Further thoughts on the dangers of transparency

Jo Andrews

The debate in Alliance about transparency has been helpful in clarifying my views on this, and, judging from the comments Ariadne has had from other social change and human rights funders, they too have found it useful.

I agree with much of what Fran Perrin et al and Bradford Smith say (Alliance, letters, December 2014). We should be careful not to generalize from exceptions. And, perhaps more importantly, transparency is important and we stand to gain a great deal from it.

But I think we need to do more than say that human rights is a modest exception to the vast majority of grantmaking and leave it there: in my view that risks losing a large part of the argument in favour of transparency.

I am not so sure that these concerns will be restricted to human rights funders.

  If we can, we need to find a more nuanced way through this – grantmakers may need more direct support and advice to help them make the right decisions.

This year for the first time Ariadne is holding a forecast exercise to try to predict trends among social change and human rights grantmakers in Europe in 2015. More than one grantmaker told us that they are reassessing their policy of publishing data or handing it over for data collection this year because of concerns about safety.

I am also not so sure that these concerns will be restricted to human rights funders. Last week the Russian Duma gave initial approval to a bill that will outlaw certain grantmakers and potentially criminalize contact with them. If this bill becomes law, then, for the first time, all those associated with ‘undesirable groups’ risk arrest and imprisonment – even if they are independent accountants working on programmes for street children or on arts or environmental programmes.

To make it possible to go on promoting transparency ethically, we need to have a concrete plan in place to deal with the difficulties. We have begun to think about this in the data collection exercise I am most closely involved with. Here are some of the steps we are thinking of taking to try to ensure that we don’t put both grantmakers and grant recipients in danger: first, setting up a security subcommittee so that the risks are considered, proactively, at regular intervals.  Second, adopting a system whereby we can drop a cloak quickly on various grant recipients and grantmakers as circumstances demand, removing it later if and when the risk declines.

Sadly we live in a world where the space for civil society is sharply narrowing. As grantmakers we have to try to enlist much wider support to reverse this, but at the same time we have actively to try to keep those we fund safe.

Jo Andrews
Director, Ariadne – European Funders for Social Change and Human Rights


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When is transparency a really good idea?

Bradford Smith