Accounting for accountability: 8 reasons why CSOs are accountable development actors

In today’s world, accountability has taken a high degree of importance especially with the Agenda 2030 now in place. But, fundamental to this discourse is how different development actors exercise accountability. Here are eight (8) ways by which CSOs demonstrate just how serious they are in exercising accountability:

1. CSOs respect and promote human rights and social justice
A core tenet of CSO practice is the respect and promotion of human rights and social justice. This is practiced in a variety of ways including the facilitation of people’s participation in decision-making processes especially the marginalized persons and communities as well as advocacy work on the right of people to determine their own development, decent work, and access to social services among others.
Civil society groups from the Philippines stage a rally to protest human rights abuses of the Aquino government. Photo by Victor Villanueva.

Civil society groups from the Philippines stage a rally to protest human rights abuses of the Aquino government. Photo by Victor Villanueva.

2. CSOs embody gender equality and equity while promoting women and girls’ rights – CSOs around the world have long been implementing the principle of gender equality in its practices – from advocacy arenas, service delivery to governance. As an example, the CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness (CPDE) – a global platform on development effectiveness, ensures that women and feminists are represented in its governance bodies from leading positions to actual composition of its Global Council.

3. CSOs focus on people’s empowerment, democratic ownership and participation – CSOs operate within the framework that development can only by effective and appropriate if its grounded on human rights and local knowledge of affected populations. CSOs apply this principle by involving all affected populations in decision-making process from conception, planning to actual implementation of all development projects.

4. CSOs promote environmental sustainability – Along the lines of recognizing environmental sustainability as a human right, CSOs devise ways to apply this principle in practice both as an advocacy issue as well as a shared organizational and internal value. CSOs also look at this principle from the perspective of social justice – framing climate and environmental issues as barriers to development, democracy and justice.

5. CSOs practice transparency and accountability – CSOs demonstrate their organizational commitment to transparency, multiple and mutual towards building public trust and enhancing credibility and legitimacy. CSOs operationalize accountability beyond financial reporting and donor compliance. For instance, community-based CSOs implement local grassroots-accountability processes to ensure that affected populations are consulted and aware of decisions at all levels. However, significant challenges remain especially among CSOs facing highly repressive regimes and laws.

CSOGeorgia.com – a user-friendly and simple navigation website developed by Georgian CSOs gives all visitors a possibility to obtain full-fledged information about Georgian civil society. This ensures the increased accountability of the sector towards the public. Photo grabbed from the www.csogoergia.com website
CSOGeorgia.com – a user-friendly and simple navigation website developed by Georgian CSOs gives all visitors a possibility to obtain full-fledged information about Georgian civil society. This ensures the increased accountability of the sector towards the public. Photo grabbed from the www.csogoergia.com website

6. CSOs pursue equitable partnerships and solidarity – Effective CSO partnerships in all their diversity are expressions of social solidarity. CSOs foster partnerships among themselves and with other actors on the basis of mutual respect, cooperation and shared values and goals. While CSOs also partner with donor agencies and/or governments, it is clear that CSOs as actors in their own right should not serve as instrumental agents for other actors, and that the basis for coordination must be mutual respect, and equality in decision-making.

7. CSOs share and create knowledge and commit to mutual learning – An important part of improving CSO effectiveness is mutual learning. By sharing knowledge, expertise and experience to each other, CSOs create a knowledge base that can inform development projects and programs. Mutual learning practices also include knowledge and wisdom of local and indigenous communities towards supporting their right to self-determined development.

8. CSOs commit to realizing positive sustainable change – A core principle that binds the global CSO community together is the shared commitment to positive sustainable change. This is realized through partnerships and long-term commitments that aim to empower communities and work in solidarity with affected populations. Positive development change is also sustained through the complementarity of development actors and a focus on the root causes of inequality, poverty, and marginalization.

CooperAcción Peru has been promoting productive projects in peasant communities as a strategy and an alternative to extractive mining and plantation farms in their communities. The families of the peasant Chullupata have learned to cultivate vegetables in experimental plots, where they also study agronomic management, pest and disease control, as well as the nutritional value of vegetables and crops. Photo from CooperAcción.

CooperAcción Peru has been promoting productive projects in peasant communities as a strategy and an alternative to extractive mining and plantation farms in their communities. The families of the peasant Chullupata have learned to cultivate vegetables in experimental plots, where they also study agronomic management, pest and disease control, as well as the nutritional value of vegetables and crops. Photo from CooperAcción.

CSOs take their obligation seriously to be fully accountable as development actors to all their key stakeholders in varying country contexts. Therefore, CSOs place prime importance on voluntary accountability mechanisms rather than government or CSO-imposed ‘policies’ that can be used to further restrict political spaces for action. One way to demonstrate CSO accountability is through the #CSOCheck initiative – a voluntary self-assessment tool that allows CSOs to reflect on their own effectiveness and accountability.

In the final analysis as closing spaces for CSO action continue to restrict civil society, the global CSO community remains committed in improving their effectiveness – a more than enough reason to say that CSOs are indeed, accountable development actors.