The WINGS toolkit, Transparency and Accountability in Philanthropy and Private Social Investment, is the result of regional consultations on transparency and accountability for philanthropy held during 2012 and 2013 — regional workshops in Cairo, Johannesburg, and Bogota that brought together more than 100 WINGS members and partners. We asked The Other Foundation Executive Director Neville Gabriel, who was instrumental in creating the toolkit, and Ana Pinho, WINGS Knowledge Management Coordinator, to share how the sector can benefit from the new resource.
WINGS: Why are standards for transparency and accountability in philanthropy and private social investment so important?
Neville Gabriel: Other than the more immediate value of accountability through transparency such as greater public trust and ownership of a shared agenda, good stewardship of resources, and taking responsibility for decisions and actions, in the longer term greater transparency and accountability builds a much higher quality of conceptual clarity and strategic rigor in the work that is done. It keeps work more relevant, efficient, and effective, generating much better value for money.
Ana Pinho: The face-to-face consultations were an important step to engage WINGS members and partners in the very relevant task of bringing local voices and perspectives from the Global South to the discussions on transparency and accountability. It is a discussion that some WINGS members had been having for a while, which are in turn part of a larger discussion across sectors in society calling for more transparent practices. If transparency and accountability are important for society as whole, it has an even larger role in philanthropy, by keeping it true to the value base of its origins.
WINGS: What are some key findings from the consultation process highlighted in the toolkit?
AP: One of the main findings of the consultation brought to the toolkit was the need for accountability to work in practice, as a way to promote legitimacy within and outside the philanthropy sector.
NG: There is a growing awareness and developing practice about the need for greater accountability in philanthropy, but practices are often not systematized and it is often not clear what is driving the accountability agenda.
WINGS: How can the sector benefit from this new resource?
NG: Accountability can sometimes seem like a very abstract principle rather than a simple practice. The toolkit is meant to help small or big groups to start putting their commitment to accountability into effect in a practical but comprehensive way. It provides a checklist that groups can use to assess whether they are taking many different aspects of transparency and accountability into account so that they can improve their accountability practices over time. It is not meant to be a test to see whether a group is simply accountable or not, but an aide to assist groups to develop their practice of accountability further.
AP: Once we started doing research for the toolkit we noticed there was quite a lot of information around, and the fact that the toolkit systematizes and builds on this collective knowledge makes it an instrumental tool for the sector. It provides very practical and straightforward advice, while presenting key concepts and methods.
WINGS: How can WINGS members and partners collaborate to achieve more transparency in the sector?
AP: WINGS members and partners can continue to engage in discussions, bringing their experiences to the table and promoting transparency and accountability to philanthropic organizations worldwide. Sharing information is another powerful way to help put the issue in the sector’s agenda. Organizations can carry on collaborating with the toolkit, adding their experiences and practices to the body of knowledge built, constructing a truly participatory and global tool.
NG: The simple maxim “accountability = transparency + participation” holds true. I believe that there is some good work being done on the transparency front in regard to accountability, but the ‘participation’ angle is proving to be a bit more tricky. Perhaps there should be some joint standard-setting work about ‘participation’. That’s important because the feedback we get through participation doesn’t just make us more accountable, it can also make us and our practices far more potent.
Download Transparency and Accountability in Philanthropy and Private Social Investment from the WINGS Knowledge Center or access the online version at wingsweb.org/toolkits/transparency. More WINGS interviews here.