On 28 May, after prolonged consultations over a period of two years with voluntary organizations all across India, the Credibility Alliance (CA) came into existence. Its aim: to devise a self-regulatory mechanism that enhances the accountability and transparency of the voluntary sector.
This is a tall order in a country with around a million voluntary organizations whose work runs across the entire spectrum of activity from lobbying to public service delivery, and whose concerns range from empowering marginal groups to the broad pursuit of social justice. How is it going about it?
As part of its role as watchdog, the voluntary sector has critiqued the accountability of state and business in meeting their obligations to society, yet the sector itself is no stranger to complaints of bad practice and corruption and it is now being forced to answer the kinds of question it has put to others: to whom are voluntary organizations accountable? How efficiently do they pursue and achieve their objectives? Issues like legitimacy, transparency, accountability and integrity – in short, credibility – have assumed critical importance, not only in the running of voluntary organizations but also in their ability to generate trust. It has become imperative for the voluntary sector – both morally and politically – to subject itself to certain accountability standards that are expected of it, both by the public and by the state.
How it works
Hence the need for a regulatory mechanism. The uniqueness of the Credibility Alliance initiative is that it has emerged from within the sector and is based on the principles of self-regulation and voluntary disclosure. The idea is that these will promote good governance practices that, in turn, will generate trust among all stakeholders and enhance the credibility of the sector.
Specifically, CA is developing two instruments: a reporting tool, the Transparency Profile, for voluntary disclosure of information; and an Accreditation System, based on verification, under which voluntary organizations are evaluated against CA standards of good governance. CA is a membership organization, with membership based on self-certification in conformity with its minimum requirements and a desk review of documents. Both members and non-members of CA will be able to use the Transparency Profile and the Accreditation System, but non-members will not gain rights such as the ability to nominate regional committee representatives, who will form the General Body of Credibility Alliance.
The hope is that the standards set by the two instruments will gain wide acceptance among voluntary organizations, but they are not seen as the last word. The process can be developed, through discussion and participation among members and feedback from other sources, and revised standards will then be incorporated in the Transparency Profile and Accreditation System. A sign of growing recognition of CA norms of good governance is that more than 75 partner organizations of the GIVE Foundation, an organization dedicated to promoting ‘giving’ and good governance and transparency, have complied with them.
Work in progress
If there is a long way to go, perhaps the daunting figure, quoted above, of 1 million voluntary organizations needs some qualification. Of these, it is estimated that probably around 5,000 to 6,000 account for the bulk of funds received from public sources, both foreign and Indian, and it is these organizations that most need to demonstrate their accountability and transparency and require mechanisms that allow them to do so. In addition, however, smaller and newer organizations will also find the CA initiative attractive as a means to show they are credible and trustworthy organizations.
A sector standard
The ultimate goal of the Credibility Alliance is to establish its norms of good governance as the ‘sector standard’ and to ensure they are seen as such not only within the sector but by outside agencies like the state and funding organizations, too. With nearly 100 member organizations in the first few months, the early response bodes well. The challenge is to take it forward without compromising the autonomy, innovative spirit and independence of voluntary organizations. The participatory approach and the principle of self-regulation should serve as the guiding beacons for CA in making the initiative widely acceptable and in realizing its twofold goal: to enhance good governance in the voluntary sector and to give voluntary organizations a platform to establish their credibility and legitimacy in the eyes of the wider public.
Ranjan Rao Yerdoor is CEO of Credibility Alliance and Dr R Madhavan is a Programme Officer. They can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org