Monday, 8 December 2014

NGO accountability should go beyond mere compliance

Calls for NGO accountability have grown louder in recent years, some to improve performance and others on a desire to muffle advocacy activities. For a long time, NGOs have been demanding accountability of governments, extractive companies and the corporate sector. This stems from the fact that NGOs represent absentee owners, most NGOs collect money on behalf of the poor and trust the NGOs to deliver on the promise.
The increased cost of living, compounded by the mushrooming NGOs coupled with the awareness on civil liberties and increased education in most developing countries has led to donors and communities demanding value for money. Governments have also realised that there are many NGOs that have emerged in the name of supporting the vulnerable but in essence have no reach or impact.
In response to the Daily Monitor editorial of December 2, “NGOs should also be Accountable”, my view is that NGO accountability should not be for mere compliance. Being accountable is a good thing to do.
By their nature, NGOs stand on the moral pedestal, which is reason enough for all NGOs in ensuring efficiency and effectiveness of their work. Just being moral crusaders without demonstrating authenticity, integrity, capability and inclusiveness in their work is playing double standards. NGO accountability should be about value addition to the households and communities where NGOs work.
NGOs complain when local governments demand ‘another’ registration; they say they are already registered by the central government. I presume the local government authorities want to ensure that every NGO operating in the district is registered for accountability and coordination purposes. Submitting externally audited financial reports to central governments is not enough.
To some NGOs, accountability is about community participation in the different stages of the project cycle. While participation is an important step for project ownership and sustainability, in itself, it is not the best measure for accountability.
Project participants should be able to influence the direction of the NGO based on the feedback that they provide. Involvement and empowerment is key, space for transformative conversations with project participants and other stakeholders should be encouraged.
In NGOs where accountability is for compliance, they put emphasis on accountability to donors and governments. As for NGOs where accountability is beyond compliance, they equally place significance on downward accountability or what is known as accountability to beneficiaries (citizens).
For the World Vision Uganda Citizen Voice and Action approach, accountability is not just to donors and government but also to the communities where we work. We focus on both downward and upward accountability.
Through Citizen Voice and Action interventions, local level governance has been strengthened. Demand for better service delivery has been strengthened and at the same time, utilisation of these social services has also increased.
The community members are not just demanding accountability from government agencies but also from World Vision and other NGOs who are working in the areas where World Vision works.
Giving the people the voice to express their opinions on the quality of the project deliverables is one way for ensuring accountability is beyond compliance.
The contribution of NGOs in eradicating poverty cannot be disputed. The governments of developed, developing or emerging economies cannot dispel the work of NGOs. The third sector (as NGO sector is referred to) has its place in our society today. NGOs reach many places or sections of society, which governments cannot effectively reach. This comparative advantage for NGOs should, however, not misplace accountability and transparency. Demanding accountability from governments without demonstrating accountability beyond compliance is unacceptable.

Doctor Batte uses trees to create youth employment

Charles Batte does not put his entrepreneurial eggs in one basket. The 27-year-old’s name is likely to spark memories of the awards he has won for his works in the world of social entrepreneurship, particularly the Empower Community Farm in Katiiti village Mpigi District, which employs more than 50 workers and a health centre in Nansana.
However, these are only some of the proverbial baskets holding his eggs. One other such basket is Tree Adoption Uganda (TAU), a social enterprise he set up in 2013, with a mission to address youth unemployment and deforestation.
Inception of the idea
When Batte agrees to my request for this interview, he proposes we hold it at Rubaga hospital where he works as a medical doctor. “The idea was one of the initiatives under my now renowned “Self-Sustaining Community” model of enterprise tailored to transform my community through; job creation, improving access and affordability for health, education and youth empowerment,” he says of the start of the venture.
“After getting the farm and health centre on their feet, I used funds from the two to breathe life in this fresh enterprise where Shs30m has been spent, so far, in actualising the idea.
The model of TAU works in such a way that Batte meets the needs of two groups of people at ago. On one hand are corporate companies or manufacturers whom he persuades to spend their Community Social Responsibility money on tree planting in order to reduce their carbon footprint.
“For example, we approach Centenary Bank (we are currently in talks with them) and calculate for them the carbon their operations contribute to the atmosphere,” he explains. “We also calculate for them the number of trees they have to plant to reduce this carbon.”
On the other hand, we have youth who are pregnant with business ideas and are seeking for a helping hand to deliver these ideas. He offers these youths basic start-up business training and a three – year mentorship. TAU also gives these youth trees to plant in nurseries.
When the corporate company or manufacturer pays for, say 10,000 trees, TAU buys these trees from the youth under its training programme. An agreement is signed that this earned income is spent on actualising the business ideas the youth have been working on.
“This way, TAU is able to hit two birds with one stone. Address the challenge of youth unemployment and sustain the environment,” he says.
The medical doctor says TAU is currently through with its pilot project under which the venture partnered with Aga Khan High School to equip 150 students with hands-on experience of setting up tree nurseries of up to 600 fruit trees.
TAU which currently employs five people will kick off with 50 youth in Katiiti village. Batte says he prioritised youth in rural areas in order to reduce the growing number of youth flocking the city to do nothing, leaving behind money-minting opportunities in the villages.
Advice to entrepreneurs
Motivation and self – drive are key. There are very many stumbling blocks in the pathway of a social entrepreneur, he says, but one can only go around them if they constantly remind themselves that quitting is not an option.
He narrates that during his early days as an entrepreneur (in 2009); he invested his hard-earned cash in growing maize on three acres of land. “However, all the maize dried up. In such a situation, only the conviction and hope that there will be a good day can induce you to get back on your feet,” he says.
The medical doctor also stresses the importance of patience and looking beyond fear. He explains that young people tend to yearn for quick results yet they are rare to come by. He says the frustration one encounters before a business finds its feet is a priceless experience for an entrepreneur to master how to transform an idea into a profitable venture.
“The youth should also learn to start with what they have. They should look beyond fears such as; how things will turn out or the imagination of a slow progress,” he states.