Navigating Change: HelpAge Tanzania’s Journey to Localisation


1 April 2024 marks the launch of HelpAge Tanzania, an independent and autonomous national organisation working for the rights and wellbeing of older people and people with disabilities in Tanzania. 

HelpAge Tanzania was formerly part of HelpAge International’s network of country offices, reporting into the global structure.

As part of HelpAge’s commitment to localisation and the empowerment of local civil society, and in accordance with the advice of the country team, this office of 30 staff has been supported to set up as an autonomous and independent organisation. 

Smart Daniel (right), the CEO of this new office, reflects on the process and his hopes and aspirations for his new organisation. 

Localisation has empowered HelpAge Tanzania with a newfound autonomy and agility in decision-making.  

We now have dedicated control over our project management, enabling us to respond promptly to evolving needs and challenges within our community. This autonomy allows us to streamline processes and expedite decision-making, eliminating the need for external approvals and enabling us to engage directly with our valued supporters and donors. 

As a national organisation, we will be able to advocate for change within the Tanzanian context. Our local status enables us to navigate governmental processes more effectively, fostering collaborative relationships and driving policy reforms aligned with the needs of our community. This shift has empowered us to advocate for meaningful changes and initiatives that directly benefit older people in Tanzania. 


The challenges of the localisation process 

The localisation process was a novel undertaking within the wider organisation, with HelpAge Tanzania standing as a pioneer in following this new direction. It began with a consultation process, as we embarked on uncharted territory, navigating discussions with both HelpAge International and local stakeholders.  

At the start there was a lack of understanding regarding the local context and the unique nuances of operating in Tanzania compared to other countries. 

This prompted us to challenge certain ideas that we believed would be problematic for HelpAge Tanzania. We were steadfast in our stance about what would best enable us to operate on a national level and pushed back against proposals that conflicted with our organisational role. Continuous communication was key in ensuring clarity and understanding of our position. 

We also had to simultaneously juggle multiple responsibilities. We established a newly formed Board, locally rooted in governance and accountability, which has been a valuable addition. In partnership with HelpAge International, we were tasked with spearheading the development of over 18 policies and crafting a comprehensive five-year business plan and strategy – while continuing to maintain our routine operations.  


At HelpAge, our commitment to localisation is unwavering.

We believe in empowering local actors, so that they have the power to influence decisions and prioritise the needs of the communities they serve.

Our partnerships are built on mutual respect, valuing the expertise of all parties equally and fostering meaningful participation at every level.

Read more about our commitment.

Supporting staff 

One prevalent misconception we encountered was the fear among staff that localisation would lead to a reduction in organisational benefits and salaries. Addressing these concerns was paramount to fostering trust and stability within our team. We took proactive measures to debunk these misconceptions, emphasising our commitment to valuing and retaining skilled staff by maintaining competitive compensation packages. We engaged in ongoing discussions with our staff, which bolstered their confidence, and ensured that their benefits remained intact within our planning and policy frameworks. 

Despite these challenges, HelpAge Tanzania retained a significant portion of experienced staff members, ensuring continuity and expertise during this transitional phase. This has bolstered our organisational capacity and provides a strong foundation for our ongoing operations. Moving forward, we remain dedicated to navigating the complexities of localisation while upholding our commitment to our staff’s well-being and organisational excellence. 


Lessons learned  

Anyone leading a localisation process must recognise the pivotal role of the local team, who possesses an intimate understanding of the contextual nuances. It’s imperative to empower and prioritise the national team, valuing their insights and expertise. 

It is also essential to acknowledge and adapt to the unique contextual differences between countries, understanding that what works in one nation may not necessarily be feasible in another. Decision-making must be decentralised, with the country team empowered to determine which initiatives are viable for implementation in their specific context. 

Close collaboration with relevant authorities is vital, leveraging their guidance and expertise at every stage of the transition process. It’s crucial to align ambitions with practical realities within the country’s systems, ensuring compliance and avoiding potential complications with the government. This necessitates a bold approach from the country team, willing to push back against ideas that are incompatible with the national context. 


Collaboration with partners and HelpAge global network members  

As part of the localisation process, it has been important to maintain our positive relationships with the three members of the HelpAge global network in Tanzania – REDESO, SAWAKA, and the Tanzania Mission to the Poor and Disabled. They have been integral participants throughout the transition.  

We engaged in preliminary consultations with each of them, valuing their input and incorporating their ideas and advice into the process. Currently, we are actively involved in implementing projects alongside them. We are also in the process of proposing collaborative projects, contingent upon securing funding.  

One achievement we are particularly proud of in Tanzania is the establishment of Older People Forums which span from grassroots to national levels. As a local office, we remain dedicated to this cause and will continuing to work with them to deliver capacity building. Our programme team is also actively engaging various older people leaders and implementing partners to strategise how we can grow our collaboration. 

Pili Hamis in Zanzibar received training from a partner to start a small agricultural business cultivating and selling vegetables.

New opportunities  

One shift that we have been able to make as we gain our independence, is that we have been able to intensify our efforts in disability advocacy, fostering deeper engagement with local disability organisations in Tanzania. One such example is our ongoing efforts to establish collaborations with Disability Relief Services. We are also actively reaching out to local and international organisations, including newer entrants, to explore potential partnerships.  


Long-term goals and aspirations 

The overarching objective for HelpAge Tanzania is to enhance the quality of life and promote the well-being of both older people and people with disabilities across Tanzania. We aim to significantly increase our work with people with disabilities, and prioritise their needs and rights, recognising their legal entitlements and advocating for their inclusion and empowerment within our programmes and initiatives.  

This transition underscores our commitment to local empowerment but also enhances our effectiveness and efficiency in serving the needs of older people and people with disabilities in Tanzania. Our empowerment lies in owning our decision-making process locally, aligning every step with our aspirations. This shift in power is not just empowering; it’s a significant step towards our long-term goals.