New report could help create model of best practice for aid world

by Katherine Baldwin | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 22 July 2010 11:14 GMT

Global law firm sets out the governing structures and guiding principles of a charity that educates girls and empowers young women in sub-Saharan Africa

LONDON (AlertNet) - At a time when donor funds are tight and accountability is high on the agenda in the aid world, a global law firm has produced a report into the workings of a female education charity that could help set a model of best practice for the sector.

The report, by law firm Linklaters, sets out the governing structures and guiding principles of the Campaign for Female Education (Camfed), a charity that educates girls and empowers young women in sub-Saharan Africa.

LinklatersÂ? lawyers studied Camfed for two and a half years, pro bono, to document a governance model that has helped Camfed grow from a charity helping 32 girls in Zimbabwe in 1993 to an organisation that has benefited more than 1 million children in five countries.

Camfed and Linklaters say they think the report - Camfed Governance, Accounting to the Girl - will at least spark a debate and at most lead to a consensus about standards for governance in international development.

"Any organisation thatÂ?s trying to battle poverty in the developing world can benefit from studying this model," said Lance Croffoot-Suede, a partner at Linklaters in New York who worked on the project.

For Camfed, governance is about who has influence, who makes decisions, who controls resources, and where and to whom accountability lies within the communities it serves, said the report. It is also about the relationships and structures through which communities organise themselves.

Camfed founder Ann Cotton said the report had already attracted interest from the aid and development sectors and from academics.

"ItÂ?s very powerful. It's being seen as something that could be a great case study," she told AlertNet in a telephone interview.

ACCOUNTABILITY TO THE GIRL

Camfed's governance model has two guiding principles: it is accountable to the girl it supports - in the same way a business accounts to its shareholders - and it gives local communities the power and responsibility to run their programmes, with a view to spreading the practice of good governance and bringing about systemic change.

"Often times in this sector thereÂ?s a great sense of accountability to the donors. Camfed sees itself in a partnership with donors, with accountability for both parties to the child," said Cotton.

"ThatÂ?s a different - not unique - but a very different way of thinking and acting and really itÂ?s that debate we now want to generate.Â?

Cotton says Camfed's governance model could be applied to emergency situations and also to longer-term development projects.

"This governance model is fundamentally about how to build institutions," said Cotton. In emergencies, "programmes are often relatively short-term and there isnÂ?t sufficient investment in institutions that will sustain the programmes beyond the life of an emergency."

If aid is poured into a disaster zone but bypasses the local infrastructure - community organisations, local support groups - then the chance for systemic change and for really magnifying the relief that comes in could be lost, Cotton argued.

"What we see in emergency situations is sometimes a further weakening and breakdown of those institutions that already existed," she said. "It is fundamental to the best delivery of programmes to support local community structures, otherwise, when agencies move out of an emergency, what is left?"

PROTECTING THE VULNERABLE

In all situations, agencies must consider the potential vulnerability of the people they are seeking to help and make sure their operating structures do not enable community groups or local leaders to abuse their power and exacerbate this vulnerability, she said.

The report includes case studies of girls who have benefited from Camfed's support as well as the obstacles - including the abuse of power by individuals - it has had to overcome.

It includes a list of potential questions for donors and a checklist for NGOs, designed to encourage good operating standards and good governance in the sector.

"Any organisation thatÂ?s trying to battle poverty in the developing world can benefit from studying the model and applying the questions and checklist to their work," Croffoot-Suede told AlertNet by telephone.

By tapping into existing community structures, Camfed identifies the young people who are most in need of financial help to continue with education. Girls are supported through primary and secondary school and beyond, often becoming leaders or social entrepreneurs.

"ItÂ?s amazing to meet these women who, but for Camfed, would have ended up married at 14 or 15 potentially, or potentially have gone into prostitution, and now not only are they educated but theyÂ?re entering the professional and governing classes of their society," said Croffoot-Suede.

According to Camfed, an educated girl in Africa will be three times less likely to get HIV/AIDS, will earn 25 percent more and has fewer, healthier children who are 40 percent more likely to live past the age of five.

Camfed operates in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania, Ghana and most recently Malawi. It was its strong governance model that allowed it to expand so effectively from country to country, the report found.

Lawyers at Linklaters worked on the project pro bono, as part of their firm's objective to give its expertise and international reach without charge to organisations that offer practical solutions to meeting one or more of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.

The report was formally launched in April at the opening plenary of the Skoll World Forum, a global gathering of social investors and entrepreneurs.

The five key principles of CamfedÂ?s governance model are:

* Protection of the vulnerable and disempowered client

* Transparency and accountability at all levels and to all involved in the process including, critically, the child

* Partnerships with existing national and community structures

* Activism and social capital in the place of dependency

* A holistic and long-term approach to the delivery of both resources and protection to achieve a long-term outcome

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