Why we think it’s important to use local experts

As we sit here, late in October 2020, the status quo remains the same; COVID-19 remains a threat to people across the globe and NGOs continue to do their best to mobilise and support those who have been most affected by the pandemic. Yet, this public health emergency to many is just one more issue they have to deal with; on top of insecurity, natural disasters, poverty and already overloaded health systems. Humanitarian aid has never been needed more.

With people both working and schooling from home, there is an ever-increasing appetite for innovative online content that NGOs are keen to fill. They are also seeing a rise in the need for an increase in marketing to garner support — as much of their traditional fundraising channels, like charity shops, have dried up.

Photo: Sami Alhaw/ Oxfam/ PA

So how can NGOs respond to this increased requirement for content in an ethical and environmentally friendly way, while remaining mindful of the new status-quo? And how can they leverage strong content to help maintain funding levels?

Local talent is the key

It is encouraging to see NGO’s such as Comic Relief moving away from only using foreign consultants They have announced they will no longer be sending celebrities to Africa after criticism that such celebrities were being framed as “white saviours” (which we wrote about in 2018) and will also use local film-makers who have a “more authentic perspective” for its fundraising films.

Photo: Comic Relief

We have been working with locally-based photographers, writers and videographers from across the world for over 15 years. Local talent is abundant — but finding these professionals isn’t always straightforward.

These are some of the reasons why we champion local talent:

An unrivalled understanding of language and culture

important to use local experts
Photo: Saiyna Bashir/ World Food Programme / Arete

Photographers and videographers born and raised in the country or region of the project possess an innate understanding of the local language and culture. This can be particularly beneficial for communication between the various stakeholders in the project, as well as gathering first-hand accounts directly from the beneficiaries. This, in turn, can lead to the gathering of more authentic and nuanced content — that is more sensitive to the local context.

Many of our consultants also work within local media either as journalists or content-providers. This often gives rise to the opportunity for the story being used by local media — bringing additional exposure to the agency who has commissioned the work.

A recent example of this was a project we were hired to undertake for the World Food Programme in Pakistan. We worked with local photojournalist Saiyna Bashir to gather the story of how the WFP is supporting people in the rural Sindh with life-saving supplies. This resulted in local coverage in the DAWN and people from Pakistan contacted the WFP offering donations and support. The local awareness the story raised about the work of the WFP was hugely beneficial on many levels.

important to use local experts
Photo: Saiyna Bashir/ World Food Programme/ Arete

Providing jobs and building skills

In many countries where NGOs and UN agencies operate, regular employment can be in short supply. Hiring local experts and collaborating with them on individual projects means they are able to develop their skillsets to align with the standards of global foundations, thus acquiring more prestigious resumes. By investing in the local economy, our projects are also able to support local families. This collaborative approach also demonstrates respect for local people, rather than framing the situation as a disconnected and stereotypical helper/beneficiary dynamic.

It’s better for the environment

Whether we work as freelancers or for an organisation we must all do our part to contribute towards a cleaner and healthier planet. Being able to limit one’s carbon footprint is a key concern and one NGOs must take very seriously from both a PR and environmental perspective. Local teams travel much shorter distances, and often don’t have to fly at all to get to the necessary location. The benefit to the environment is clear.

Covid-19 restrictions

With COVID 19 numbers still raging, travel restrictions and quarantine regulations are making things harder than ever before. Consequently, travel, once a simple matter of getting from A to B, has become inherently more complicated and more costly with a sharp rise in flight and health insurance costs. Local experts remove this problem and the time, and money, that would be needed to solve it.

Hear from some of our local experts:

Ismail Taxta — Somalia, Africa

Ismail is a Somali photojournalist, and we have been working with him since 2015. Ismail has worked on projects for the WHO, WFP, UNHCR, UNICEF, DEC and more.

“I was born in Mogadishu, Somalia, and from a very young age, I have enjoyed reflecting on human life by making art and creating images. I started to pursue journalism from the age of 10, writing my own local weekly newspaper, the Yoobsan Press, which I wrote with a ballpoint pen. I got my first experience of working with international organisations at the age of 25 when I started working as a stringer for Reuters in 2007. I take pride in covering important local issues such as the civil war in Somalia, the 2011 drought the 2018 flooding.

In 2015 I started working with Arete, and over time I have developed my photography, editing, writing, illustrating, and storytelling skills. I have worked on some amazing projects, and my work has been featured in the international press as a result — most recently in The Guardian.”

Annie Mpalume — Zimbabwe, Africa

Annie worked with us on a project for UNICEF in her local Zimbabwe to document the experiences of breastfeeding mothers, the challenges they face and the support they receive from their families and communities.

“I initially studied photojournalism and documentary photography at the prestigious Market Photo Workshop in South Africa, Johannesburg, as my country did not have a learning centre that offered the skillset I wanted to acquire.

After my studies, I chose to return home to launch my career because at the time, the political and social situation was at its peak in Zimbabwe, and I felt it was my story to tell. “”

With Arete, I received a surprise call one day and was asked to work with UNICEF Zimbabwe on a project about breastfeeding mothers. At the time, I thought to myself, the project speaks to me and was God sent since I was also breastfeeding my baby. I learned a lot from this project, and it resulted in my first feature in the international media, with my photos used by Al Jazeera.”

React quickly and efficiently with Arete

important to use local experts
Photo: Karel Prinsloo/ DEC/ Arete

Our worldwide network of local experts allows us to react quickly and efficiently when content is urgently required, or there are time-limitations in play. The need for permits, visas, and translators can add weeks on to the lead-time of projects, increasing the cost substantially. The Arete network of media experts provides a viable alternative.

At Arete, we manage every stage of the content gathering process from sourcing local talent through to post-production and oversight. Our in-house team has over 30 years of experience creating stories and sourcing content for the world’s most renowned news, media, and non-governmental organisations and by combining this experience with local expertise, we can deliver stories that truly make a difference.

Our award-winning journalists and content specialists are eager to help you make a difference. Contact us to find out how we can tailor our expertise to meet your needs.