Sunday, July 26, 2009

Where to Start?

Although my mind is buzzing with thoughts about the importance of charities and indeed of institutions in the civil society movement, and about the importance of accountability and transparency in that sector, I find it difficult to know just where to start this conversation.

There are so many things one might say to set the stage. Charities and other nonprofit institutions have been around since the beginning of time. But there is the question of the government's role in providing the needed services provided by charitable and educational institutions, for example. There is also the question of the level of government regulation and oversight of the sector that should be required in order to ensure transparency and accountability.

This emphasis on transparency and accountability, and all the board governing structures that are required to assure appropriate levels of accountability, raises also the question of independent monitoring by national and independent nongovernmental bodies, either through some form of self-regulation or by a separate independent monitoring body.

This then is the story of those independent, nongovernment monitoring organizations that seek to provide guidance and oversight within the sector. How did these organizations develop? What are the biases and assumptions that support the role of these types of organizations versus the regulation of the sector by government? Are governments competent to provide the kind of regulatory scheme and oversight necessary to ensure an acceptable level of transparency and accountability? Can independent, nongovernment monitoring organizations provide the credibility necessary to assure the donor public, and indeed the public generally, of the quality of the transparency and accountability of accorded various organizations within the charity sector? These are just a few of the questions to be addressed in this conversation.

Some of this discussion over the next few weeks will focus on several issues that have dominated the landscape throughout the fifty year history of ICFO. One is the matter of cross-border fundraising for charity. The second is the treatment and monitoring, if any, of large international charitable institutions, such as, Amnesty International, Doctors without Borders, Greenpeace International, Oxfam, Plan International, and World Vision International, and similar relief and development organizations that operate internationally with little accountability within the countries of their origins.

These primary subjects raise a number of subsidiary issues we hope to discuss in the weeks ahead.

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