Decolonisation and Locally Led Development – Are We Brave Enough?

Kate Angus

26 Sep, 2021

There has been much written recently about change needed to move towards a more decolonised aid and development system with less institutional racism and more power in the hands of partners and local communities, see GibertRoche and Tarpey and Peace Direct. There are many more, which talk about the underlying drivers of inequitable power – colonisation, racism, systemic bias, discrimination and risk aversion. 

ACFID has recently established a Community of Practice on Racial Justice and both ACFID’s Advisory Committees (Development Practice Committee and the Humanitarian Reference Group) have prioritised work on localisation and locally-led development.  However, in thinking through how we might shift good-will and intention to action, it has become clear that there is a dearth of material available to share within Australian NGOs in the aid and development sector that articulates what needs to be done or has been done to make significant and meaningful changes.  While there may be experiences within organisations around change processes or examples of internal workshops that have occurred, none of this is available publicly for us to share and learn from. 

We do not want to create another piece of work articulating the barriers and incentives for reaching targets or reporting on ambition, as there are thoughtful pieces on this already (see Humanitarian Advisory Group). What we needed is support and guidance for ACFID members and their staff to get them started on their journey. 

The bold team from La Trobe University, and their Pacific partners, have articulated in fine detail questions we need to ask to reflect on our role in perpetuating or shifting practice and decolonising institutions and the mind.  They have framed it as a “two-handed pathway to change: yielding and wielding power. There are specific suggestions, which were refined during two workshops: one with ANGOs and one with Pacific Islanders, that delve into the heart of what lies ahead: “what work do white organisations and staff need to do internally, with and for themselves, to consider their own historical, positional and racial power?  The document also clarifies the discomfort that will be felt for those stepping into wielding power.  There are 2 pages of reflection questions to get us started, such as: 

At the Individual level  

for those yielding power:  

  • “Do I see my race as a factor in my personal and professional life, and my personal and professional achievements?” 

    And for those wielding power:

  • “What was my early exposure to whit authority and expertise/knowledge, and how have I internalised this?

At the organisational level  

for those yielding power:


  • Is there a power differential between locals and non-locals in the operations of my organisation in-country? If yes, how is this manifested? And what is its impact? 

    And for those wielding power:

  • Does my organisation incentivise and reward Pacific Islander staff to step into leadership and engaging robustly? How could it do this more effectively? 

The Discussion Paper then goes on to provide 19 pages of practical ideas for action at the individual, organisational and systemic level. 

We have a window of opportunity now as a sector and as a profession to yield power and personalise and institutionalise the changes we want to make.  If we do not grasp that opportunity then we risk having this same conversation in 5 years’ time, having lost the opportunity in front of us today. 

look forward to engaging with ACFID members at our Conference on the suggestions within this Discussion Paper to see how ambitious we really can be.  I encourage people to read the full document available on ACFID’s website and join the Conference session if you would like to engage


  • Kate Angus
    Kate Angus

    Kate Angus has been ACFID’s Learning and Innovation Advisor for five and half years and has been working closely with ACFID’s Development Practice Committee, ACFID members and others on: climate change action; locally-led development and decolonisation; systems thinking and collaboration; the SDGs as a transformational agenda; strategic level monitoring, evaluation and learning; performance and impact measurement. Kate has worked in academia, in NGOs, in government and the private sector.


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