Sept. 7, 2021
In order to learn how the international experience helped inform the development of national standards for civil society organizations in Albania, we recently talked to Ariola Agolli (AA), manager of the National Resource Centre for Civil Society at Partners Albania for Change and Development, and to Xhoana Zeqo (XZ), project manager, who facilitated the working group for managing the consultation process and developing the national code of standard for non-for-profit organizations (NPOs).
GS: Why is CSO accountability an important issue for Albanian CSOs?
AA: Since its creation, Partners Albania’s work has focused around initiatives that contribute to civil society effectiveness by enhancing the enabling environment and building capacity of the sector. The idea of developing a code of standards for CSOs was presented to the sector by Partners Albania in collaboration with a group of CSOs, many years ago, back in 2006. However, the civil society sector did not appear to be ready at that time.
Thus, the code of standards initiative for non-for-profit organizations in Albania was re-introduced in 2019 by Partners Albania through the facilitation of the National Resource Centre. Thirteen years later, the situation had shifted and transparency and accountability of the sector was becoming a prerequisite for the non-for-profit activity, its effectiveness, sustainability and work with the beneficiaries and stakeholders. The external context also contributed to this renewed attention on a code of standards for NPOs due to the challenges faced by the sector, including questions around CSOs public image and legitimacy across the country. Overall, the public is mostly unfamiliar with the impact of the CSOs’ work in the country beyond the particular communities with whom they engage. Greater demands from other stakeholders and expectations from peers and partners also led to increased consensus around the idea of a code of standards over a decade ago. By increasing civil society transparency and accountability, the code of standards for NPOs is expected to contribute to improve public trust.
Further, more recently, several legal initiatives that affect NPO sector were enacted to address MONEYVAL recommendations. So, the Code of Standards as a self-regulatory mechanism developed by the sector for the sector, is in line with the recommendations aiming to increase the transparency and accountability of NPOs. In other words, the proposed code of standards for NPOs in Albania was our response to these greater external demands and expectations.
In addition, the adoption of the code of standards in Albania was accompanied by other developments in the region as well as globally, as decreasing donor funding, and a shrinking civic space, and is also in line with key strategic documents i.e. The Guidelines for EU support to civil society in enlargement countries.
GS: How was the code of standards for NPOs in Albania developed?
XZ: The National Resource Center facilitated a participatory process for developing the code of standards for NPOs. This process consisted of a series of trips across the country to introduce this idea involving onsite and online consultations with up to 200 civil society organizations, and the creation of a working group of 16 CSOs (that later became the initial members of the Code of Standards) responsible for drafting the initial text so the standards were neither too high nor too low based on the local capacities and context of CSOs. We finally conducted consultations on the final draft of the code before it was finalized.
At the beginning, we also conducted a quick mapping of existing standards internationally, including the Global Standard for CSO Accountability. Given that the Balkan Civil Society Development Network (BCSDN) is a member of the Global Standard, while Partners Albania is a member of BCSDN, we learned first-hand from the Global Standard experience. So, the Global Standard was consulted in detail when we drafted our own code.
The 16 CSOs conducted a self-evaluation against the standards and presented findings as well as the supporting evidence of existing practices in an assembly meeting held in April 2021 . At this assembly, the members of the Code’s committee were selected. These committee members are responsible for reviewing membership requests from NPOs. The process for the first round of applications was launched last August and a decision about the first cluster of CSOs selected is expected by end of September. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the drafting process for the code took almost two and a half years; that is, from end 2019 until March 2021.
AA: The code of standards is a self-assessment mechanism made up of 4 guiding principles and 7 commitments. The code is a dynamic document which can be improved based on future lessons learned. NPOs adhering to the code must respect the set of standards agreed.
As part of the self-assessment which accompanies the code of standards for NPOs, there is a question about how feedback is collected from constituents, members and other stakeholders and how this feedback is acted upon. On this point, based on our knowledge from the larger universe of CSOs in Albania, there is still room for improvement around feedback systems as many do not have procedures in place for feedback gathering. Instead, feedback is managed in an informal manner. Whenever this happens, feedback is project based rather than organizational-oriented. However, some of the 16 CSOs that became the initial members of the code tend to collect feedback more periodically as part of the monitoring & evaluation component of their work, either through questionnaires or focus groups with target groups.
Through this code, we hope that the sector as a whole will embrace higher standards and become more accountable and effective, while also improve its relationships with government, media and businesses. We are aware that this is an issue which will take time to materialize, though.