Law firm, NGO map governance model that could set standard for development sector

by Katherine Baldwin | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 22 July 2010 12:00 GMT

LONDON (TrustLaw) – At a time when accountability and transparency are 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 serve as a model of good governance for the development sector. 

For two and a half years, law firm Linklaters studied pro bono the Campaign for Female Education (Camfed), a charity that educates girls and empowers young women in sub-Saharan Africa, with a view to understanding and documenting its structures and operating practices.

The result was a report by Linklaters into Camfed’s governance model that both parties say should at least spark a debate and at most lead to a consensus about standards for governance in international development.

“This model for governance is instructive, worthy of study, worthy of consideration, worthy of discussion,” said Lance Croffoot-Suede, a partner at Linklaters in New York and one of the lawyers who worked on the project.

“Any organisation that’s trying to battle poverty in the developing world can benefit from studying this model,” he told TrustLaw by telephone.

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

The report - Camfed Governance, Accounting to the Girl – sets out Camfed’s ethos and guiding principles. It details the operating procedures and structure that have helped Camfed grow from a charity that was helping 32 girls in Zimbabwe in 1993 to an organisation that has benefited more than 1 million children in five countries.

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

“It’s very powerful. It’s being seen as something that could be a great case study,” she told TrustLaw by telephone.

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.

Lawyers, including senior partners, spent more than 4000 pro bono hours on the report – including trips to rural villages in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi – where they visited schools, spoke to students and observed community meetings.

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

ANSWERABLE TO THE GIRL

Camfed’s governance model has two guiding principles: it is accountable to the girl it supports - in the same way as 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 there’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.

“That’s a different – not unique – but a very different way of thinking and acting and really it’s that debate we now want to generate.”

The five key principles of Camfed’s governance model are:

  1. Protection of the vulnerable and disempowered client
  2. Transparency and accountability at all levels and to all involved in the process including, critically, the child
  3. Partnerships with existing national and community structures
  4. Activism and social capital in the place of dependency
  5. A holistic and long-term approach to the delivery of both resources and protection to achieve a long-term outcome

Cotton believes Camfed’s model could be equally applied to emergency situations as to longer-term development projects.

“This governance model is fundamentally about how to build institutions,” said Cotton. “Programmes are often relatively short-term and there isn’t sufficient investment in institutions that will sustain the programmes beyond the life of an emergency.”

Cotton, however, says some of the areas of rural Africa served by Camfed are facing their own emergencies: of poverty, bereavement, orphanhood.

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.

“It’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 they’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 in Malawi. It was its strong governance model that allowed it to expand so effectively from country to country, the Linklaters report found.

PRO BONO AT WORK

The report ends with a list of potential questions for donors and a checklist for NGOs, designed to encourage good operating standards and good governance in the sector.

Both Linklaters and Camfed said their partnership and the report that resulted from it illustrates the value of bringing different sectors together to share expertise and best practice.

“The more we can speak across institutional boundaries or professional boundaries, I think the more we’ll find answers and solutions,” Cotton said.

“We were not in the same sector but often collaborations are in the same sector. If we can find those partnerships and engage at a very deep and a very senior level in the institutions, I think we can achieve extremely positive results, which has been the case here.”

For Linklaters, the project enabled the law firm to take full advantage of their global reach and their expertise in translating information across cultural boundaries.

“At a minimum, this concept of accounting to the beneficiary and of going into a community and spreading good governance concepts that work for Camfed have to have their place in any programme that’s trying to battle poverty, because all the other ways of doing it purportedly aren’t working as quickly as people would like,” said Croffoot-Suede.

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