Wake up, Davos … global leaders must think local to solve the world’s problems

At the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, corporate CEOs, world leaders and philanthropists convened to discuss steps to solve our biggest global problems. While these leaders sought solutions to climate change and world hunger, I was at home in Kenya, working directly with community organisations that have some of the answers.

People focused on Davos may not have heard about the success of organisations like Fundación Paraguaya, which is working with families to help end poverty, or Maono Africa, which has been educating women and girls in Kenya. These innovative and critical perspectives, which hold the key to progress, weren’t present because localisation wasn’t on the agenda at Davos.

Grassroots leaders like myself know that the world’s “big problems” are only fixable when we tackle them from a local perspective – yet community-based organisations are vastly underfunded, and need support. If the WEF wants to see real change, it must put the work of community leaders at its centre, and those in attendance must be willing to shift funds and decision-making power directly to the people leading this critical work.

My organisation, Shining Hope for Communities (Shofco), in coordination with the Global Alliance for Communities (GAC) and a network of funders, is exploring ways to flip this power dynamic and bring local perspectives to the forefront of conversations on global development.

In 2021, we hosted the first-of-its-kind World Communities Forum (WCF), which pushed for greater accountability and the development of local leaders. The forum was inspired by my first time in Davos. This year, we have developed a roadmap that identifies the barriers to localisation and the solutions to achieveit, to support funders in their efforts to meet their commitments and make sure communities can get much needed resources.

It’s not naive to think the WEF can tackle lofty goals, but real change won’t come without listening to local leaders

When we ask community leaders what they need to drive local change, their demands are clear. They don’t need advice on how to solve poverty, educate women and girls or address the climate crisis locally. They need trust, real decision-making power and funding to effectively lead on their work.

If those in Davos want to create real, sustainable change, this is where they should start.

First, big donors and policymakers must learn to trust. Local leaders understand the cultural, political and social dynamics that influence how successful programmes and approaches could be. We can’t expect attendees at the WEF or any other conference to know what works for every community in the world – which is why they need to learn to trust and fund local leaders to enact solutions they know will work.

Second, leaders must be willing to shift power. Shifting power isn’t just the latest trend in philanthropy. The power dynamics in international development have always disadvantaged community leaders, and we must be willing to change them. Transferring decision-making to communities allows leaders to create solutions that meet local needs, and will work for the next generation, not just for the next five years. There is no one-size-fits-all solution – every community is different, and we must give local leaders the power to find and deliver the unique solutions that will work.

Third, funders must be flexible and remove barriers that stand in the way of progress. For big philanthropy, this means moving away from funding short-term, single-issue projects, which forces local organisations to focus on one specific thing rather than address the long-term systemic problems they encounter. Investments should be long-term and flexible, allowing organisations to strategically plan for the future and react to ever-changing needs on the ground.

Related: Invest in small farmers or world will face regular food crises, says UN agency chief

It is not naive to think that the global community can tackle the lofty goals the WEF sets out to achieve. In fact, we should be aiming high. But real change will not come without listening to local leaders. Through a collective commitment to fund and trust local organisations, global convenings like those in Davos could become a major catalyst for change.

  • Kennedy Odede is the founder and CEO of Shining Hope for Communities (Shofco)