Jocelyn Condon (ACFID)
Strong and resilient civil society has never been more important. Whether it is in response to COVID-19 or humanitarian emergencies, we know that the time to find and drive practical, locally led solutions can no longer wait. Moreover, as the COVID-wave begins to ease in some places, civil society constitutes a crucial voice to ensure governments ease constraints on civil liberties, while democratic rights and freedoms are also regained. In this context, promoting a more accountable and transparent civil society sector is not just a movement of solidarity, it’s one of transformative change.
The global debate around CSO accountability thus becomes even more important during the current times. Pacific CSOs want to be able to prove and improve their own accountability. This should not be an exercise in ticking off what organisations already have but providing a verification framework and tools that can be tailored to the context and be accompanied by specific guidance. Pacific civil society expressed interest in tools that draw on their own experience to enable them to hold themselves to account.
WHAT HAVE WE DONE?
Over the past year, the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID), the Pacific Island Association of NGOs (PIANGO)_and PIANGO’s members have partnered around the development of a Pacific regional CSO accountability framework. This initiative consists of providing Pacific civil society with a framework and tools to articulate a common understanding of accountability across the region. Like ACFID’s Code of Conduct, once complete, this code or set of standards will align with the Global Standard for CSO Accountability.
Thus, a Pacific regional CSO accountability framework is not a retrofit of Pacific organisations into a donor-driven model of risk management or due diligence. It is an invitation to embrace a Pacific-driven proposition of what effective and transparent civil society looks like. Many Pacific national codes already exist; so this initiative does not seek to replace them. Instead, ACFID has worked closely with PIANGO to facilitate a space for ongoing discussion between national CSO peak associations to consider where alignment already exists. We have then mapped this to the Global Standard, thus bringing it into alignment with internationally adopted CSO practices.
The Pacific regional CSO accountability framework will incorporate practical elements of context and culture, and will be accessible to different types of organisations who would like to conduct a self-assessment of their own accountability. By starting with the Global Standard’s Cluster C commitments (‘what we do internally’), this initiative helps PIANGO develop a roadmap for the development of a complete regional framework over the coming year.
WHY IS A PACIFIC REGIONAL CSO ACCOUNTABILITY FRAMEWORK NEEDED?
During the aftermath of the tropical cyclone Harold, existing codes allowed some national organisations to be more responsive, organised and effective. Against this backdrop, and with the ongoing global debate around the localisation agenda, some donors are starting to listen to the calls for funding to be directed to in-country civil society. Therefore, CSO accountability is regaining interest within the region.
In addition, Pacific CSOs are aware about donors’ risk aversion and their concerns regarding CSO due diligence and accountability. So, by approaching CSO accountability from a regional perspective, it seeks to simplify -to some extent- the task for donors working across multiple countries. A project to proactively develop this regional code is an opportunity for Pacific civil society to constructively engage with donors and enhance trust. This is where real value can be drawn from alignment with international standards such as the Global Standard for CSO Accountability.
WHY CLUSTER C RELATED COMMITMENTS?
Beginning with Cluster C (‘what we do internally’), and drilling down on issues such as human resourcing, resource management, responsive decision-making, and responsible leadership has allowed organisations to focus on issues that are critically important to existence and functioning of the NGO sector, and the safeguarding of the people we seek to serve. The Global Standard’s Cluster C related commitments form the “nuts and bolts” of our organisations’ work, challenging us to articulate and commit to the frameworks and processes that allow us to keep our daily operations, to take care of our staff, and to govern our resources. These are also the areas that donors usually prioritise, and where expectations are most likely to be mismatched. By starting with Cluster C commitments, it opened the door to interesting and engaging discussions that revealed both a high degree of alignment between our organisations, and how critical good understanding of context is when working with our Pacific partners. The resulting framework that we have now drafted for Cluster C is both comprehensive and well-aligned to the Global Standard framework.
Similar to the broader movement of the Global Standard, this partnership across the Pacific has many benefits to our organisations. Using a common language to talk about accountability helps us to pinpoint synergies and blockers in our working relationships hereafter. Our partnerships are most effective when our organisations operate from a place of trust and understanding. Aligned standards for our work offers us this understanding, showing our equivalence and creating a framework for talking about key differences. As the Australian NGO community continues to support and amplify the localisation agenda, this allows them to ensure that partnership models and funding arrangements follow suit, providing practical tools to facilitate this shift.