I had the privilege and honor to attend the Arab Foundations Forum Annual meeting and thereafter the Workshop on Improving the Accountability of International Philanthropy organized by WINGS. The events took place in Cairo, Egypt from the 16-18 September 2012.
The Arab Foundations Forum Meeting was held under the theme maximizing philanthropic resources in times of change. The forum was exceptionally interactive and provided numerous learning opportunities for practitioners in philanthropy to examine the role philanthropy can play in post conflict situations. In this case, the forum looked at how philanthropy could support the wind of change taking place in the Arab region following the Arab Spring and how Foundations could ensure that these changes met the aspirations of the people despite region-wide austerity measures.
Key areas of focus related to involvement in advocacy work, self-regulation and creating an enabling environment for practicing philanthropy, innovative approaches to philanthropy and the whole question of youth empowerment and employment. In addition to these, there were three peer learning sessions that addressed issues of how to generate results and measure impact, how to incorporate the rights based approach into foundations work and finally effective fundraising. It was revealing to note that even though many Foundations dealt with human rights issues such as access to education, access to better healthcare, climate change, they did this unknowingly and they could benefit a lot if they applied the rights approach in their work.
Workshop on Improving Accountability of International Philanthropy
The workshop convened under the aegis of WINGS brought together practitioners in philanthropy from Sub Saharan Africa and the Arab region to review and strengthen the existing Principles document and craft strategies to make the document come alive in the philanthropic practice of the regions and philanthropic different organizations. The meeting was ably facilitated by Barry Smith.
As part of the background information, the meeting was informed that the process of developing the current set of principles of accountability began in 2005 when the European Foundation Centre and the Council on Foundations through a joint working group came together in an effort to address the issues surrounding cross border accountability practices. Later, WINGS picked up the interest in improving the principles and was currently engaging in a global review and update of the document, with the aim of deepening the understanding and practice of international philanthropy accountability, as well as introducing voices and perspectives from the global South. This is being done through regional consultations to globalize the Principles of Accountability document, vetting it regionally in Africa, the Arab Region, Asia and Latin America. Once the document is reviewed, it will be the basis for a practical toolkit to facilitate the operational roll-out of the Principles
Seven principles of accountability were identified by the earlier document. They include Integrity, Understanding, Respect, Responsiveness, Fairness, Cooperation & Collaboration and Effectiveness. At the meeting, I was able to share with participants EAAGs code of conduct for its members that among other things emphasize on:
- Use resources for social good
- Define mission, aims and programmes clearly and publically
- Maximum transparency
- Keep administrative costs to a reasonable minimum
- Publish regular reports on activities and finances
- Legal compliance (for both grantmakers and grantees)
- Clear decision-making, oversight and policies for grantmaking
- Avoid conflict of interest
- Ensure confidentiality
- Respect, tolerance and non-discrimination
Plenary discussions brought out very interesting thoughts on how life could be breathed into the principles of accountability and make them work for the philanthropy sector. First was the question of relevance of the principles in the current philanthropic world given the advancement and progression of the sector. What was pressing then and what is currently happening could be at variance bearing in mind changes brought about by factors such as the global economic meltdown in the west and the growth of philanthropy in emerging economies. New concepts such as venture philanthropy, social entrepreneurship and high impact philanthropy have emerged and are challenging the traditional forms of philanthropy.
The second key issue raised was the lack of a monitoring framework to ensure that the principles were being implemented. There were suggestions that detailed indicators be developed for each principle to measure and report on the success of the accountability measures. The third issue was the involvement of grantees in the whole accountability process. It was suggested that grantees feedback on the Grantmakers would provide a good platform to measure the adherence to the principles by the Grantmakers themselves. One speaker summed it up all by this statement “You don’t get to say if you are accountable – others get to say that!’ The most useful thing we can do is to create mechanisms by which our constituents can hold us accountable”
Recommendations and Way forward
- It was generally agreed that the principles were sound and only needed some adjusting in the language to strengthen certain arguments and elaborate others.
- Participants agreed to go back to their constituents and actively sell the principles to them.
- It was suggested that network groups present could take the initiative to test the principles among their members.
- Participants cautioned against the name and shame approach as it could be counterproductive. We need to be seen to be encouraging accountability and not punishing those who fail to conform.
- It was agreed that participants would continue the discussions during the African Grantmakers Conference scheduled to be held in |South Africa on 2 November 2012.
Nicanor Sabula, EAAG