By Richa Sharma
The Indian civil society, which grew enormously in size over the last few years, is facing external challenges such as a shrinking civic space, diminishing foreign aid, and decreasing public trust. In addition, laws for voluntary organizations (VO) have become quite complex, with the possibility of varying interpretation leading to confusion. An instance of non-compliance with VO regulations could lead to serious implications invoking penalties and at times even resulting in closure of organizations. On the other hand, internal constraints such as lack of human, financial and technical resources also become part of existing challenges faced by the third sector in India. Within this context, Civil Society Organization (CSO) self-regulation and accountability becomes a crucial matter.
Set up in 1988, VANI works towards the strengthening of VOs in India, by building their capacities and advocating with the government for an enabling environment for them. Through its ‘Code of Conduct’, VANI encourages self-regulation by promoting transparent and accountable practices among the Indian CSOs. Thus, in 2017, VANI updated its Code of Conduct, aligning it with the Global Standard for CSO Accountability, through a participatory process which involved feedback from various stakeholders in order to define measurable indicators.
During the past few years, VANI conducted several workshops on CSO accountability with the purpose to create awareness among its members and non-members about the importance for adopting, as well as implementing, accountability standards. In addition to learning about the indicators in VANI’s Code of Conduct, participants attending the workshops were exposed to the Global Standard for CSO Accountability, its self-assessment tool for measuring adherence and the Dynamic Accountability approach.
Benefits from self-evaluation include becoming aware of an organization´s own strengths and weaknesses; identifying good practices and areas for improvement; promoting dialogue and enhanced learning; and developinga baseline to measure future progress made
In the current scenario in India, there is a dire need of building capacities of organizations especially those working at the grassroots level. VOs generally possess knowledge and strong connections with communities on the ground; however, they are usually constrained to implement processes and systems, which could contribute to make them stronger and more effective while also becoming more accountable. By implementing transparency and accountability practices and systems, they could become more resilient organizations.
Reflections from the workshops
Self-regulation by adhering to the GS and VANI’s Code of Conduct
Compliance with the Global Standard and VANI’s Code of Conduct will help to build a positive image of CSOs, thereby increasing the confidence among various stakeholders on the Third Sector. Thus, VANI has been encouraging organizations to sign the Declaration for Responsible Governance and Management of Voluntary Organizations and pledge to adhere to the highest standards of accountability and transparency.
As a GS Project Partner, VANI is working to promote the Global Standard as an important tool regionally and globally. At the South Asia region, VANI conducted a training workshop on the Global Standard for CSOs in Bhutan. VANI also organized a consultation in Delhi on the Global Standard in which CSOs and CSO networks from Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Malaysia participated. VANI intends to deepen the awareness about the Global Standard in South Asia, especially in Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh, with the hope that a sustainable and enriching community of practice on the concept of Dynamic Accountability gets materialized in the future.
In this regard, the GS self-assessment tool will allow an organization to evaluate its own performance in terms of the Global Standard commitments, while identifying good practices and areas for further improvement. The use of the GS self-assessment tool will also make grassroots organizations in India less dependent on third party accreditation agencies, which tend to charge high certification fees.
VANI efforts in promoting Dynamic Accountability in India and South Asia and the region