PRIZMA

Bankable. Credible. Sustainable.

Flower

Is GRI Too Much Transparency for NGOs?

 

With the publication of the NGO Sector Supplement, GRI sent a signal that NGOs are not exempt from transparency and accountability. How will NGOs respond?

One of the key difference between GRI’s ‘generic guideline’ and its NGO Sector Supplement is an emphasis on program effectiveness in the latter. But there are also other and related elements, such as engagement of affected stakeholders and partners in coordination, planning, implementation and evaluation. Or reviewing practices and performance related to diversity and corruption. The latter will probably receive more visibility following a story about corruption involving grants made by the Global Fund, a partnership that channels funds to fight AIDS, TB and malaria to some of the poorest countries in the world. Many of these countries also rank low on the Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index.

In my recent blog on the Emerging Field of Non-Profit & NGO GRI Reporting, I highlighted that there are now nearly ten NGOs that have applied GRI’s NGO Sector Supplement since its publication in 2010. This group includes Amnesty International UK and the Earth Charter. The most recent addition to this pioneering group is the Fulbright Academy for Science & Technology, about which I blogged here.   

Is GRI asking too much disclosure and requiring a too rigid format from NGOs – akin to a ‘transparency and accountability orgy’ NGOs don’t want to participate in? Not really. GRI’s NGO Sector Supplement was developed in collaboration with, inter alia, the International NGO Accountability Charter. The members of this group are listed below:

All members of the International NGO Accountability Charter are required to submit an annual report in line with the GRI NGO Sector Supplement. First time reporters are encouraged to use the GRI NGO Level C reporting template which is a lighter version of the NGO Sector Supplement. (This reminds me also of the approach adopted by the International Council on Mining and Metals, a mining idustry club, about which I blogged here: 15 of 18 ICMM Company Members Produced A+ GRI Reports). 

Looking at the membership list of the International NGO Accountability Charter and the commitment made to GRI reporting, I wonder if the NGO sector will soon (within two years?) become one of the dominant reporting sectors in the GRI Reporting List. What is your expectation?

Bookmark and Share

14 Responses to “Is GRI Too Much Transparency for NGOs?”

  1. March 28th, 2011 at 10:31 am

    Kernaghan says:

    Thanks for this Mehrdad. Just an added point: the new ISO 26000 social responsibility standard is intended to apply to all organizations, so it provides added reinforcement to the idea that it is the expectation of the international community that all types of organizations, including NGOs, should exercise social responsibility (including transparency) in their own operations and relations with others.

  2. March 28th, 2011 at 11:02 am

    Mehrdad Nazari says:

    Many thanks for adding this point, Kernaghan. Let’s see if many NGOs (or others) will embrace ISO 26,000. GRI – now in existence for over a decade – has ‘only’ attracted some 2,000 reporters (give or take: many more use it but don’t commit fully to GRI framework).

  3. March 28th, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    Mehrdad Nazari says:

    I had an interesting exchange off-blog which I would like to share with the readers of this blog post:

    Commentator: I absolutely agree with the idea that NGOs should be as transparent, if not more, than any other organizations, this because they operate under democratic structures and should thus be able to be fully accountable to their members. However, I have a major preoccupation which is related to the costs implied. I am sure all NGOs would like to report under the GRI guidelines, but do they have the resources for that? That’s the issue and this is were proper funding is key to the process… What do you think?

    Mehrdad Nazari, ESIA & CSR Advisor, PRIZMA: Cost is always an issue (for all organizations). Most of the GRI reporting efforts/costs should be marginal costs. For example, there should be an accounting system in place already and does not need to be invented for GRI reporting purposes.

    Commentator: Certainly, but having worked for both private companies and NGOs, I can tell you that the funding issue is always much more acute within NGOs than within private companies. Concerning the accounting system, as far as I know all NGOs have accounting systems in place.

    Mehrdad Nazari, ESIA & CSR Advisor, PRIZMA Having worked with NGOs too, I won’t disagree with you. My guess is that NGOs may underestimate their ability to generate basic GRI reporting, even if they may need to improve their systems (for example: environmental footprint). Take a look at the Fulbright Academy’s report published last week.

    Commentator: Well, each case and each context is different, and some NGOs are bigger than others.

