The role of principles and values in CSO accountability

By December 9, 2020 Uncategorized

Bethany Spendlove Keeley (Accountable Now

For civil society organizations to be truly accountable, they need to lead by example: promoting and fighting for the protection of human rights, ensuring that principles of do-no-harm guide program and project work and prioritizing activities that are guided by sustainability values will help CSOs succeed in walking the talk.

At Accountable Now, we ask our members to report against the Global Standard’s 12 commitments, knowing that this gives us a thorough understanding of how a CSO is demonstrating accountability to its staff, volunteers and stakeholders. Through their accountability reports which are submitted yearly, members indicate the progress made in their organization to fulfil the 12 commitments, and, in turn, we provide feedback and advice on how they can better achieve dynamic accountability.

From a review of our members’ reports, we would like to share some examples on how they are making progress towards fulfilling the Cluster A four commitments of the Global Standard, that is, address justice and inclusion; promote women’s rights and gender equality; how they protect a healthy planet, and ensure lasting positive impact.

Commitment #1: Justice & Inclusion

CIVICUS, a long-standing member of Accountable Now, has consistently proven itself to be a role model for standing up for, fighting for and advocating for justice and inclusion in the scope of its work:

As part of CIVICUS’ Strategic Plan 2017-2022, we work to empower civil society to become more accountable, effective and innovative agents of change. We do this by encouraging collaboration, engagement, and shared learning among our diverse alliance members and partners. As for the Global Standard’s Cluster A commitments, CIVICUS takes a rights perspective – our vision is a world where all people are able to claim their rights as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Four principles are central to our values and principles, including membership management and programming – participation, non-discrimination, accountability and transparency. This ensures that who we are and what we do as an alliance is consistent with a rights-based approach, ensuring do-no-harm principles throughout. CIVICUS is currently reviewing its organizational-wide Diversity & Inclusion Policy to reflect latest developments in light of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020. As a connector and network builder in the civil society sector, we are eager to walk the talk and take the 10,000+ alliance members along in this important journey.

— Merle Rutz, Impact & Accountability Coordinator, CIVICUS. See their latest accountability report here.

 Commitment #2: Women’s Rights & Gender Equality

Addressing women’s rights and gender equality and fighting for the empowerment of women and girls is regarded as a commonly-held value within the civil society sector. Yet how can CSOs actually fulfil this value in their work? ChildFund Australia, an Accountable Now member since 2018, strive to embed this commitment into their projects and programming:

At ChildFund Australia, we consider robust reflection and sincere dialogue integral to achieving accountability. As an organization, we are continually learning and are committed to pursuing improvements in our development outcomes for children and young people.

 In 2019, ChildFund Australia committed to a comprehensive and robust independent assessment of the integration of gender across our programs. The assessment was extensive, and the final report was shared across the organization, including our Board members. The assessment enabled ChildFund Australia to identify an action plan to strengthen relevant gender inclusion policies, procedures and programming accordingly. Within six months of the assessment, all country offices and the international program team staff members had received gender technical training specifically designed to address challenges highlighted in the assessment; sectoral frameworks and policies were strengthened and program design guidance was updated to reflect gender dimensions. We are seeing a process of iterative improvement as staff become increasingly confident and build their expertise.

Actions are ongoing and there is still progress to be made, however ChildFund Australia has demonstrated its commitment to improving our technical capacity and has embedded process to ensure we continually monitor our capacity and capability in this area; including a commitment within our gender policy for periodic review and assessment and regular updates to the Board on progress against our action plan.

— Sarah Hunt, Grants Manager, ChildFund Australia. See their latest accountability report here. 

Commitment #3: A Healthy Planet 

It is only recently that civil society organizations have increased their attention towards understanding the deeper impacts of their work upon climate change. Sightsavers is an international charity working to prevent avoidable blindness and support equality for people with disabilities. In their latest accountability report, they showed particular commitment to addressing the environmental impacts of their projects and programs.

Climate change and adverse weather events will disproportionately affect the participants of our programs, in particular persons with disabilities, so it is key that we include their perspectives in the design and implementation of interventions and ensure that their voices are advocated for and heard by governments in any climate change response.

At Sightsavers we have been going through a period of strategic reflection and refresh in 2020 – 2021, this gives us the opportunity to re-examine the way we work to ensure that our strategic direction over the next 5 years will meet the changing needs of our program participants. In our Social Inclusion portfolio, we focus on promoting inclusive health, economic empowerment, the specific needs of women and girls, and political agency, of persons with disabilities. We are taking this opportunity to reflect on some key issues, such as climate change, to ensure that we can meet the challenges that these will pose to our work.

We are examining how we can reduce the environmental footprint of our organization and program activities focusing on headquarter level and within our country offices. This includes developing country-specific environmental plans which address supply chains, travel and environmental risk assessments, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. We are also looking at how we can adapt our programming approach across our portfolio by supporting program participants to adapt to climate change and strengthen their resilience to unforeseen climate hazards.

— Martin Baldwin, PS2 Operations and Planning Coordinator, Sightsavers. See their latest accountability report here.


These are just a few examples of how our members are working to transform accountability in the civil society sector. They are setting new expectations, standards and approaches in their work to ensure that accountability goes further, showing that by building upon and living out principles and values, CSOs can effectively fight for the guarantee of rights of diverse groups of people, as well as the planet we live on.

You can find more examples of how CSOs around the world are walking the talk on the Accountable Nowwebsite.

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