The accountability of not-for-profit organizations has been the subject of substantial debate and analysis. Today, NGO and voluntary sector are unorganised and unregulated and its credibility is in question. Many people, institutions and donors have raised questions about NGOs functioning, governance and accountability. It is a challenge for donors, government and others to regulate and ensure accountability. The accreditation process is one such initiative in this direction. The initiatives taken by the government and other agencies such as Credibility Alliance in this area may help organisations in addressing above concerns. The paper highlights the Leadership Development and Organization Effectiveness programme initiatives in this area to address this challenge which can be achieved through leadership and management inputs and training to NGOs executives.
The Credibility Alliance (CA) is a consortium of voluntary organisations committed towards enhancing the accountability and transparency in the voluntary sector through good governance. It is an initiative of NGOs, donors and other stakeholders to develop basic, minimum and desirable norms which are basic standards of governance to ensure the transparency and accountability of an organisation. It has developed an accreditation system based on the norms to strengthen and enhance the legitimacy and the credibility of an individual organisation. Credibility Alliance norms are available at http://www.credibilityalliance.org/home/norms.php.
The accreditation process comprises three steps, self-assessment, assessor’s assessment, and accreditation. The CA reviews organisation self-assessment report to ensure that information and documents have been duly provided as per CA guidelines. This is followed by assessor’s physical verification, review of operational and financial aspects of the NGO functioning and discussion with NGO personnel. The assessment team also interview beneficiaries and other key stakeholders, if necessary also conduct interviews and meetings with current and past donors in order to have a better idea about the authenticity of the NGO. Based on its assessment, the CA accredits organisation for the minimum and desirable norms certifying organisation’s credentials.
Accreditation: Journey towards excellence
Many NGOs believe that an accreditation process helps in developing the system and organisational development. Under the Leadership Development and Organisation Effectiveness (LDOE) programme, NGO executives of ten participating organisations attended the executive leadership programme. The focus of the programme was improving leadership and governance, strengthening organisational effectiveness and enhancing sustainability through addressing organisational viability, financial continuity, programme effectiveness and enduring impact. As part of the programme, these organisations applied for CA accreditation. Many participants reported that the process was helpful and enriching for their organisational development. Mr. Shibaji Mandal of KGVK reports that ‘the ideas shared in LDOE programme on governance issue led to a radical improvement in the Governing Body functioning and operations, with clearly defined processes, roles and responsibility of its members. This led to the fact that KGVK became the first NGO in Jharkhand to have been accredited under ‘Desirable Norms’ category from Credibility Alliance, a level that stresses on several parameters of competence related to the Governing Board functions. In fact, LDOE program has been a precursor to the assessment done by CA subsequently’. Mr. Murari Choudhury, Executive Director of NEEDS says that 'the change process requires commitment, skills and the right environment to do it. LDOE showed us a roadmap about how to look at the issues of organizational effectiveness and engage the team in an aligned format. As a result of LDOE participation, NEEDS is governed by its transparent written policies of HR, finance, diversity and inclusion, child protection, internal control system and so on'. The case of Integrated Development Foundation (IDF) is a good example of accreditation and organisational development.
Case Study: Integrated Development Foundation
The Integrated Development Foundation (IDF) is twenty year old community based organisation (an NGO) working in Bihar and Jharkhand to ensure better quality of life to the poorest and deprived sections of the community with a special focus on women and children through different sectoral interventions such as women empowerment, livelihood, health, leadership development, and reproductive and sexual health, etc. The organisation has several social development programmes and a few networks. Various UN, national and international donor agencies and government support IDF programmes. Its strength lies in community mobilization, capacity building and backward forward linkages while its weak areas relate to organizational sustainability and retention of HR.
IDF has been a professionally managed organisation with good community base and rapport with the target groups. In its twenty years of journey the organisation has done well and its growth chart is impressive. Nevertheless, their focus was more towards mobilising programmes and project and its implementation and less on organisational development. Considering new challenges, government regulation and donors demand, IDF feels that it needs to develop strategies to periodically review its performance to achieve excellence.
LDOE programme was an opportunity for the organisation to work in this direction. LDOE programme led IDF not only to focus on their immediate needs and challenges but on future challenges also such as the sustainability of the programme, staff retention and organisational development. Now IDF assesses its strength and weaknesses periodically and is aware of its weak areas and working towards strengthening the same. The organisation went for the Credibility Alliance accreditation first time under the LDOE programme and was awarded accreditation for desirable norms.
IDF believes that accreditation has helped in building brand, credibility, confidence and governance of the organization. The accreditation process helped the organisation to do the internal assessment of its functioning, governance system, develop various policies and system in the organisation. Many organisations have policies and system but the important question is its compliance. The accreditation process helps to comply and develop a transparent system within the organisation. It also brings value and credibility to the organisation and creates moral pressure on the organisation to maintain norms and standards in place. Mr. Babul Prasad, Chairman, Integrated Development Foundation reports that "after the accreditation, the organization adopted measures to attain excellence in its overall governance and operation system. Initially, the journey began with decentralization and autonomy processes within the organization. It further reviewed and refined its human resource manual, account manual and vision document according to the feedback from the members, staff and external bodies. This process has been really useful and effective for IDF". Mr. Anand Shekhar, Ex-Regional Manager, WaterAid and Team Leader, at NRMC, Executing Agency, Global Sanitation Fund in India who supported the IDF says that, "I have noticed improvements in governance arrangements at IDF. The entire team gets together in the planning and execution of activities and is well aware of the financial allocations made for the program. Decentralised decision making, investing in the collective understanding of attainable under the program are welcome changes in the organization. This has helped the IDF expand its presence and take multi-locational programmes thereby providing it an opportunity to make a difference in lives of increased number of people".
The Credibility Alliance accreditation process is definitely a certification system but it focuses on empowering the organisation to achieve excellence. It helps and gives ample opportunity to the organisation to systemise, organise, develop, and comply minimum standard and desirable norms. The Integrated Development Foundation was having norms and policies earlier too, but it was not complying with it. The accreditation process helped the organization not only to comply those norms, but to develop, update and review their existing policies and norms as well. The Credibility Alliance accreditation helps organisations in ensuring transparency within and outside the organisation, mobilising resources, donor support and brand building. Although, the assessment system is not very rigorous, many organisations believe that accreditation process is relevant and required. Other organisations should also go through such accreditation process to improve, assess and ensure standards within their organisation.
Acknowledgement: The author would like to thank Prof. Jay Satia, Ms. Moi Lee Liow and all NGOs who have been part of excellence assessment. Author acknowledges the support of the project on Leadership Development and Organizational Effectiveness (LDOE) from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation under which this work was done.
 LDOE programme was implemented by the International Council on Management of Population Programme (ICOMP), Malaysia and Xavier Institute of Social Service (XISS), Ranchi supported by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.
(Photo © Integrated Development Foundation)