Demonstrating accountability to our beneficiaries

Demonstrating accountability to our beneficiaries

Written by  Thao Vy

"How does a nonprofit, or donor for that matter, demonstrate their accountability to the beneficiaries?" This was a question raised by Ms. Nuala O'Brian, Head of Development at the Embassy of Ireland in Hanoi during LIN's NPO morning coffee with NPO partners on March 31st 2016.

As part of her sharing, Ms. O'Brian presented two scenarios reflecting the work of two different NPOs who are both striving for the same goal – to reduce infectious diseases in a relatively small community. One organization carries out the project within six months with VND 1.7billion. Another organization carries out the project over 24 months with VND 2.2billion. Month by month, Ms. O'Brian walked members through the two different approaches and asked the nonprofits to share their thoughts on which was the better approach.

Power Points by Ms. Nuala O'Brian and LIN Center - 31 March NPO Morning Coffee

Are we patient enough to listen to locals?

If you were a local government authority, would you rather work with an NPO that is from the community, one that has built a strong relationship with the community or one that has built a strong relationship with the government? Who should be responsible for solving the problems in a community? Is it the local community? Is it the government?

Mr. Phạm Thanh Vân, Founder of Tinh Than Network, commented: "In fact, these two approaches need to be undertaken, side-by-side. You must correctly identify local needs and encourage local people to support you, but you must also work closely with local government so they can help you as well."

However, the question challenged people in charge of community development projects to be patient enough to talk with the local people and local officials, especially and in spite of project deadlines and pressure from donors.

Even in Ireland, Ms. Nuala said, many community projects failed because the NGOs did not consult and gain the buy-in from the local people and/or leaders.

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Ms. Nuala O'Bien

Nevertheless, if you are a community member, which approach would you prefer? The project that completes 150 restrooms in four months or the project that took four months to consult with local community members and draft an agreement with the local government?

Initially, residents might prefer the project that produces tangible results in a short period of time but later realize that it was only a short-term gain, meanwhile the project that takes longer is focused on long-term results. In the first approach, local people did not contribute towards the project but in the second, they are helping to design a project and invited to build it using locally available resources.

Why did the organization want to talk to different community groups separately? Why could they not gather together the women, men, elderly and youth to talk about health and sanitation? Is it possible that each group has different needs and that some may feel uncomfortable sharing their ideas in front of others. (For example, children may not want to speak when their teachers or parents are around and women may not want to talk about sanitation in front of men.) Similarly, NPOs must respect and spend time with government officials to obtain their viewpoints, address their questions and understand their concerns.

So, it is not only important that an organization take the time to consult the community they wish to serve but that they also take the time to consider the best way to gather valuable information from stakeholders .

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The Role of the Donor

For NPOs, what is most important? The responsibility towards your donors or the responsibility towards your beneficiaries? Are there cases when we sacrifice what is best for the beneficiaries in order to make our donors happy? And what do we do when our beneficiaries are non-responsive to requests for input?

NPOs frequently face pressure from their donors and beneficiaries, which can create stress and confusion for project workers. Nevertheless, we need to focus on the overall objective. As such, if beneficiaries do not seem interested to join a project, it probably needs to be reviewed before proceeding further. For the donors, it is important to ensure that the key, long-term objectives are agreed upon at the outset.

There appear to be two types of donors: Donors who focus on impact and understand the value of community participation, and Donors that need-to-see-results-immediately. While some projects can benefit from both types of donors, other projects might require one or the other. Or, NPOs will need to take the time to talk with their donors and convince them of the value of a long-term approach.

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Mr. Frédéric Ceuppens

Mr. Frédéric Ceuppens, the First Secretary of Development Cooperation from the Belgian Embassy, shared his experience when two NGOs refused to cooperate with his Embassy because their funding process took too long.

"They wanted to spend time working directly with the community rather than preparing report after report for our Embassy." he said. "Being that we were greatly impressed by their operating results, and their candor, we decided to adjust the report process so that we could still work with these two NGOs. We like to work with NGOs that we can see bring real benefits to the community."

Ms. Nuala O'Brian, added: "It is true that we are under pressure from our headquarters to report on the money going into these projects; however, we are not looking for a nice-looking report. What we care about is the specific changes our money has made in the community and how long those changes will last."