  4. March 29th, 2011 at 5:27 am

    Mehrdad Nazari says:

    Jouko Kuisma left this message on LinkIn: This is an important subject. Many NGOs have impressive names which create a vision that they represent big, powerful crowds – like “consumers”. In fact, a “national” consumers´ association can have less than one thousand paying members, but they get invited to parliament hearings, TV discussions and all sorts of seminars, as they have been well exposed in the media. Once a local consumers´ association was able to get their “supermarket service quality report” into the local newspaper under big headlines. Actually, there were 11 members in this association, two of them had made this “comparative survey”, and they both were known as devoted supporters of the cooperative movement.

    The NGOs should report at least their budget and financial sources, the amount of paying members, their board and committee members, their links to politics (local, regional, national), major initiatives, actions, results. I haven´t seen the GRI sector supplement yet – I believe all this and much more has been included.

  5. March 29th, 2011 at 5:28 am

    Mehrdad Nazari says:

    Thanks for your comment, Jouko. You are providing some good examples why transparency is good, especially in the NGO sector. – Perhaps the editors running those pieces should have done some more homework (and GRI report could have made that easier)…

  6. March 29th, 2011 at 6:22 am

    Mehrdad Nazari says:

    Spyros Simandonis left this comment on LinkedIn: I don’t think there is such a thing as too much transparency. And especially for NGOs if we want people to respect them and have faith in their activities I would argue that transparency is a key element.

  7. March 30th, 2011 at 6:04 am

    Mehrdad Nazari says:

    Pierluigi Orati commented on LinkedIn: Dear Mehrdad, very bright cue you posted and my idea is that transparency is a must in CSR matters both for Corporations and NGO’s. The transparency and very demanding standard that GRI requests to companies is useful to “build reliability and therefore, just as consequence reinforce companies’ reputation. Why should not be the same for NGOs? Some NGOs in the past have been too allowing (permissive) towards some businesses and or some corporations on the other hand they have concentrated their attention and “control” on other fields. In my opinion an excercise of Transparency with such “tighten” GRI standard for NGOs would make both Companies and NGOs themselves look each-other with more trust and therefore more Spaces of Possible Agreement (SOPAs).and cooperation.

  8. March 30th, 2011 at 6:10 am

    Mehrdad Nazari says:

    Arshed Rafiq left this note on LinedIn: The NGOs should be more transparent in reporting as they are the major proponents and supporters of CSR in corporate and public sectors but they have more propensity to be nontransparent in their budgets and operations themselves because they get a relatively easy money from donors. The donors are also not very much interested in promoting transparency because they sometimes are doing covert activities under the garb of NGOs in the recepient countries.

  9. March 30th, 2011 at 6:17 am

    Mehrdad Nazari says:

    @ Arshed Rafig – Thanks for sharing your comments. Yes, many NGOs are proponents of more CSR and should lead by example – but I am not sure if most NGOs would agree that they get ‘easy money from donors’. In fact, in the US (where I am living now), many NGOs are still suffering from the impact of the recessions. But perhaps more transparency/reporting could improve their positioning and competitive advantage to gain and keep the trust of donors/sponsors.

  10. March 30th, 2011 at 11:48 pm

    Can you ever have too much information – Lessons learned from the world of Business Intelligence « SRI Portfolio Management says:

    […] was inspired by the headline Is GRI Too much transparency for NGOs? Which was posted on prizmablog.com and it made me think about how information is managed and how […]

  11. August 16th, 2011 at 2:17 pm

    Richard Telofski says:

    Given that many NGOs campaign for corporations to report accountability and transparency, I would hope that those same organizations would lead the way in being accountable and transparent. The GRI facility is one way in which that can be accomplished, but so far most have not taken advantage of this opportunity.

    We’ll see how this progresses.

    For further information in this area, you may see my blog series on NGO Transparency by going to http://www.telofski.com/blog/category/transparency-2/.

  12. August 16th, 2011 at 3:06 pm

    Mehrdad Nazari says:

    I hear you, Richard, and agree with you. The challenge, I think, is that many see NGOs having a ‘halo’ and may be happy to discount need for both transparency and accountability. However, leading NGOs go the extra mile to also grain the high ground in these areas. Hopefully, it will also be these NGOs that become the preferred candidates for grants, memberships, partnerships and the more influential change makers.

  13. December 13th, 2011 at 2:40 am

    ganar dinero desde casa says:

    ganar dinero desde casa…

    […]Is GRI Too Much Transparency for NGOs? | PRIZMA[…]…

  14. October 6th, 2012 at 4:25 am

    Transparency (behavior) | Economy & Society says:

    […] Is GRI Too Much Transparency for NGOs?, PRIZMA, March 27, […]

Leave a Reply

*