Governance is something of a buzzword in the corporate world as shareholders look to hold boards and executives more accountable for the decisions they believe are made in their name. But this issue of accountability – to whom companies are responsible and how they make this work in practice – is also of fundamental importance in the field of international development.
To whom are social sector organisations primarily accountable? To the communities they serve, or to the donors who provide the money that funds their work? How can beneficiaries – often in the poorest, most underserved communities of the world – ensure they are receiving the support to which they are entitled, and how can donors ensure their investments are being used appropriately?
These are questions a group of social sector and other organisations will explore in a two-day seminar in Oxford on June 7-8, hosted by law firm Linklaters: http://www.goodgovernanceseminar.linklaters.com/ggs/introduction The seminar will explore what organisations mean by good governance, highlight examples of best practice, and examine the challenges in implementation.
The seminar follows a report produced by Linklaters on Camfed, which has developed a governance model to deliver girls’ education in some of the poorest communities in sub-Saharan Africa. www.linklaters.com/pdfs/Camfed/2896_CamfedReport.pdf
The report explores how an organisation can build values effectively into all its systems and how power can be shared and distributed between beneficiaries and benefactors. Setting out to change someone’s life is a huge responsibility, but in a world where accounting to the donor – and pursuing the data that satisfies him or her – can become paramount, it is easy for that sense of responsibility to become skewed.
There is clearly a great deal of interest in getting this right. The Arab Spring has shown that modern communications, facilitating greater awareness about rights and entitlements, can force rapid change. Social sector organisations need to be ready for that change.
At their heart, questions about governance centre around trust, power – and money: where is it going, is it being spent in the right way, and with what impact? These questions carry even greater weight when the individuals in whose name funds are being raised have little or no knowledge of the demands being made on their behalf.
The make-up of the board make-up is one of the elements that help to ensure good governance. But ‘corporate’ culture as set by the leadership is also key, as are the systems through which companies operate – and this is as true for social sector companies as it is in the for-profit world. If you cannot track fully the money you spend, for example, can you be fully accountable?
Camfed and our seminar partners – Linklaters, the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, the Blavatnik School of Government, and the University of Oxford – hope that by bringing together academics, policy makers, thought leaders and practitioners in the social and private sectors, we can identify practices that work – and areas where more research is.
Ann Cotton is the Executive Director of Camfed International