Promoting Accountability and Transparency
India, the seventh largest country in the world, has a very large (an estimated 3.5 million) and diverse (varying in size, geographical, infrastructural, financial and human resources, skills and so on) civil society sector. The sector is marked by laws (that are old, conflicting and confusing) and missing government defined and/or supported regulatory framework. Like in other parts of the world, the Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in India are grappling the perils of shrinking civic space, depleting financial resources (especially foreign funds due to stricter laws), falling public image (due to constant negative media coverage). Thus the Voluntary Sector in India is passing through very challenging times. There have been numerous changes in the laws as well its interpretations by the enforcement agencies. Many questions have been raised about the accountability and transparency within the sector.
VANIs ‘Code Of Conduct’
Almost 30 years back, when Planning Commission Of India proposed the regulatory framework for voluntary sector, the founders of VANI argued for self-regulatory mechanism, which is evolved from within the sector. This gave birth to “Code Of Conduct” designed by VANI. Through this VANI encourages self-regulation by encouraging accountable and transparent practices amongst the Indian CSOs. Thus, in 2017, VANI updated its Code of Conduct, aligning it with Global Standard, through a participatory process involving feedback from different stakeholders including VANI’s Governing Body, Governing Board, Sector Experts, Civil Society Organisations, Academia, Staff and Volunteers.
Global Standard for CSO Accountability
The Global Standard for CSO Accountability is an initiative built up by nine well-established civil society accountability networks from around the world with the overarching aim to strengthen the effectiveness of CSOs worldwide by devising a collective Global Standard on CSO accountability.
The Global Standard is a reference standard that civil society organisations (CSOs) can adopt and implement to strengthen their accountability practices. Using 12 accountability commitments, it tries to capture a shared understanding of accountability from CSOs from all over the world and it embodies a dynamic approach to accountability by encouraging organisations to engage in a continuous two-way dialogue with stakeholders.
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VANIs association with Global Standard
In 2017 a need was felt for up-dation of VANI’s 30-year-old Code of Conduct. Thus, VANI organised one National Level (Delhi) and three regional Level (Bihar, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu) Consultations, to seek feedback from stakeholders on the desired changes in Code of Conduct. In addition to these interventions funded under the Global Standard Projects, feedback and suggestions were sought from different stakeholders during other interventions outside of project purview including Annual National Convention, Governing Board Meetings, Annual Staff Meetings, Dialogues, Workshops and Seminars organised by VANI on Internal Enabling Environment of the sector. On a parallel front, VANI, as a project partner, was participating in project partners meetings being organised and contributed towards the drafting of Global Standards. Global Standard for CSO Accountability Stakeholder Meeting on Added Value and Usability in the Asia Context was organised, wherein representatives from about 20 organisations (including Global Standard Project Partners, Accreditation Agencies in India, select Indian Civil Society Organisations, accountability experts and Civil Society Leaders) participated. It was during this meeting Global Standards were framed after three years of brainstorming deliberations and toil. At the same time, at the national level, VANI updated its own Code of Conduct, in line with the Global Standards (comprehensive and indicator based), developed in a participatory manner basis the feedback received from various national level stakeholders. The updated Code of Conduct was widely disseminated which is now known as the “Declaration For Responsible Governance and Management of VOs”.