Sunday, January 10, 2010

International Conference on NPO Accountability 2009

On 19-20 December 2009, the Taiwan NPO Self-Regulation Alliance (, together with the National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan hosted the International Conference on NPO Accountability 2009, and on NPO Public Trust on the campus of the National Taiwan University. This event was remarkable for its planning, quality, substance, and scope. One of the things that made this conference so remarkable is that it was planned, executed, and hosted by the Taiwan NPO Self-Regulation Alliance which itself is only four years old, and a recent member of the International Committee on Fundrasing Organizations (ICFO).

It was also remarkable that it took on some of the difficult and complex issues presented in the third sector worldwide. Taiwan NPO Self-Regulation Alliance published a book containing pre-submitted papers in preparation for the conference. Although most of the speakers were professors in Taiwan universities and major nonprofit organizations, there were speakers from outside the country, including the United States and India, indicating the scope of the conference and of the interest in the third sector.

First, the keynote address presented by Professor Mark Sidel, a professor of law and faculty scholar at the University of Iowa College of Law focused on the Global View of NPO Public Trust. Professor Sidel, with extensive experience with the sector in Beijing, Bangkok, Hanoi, and New Delhi presented the perspective on NPO self-regulation from an Asian and US experience. As Professor Sidel pointed out, the thrust of this conference and the topic of NPO accountability is both important and timely because of the strong growth of the number of nonprofit and philanthropic organizations around the world over the past 10 to 20 years, the view of the state vis-à-vis the nonprofit and philanthropic activity, the sector’s desire to improve its performance in which trust and accountability are key factors in determining both private and public funding of third sector activities, and how continuing cases of malfeasance, fraud, and other forms of corruption have strengthened calls for transparency, accountability, and public trust in the sector. These were the themes that were developed more fully throughout the conference by the other speakers.

Dr. Joyce Yen Feng, Professor of the Department of Social Work and Dean of Student Affairs, National Taiwan University, addressed the conceptualization of NPO accountability in Taiwan. She presented the results of social research and her analysis of the data.

Having set the stage for the development of these themes, these two talks were followed by three forums in which the questions of why we need accountability, what is accountability, and how to we promote accountability in the sector were considered. The approach in these three forums was both comprehensive and scholarly or academic. Each forum contained the principal presentations addressing assigned topics, to be followed by responding presentations. This approach essentially created a dialogue between each of the speakers in each forum, and then between the speakers and the audience.

Thus, for example, in the first forum, the author of this post and Dr. Chung-Hwa Ku, professor in the Department of Sociology, at the National Chengchi University in Taipei, addressed the question of “Why do we need accountability?” This forum addressed many of the commonly understood reasons for accountability, but also addressed many of the challenges to the very idea and practice of accountability. Some of these will be discussed in a future post in the blog. The forum was moderated by Dr. Yeun-Wen Ku, a professor and chair of the Department of Social Work at the National Taiwan University.

Following the initial presentations, Wen-Chen Chou, General Secretary of United Way of Taiwan, and Maxine Yang, Assistant Vice President of County Corporate Affairs, Citibank-Taiwan gave the responses to the initial papers. These responses were based on the published papers and on the oral presentations made during the forum, and reflected an analysis and evaluation of the significant points that were made in the papers and presentations. Additionally, Maxine Yang's presentation addressed the information that funding sources wanted to know and why, from NPOs seeking funding. Specifically, what she presented was what Citibank Taiwan looks for from NPOs that seek funding for their projects. Her presentation was comprehensive and practical, both with respect to what should be expected in any transparent and accountable NPO, and what all funding sources should be interested in seeing in applications for funding.

The second forum dealt with the definition and nature of “accountability.” This session, moderated by Professor Hsin-Huang Michael Hsiao, of the Department of Sociology, National Taiwan University, and Director of the Institute of Sociology, with the major presenter, Pushpa Aman Singh, the Chief Executive Officer of GuideStar India. The thrust of her paper and presentation was the level of cooperation between the government and voluntary sector initiatives promoting accountability. With an estimated 3.3 million registered NPOs in India, and a sector that is regulated by multiple laws and authorities, nevertheless its credibility suffers because of the lack of reliable information concerning performance, finances, output and outcomes, performance benchmarks, government licenses, and the like. Although the NPO and NGO sector have accomplished much, the need for the third sector to focus its energies at enhancing its own accountability is here.

The final forum was something of a recapitulation of the issues raised by asking the question: How to promote accountability? The moderator, Hui-Jung Chi, the Chief Executive Officer of The Garden of Hope Foundation, with presenters, Wen-Liang Chen, the Deputy Secretary-General of United Way of Taiwan, and Wan-Ping Lu, the Chief Executive Officer of Begonia Foundation, and responders, Man-Fang Sun, a CPA and Samuel S. J. Chen, the Director of the Secretariat, Red Cross Society of the Republic of China, addressing how their respective organizations sought to promote accountability.

The two-day conference ended with what was called, the World Café, during which there were focused group discussions on topics raised during the conference. These were round table discussions led by Jorie Wu, a certified professional facilitator and assessor, with fixed topics covering various issues in accountability. These discussions were noted by each discussion group and then posted as a means of generating a consensus on a plan of action in a final large round table recitation of the conclusions expressed within the various groups and lessons learned.

This was a remarkable conference, and I came away with a much greater appreciation for the value of ICFO and what we can learn from each other. I especially appreciated the interdisciplinary and academic approach to this important subject that drove our discussions back to first principles and foundational concepts that draw so many people into the work of civil society organizations. That a sector in Taiwan can take this subject so seriously and establish its own self-regulation monitoring regime is remarkable. But to sponsor an international conference on NPO Accountability and to publish the papers submitted is a real contribution to what is possible in the sector.

1 comment:

  1. Rollin, many thanks for your detailed discussion of this very useful conference.

    Mark Sidel