Jo Andrews argues that increased transparency may not always be a good thing, and gives two examples where she sees dangers. With her examples she inadvertently highlights the importance of continued attention towards increasing transparency.
Her first argument is that handing out data and information also gives ammunition to ‘those passionately opposed to our ideals’. That is exactly the way democracies work: if we cannot find better arguments against the crossfire of ‘those passionately opposed’, you might conclude that our actions were not best in class.
Second, she points out the risks that recipients of our grants in a potentially hostile political climate (she gives the examples of Hungary and Uganda) might run when opponents get wind of our openly advertised, well-meant gifts. The problem is that they run potentially even more risks when receiving our monies secretly because open relations with parties abroad provide better shelter then nothing,
In 2004, when we founded Oranje Fonds (the national foundation for social development in the Netherlands), we took transparency as one of three values for our foundation, the others being governance and excellence. And, as is the way with values, they have no limits.
No matter how well you run your foundation, it can always be run better. However good your governance standards, society forces you to continuously review your governance principles and assumptions and to adapt and improve accordingly.
Transparency has proved to be the most accessible value for everybody inside and outside our foundation; governance and excellence are part of the professional domain, but transparency rings a bell for everyone, regardless of education and intellectual capacities.
For our colleagues it means that they have access to all the information in our system (apart from the personal files, which fall under the Law on Privacy). Every week we invest half an hour of everybody’s time in an information session in which we evaluate and present our plans, decisions and actions.
For our applicants it means that they have full access to decisions concerning their grant application, and that they may contest grant decisions. For all others outside the foundation, it means they can inform themselves about our policies and our grants.
It has made us at Oranje Fonds aware of the need for consistent argumentation, a reliably fast application procedure, and in-depth analysis of every possible consequence of our grants – for us as grantmakers, not wishing to create unwanted precedents; for our grantees, not wanting to burden them with unrealistic expectations or unachievable aims.
Over the last ten years we have seen that transparency is time and again the key to improving governance and excellence. The three together provide us with a most sound foundation for our foundation!
Ronald van der Giessen
CEO, Oranje Fonds