground. We all know how difficult it is to relate to such a “different” world without having experienced it. Deciding therefore how and where money should best be utilized, if following the “local engagement” model, implies trusting locally engaged partners completely, often without any background knowledge and understanding. This is extremely risky and immediately diminishes the local engagement to some extent, to contain some of this control. And so the Catch 22 begins.
The alternative is of course to “capacity build” the locals and provide them with the necessary understanding and training to manage the funds and projects appropriately in the eyes of the HQ, while ultimately having the best insight into what is truly needed on the ground. How often have we seen and experienced the intellectual drain happen though … where those local leaders get a taste of the other side and either don’t want to return home to remain in the “good life” or become too expensive for local purposes and budgets.

I have discovered the enormity of money available to do some fabulous work “on the ground”. At the same time I have met great experts in their field of interest, but cannot help feel the disparity between their knowledge in theory and the actual needs in the developing countries. I fear that often this knowledge could be perceived as “knowing better” how to solve problems than those actually facing them daily. It is interesting to see that at most conferences and presentations, a majority of the panelists are from the developed world, yet their topics of discussion almost exclusively deal with the developing world. How is it that they are regarded as experts on these issues so far away from them, and not those actually living them. The more I hear these presentations about the importance of “local engagement”, sadly the more I start questioning its sincerity and feasibility.

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