A journey towards transparency and accountability in Cambodia:
Eleven applicant NGOs came together to strengthen their own practices for organisational effectiveness.
by Chen Viol, February 25, 2020
The Cooperation Committee for Cambodia (CCC) is known as the largest and longest-established membership-based organization in Cambodia. Established in 1990, CCC members are approximately 200 NGOs. CCC has played a unique role in strengthening the cooperation, professionalism, accountability, governance, and development effectiveness of civil society organizations (CSOs) working across diverse sectors in Cambodia.
CCC hosts the NGO Governance & Professional Practices (NGO GPP) program, which is originally known as the NGO Good Practice Project, aiming at promoting good governance within NGOs operating in Cambodia. The NGO runs the Voluntary Certification System (VCS)/ GPP Certification System based on a set of GPP standards, which serves as an NGO Code in Cambodia. The GPP standards are in line with and responsive to the principles #5, #6, and #7 of the Istanbul Principles on CSO Development Effectiveness which was globally endorsed in 2010.
According to third revised edition of the GPP standards, ‘transparency’ means to be open and willing to accept public scrutiny and, thus, reducing the risks for an organization to engage in dishonest or deceitful practices. The GPP standards also defines the concept of ‘accountability’ as one’s disposition for taking responsibility for your own actions.
After the civil war in Cambodia came to an end in 1979, CSOs played a crucial role in the development of the Cambodian society. According to a regional study on civil society development in Southeast Asia from 2017, civil society in Cambodia has had a relatively short history. While international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) presence emerged around 1979, the first domestic NGO was created in 1991, and the NGO sector experienced a rapid growth from 1993 onwards. Over the period of almost 30 years, CSOs in Cambodia came to play three distinctive roles: basic social service delivery, advocacy and provision of support services such as capacity development, research and micro-financing. Thus, civil society became an important sector from an economic perspective. According to a CCC report, 1315 NGOs in Cambodia managed a total budget of around USD 600-700 million in 2012 in order to support their project implementation and organizational activities.
The civil society expansion in Cambodia attracted the attention of proponents for its regulation. In 1995, the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) started to raise the need for a bill on Associations and NGOs (LANGOs); however, there was no sufficient support to get it passed at that time. In 2005, the idea for a LANGO bill regained momentum, yet it was not until 2013 that it became adopted. The main purpose of LANGO is to regulate NGOs’ operation.
At the global level, CCC has partnered with nine other civil society organizations with a track record on standards from around the world to develop and promote the Global Standard for CSO Accountability since 2015. Therefore, the content of GPP standards together with the codes or standards from the other partner organizations informed and shaped one single Standard so-called the Global Standard for CSO Accountability (GS). Divided into 3 clusters, the Global Standard is made up of 12 commitments; four under each cluster. In addition, the GS is complemented by a set of key action points and possible progress indicators towards fulfillment of each commitment (addressing the process, policies, structures, stakeholder feedback, and guiding questions for reflection and action).
In January 2020, eleven NGOs from Cambodia, including Komar Rikreay Association (KMR), Women’s Resource Center (WRC), EGBOK, Trailblazer Cambodia Organization (TCO), Samaky, Phare Ponleu Selpak Association (PPS), Save Vulnerable Cambodia (SVC), Conserve Indigenous Peoples Languages Organization (CIPL), Cambodian Rural Students Trust (CRST), Children and Women Development Center in Cambodia (CWDCC), and Cambodia Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) attended a workshop conducted by CCC on CSO good governance, transparency and accountability. As a result, these 11 NGOs committed to advance transparency and accountability within their own organizations through adoption, self-reflection, and learning around the 12 commitments and key action points of the Global Standard.
After a pre-screening of all applicants, based on specific criteria – such as the existence of a board of directors and written policies on personnel and financial management -, these 11 NGO from various provinces within Cambodia were selected to participate in a 1-year organizational capacity building project. The main goals of the workshop were:
- To present the project cycle and activity plans/roadmap to applicant NGOs
- To present the Governance and Professional Practices (GPP) Standards and the Global Standard
- To discuss a coaching and capacity building plan.
The eleven NGOs expressed strong interest with the 12 commitments and key action points while also committed to integrate the GS into their internal systems and organizational policies. Three of the organizations attending the workshop (Samaky, EGBOK, and WRC) prioritized future efforts around Cluster C commitments: #9 on empowered and effective staff and volunteers, #11 on responsive decision-making, and #12 on responsible leadership. A set of four other NGOs (SVC, PPS, TCO, and KMR) decided to work around Cluster B commitment #5 on people-driven work, #6 on strong partnerships, #7 on advocating for fundamental change, and #8 on open organizations, due to the fact that these four commitments encourage putting the people with whom an organization’s work at center stage, work in partnerships, conduct evidence-based advocacy, and promote transparency of an organization’s own successes and failures. Last but not least, four other NGOs (CIPL, CWDCC, CRST, and YMCA) agreed to undertake work around Cluster A commitments #1, #2, #3, and #4 as these four commitments foster women rights and gender equality, protection of the environment; and justice and inclusion; thus, they contribute to having a positive lasting change in society.
As the 11 NGOs showed a high commitment to reflect, learn, and integrate the GS into their organizations’ operations, CCC agreed to provide support through coaching and guidance in order to adapt the GS to their own needs and realities. In this regard, CCC will help review internal systems and policies and discuss with key relevant stakeholders such as the NGOs’ staff, senior management team, board of directors, and donors to develop a work plan in order to guide how to implement the GS within each organization so it can strengthen the NGOs’ own capacities.