Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) must demonstrate relevance and responsibility in their work in order to survive as well as have a lasting impact on society.
This call to action was made by the ACHEST Director of Health Systems Dr. David Okello, while making a presentation on Accountability to the CSO Platform on Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn Child and Adolescent Health plus Nutrition (RMNCAH+N) on October 12th, 2021.
Dr. Okello started his presentation on accountability as the duty of an organization or individual to be responsible for their actions and accept responsibility for them. He noted that there are different aspects of accountability: Social accountability means that public officials, politicians, and service providers are held responsible to the public and service users for their conduct and performance; while CSO accountability is about knowing how your organization is performing and being able to demonstrate this to stakeholders
He noted that CSOs have come to play an important role in society - through the provision of essential services, watchdog functions, or in advocating and influencing laws and policies. In various ways, CSOs impact on citizens in profound ways.
However, there is also increasing scrutiny of CSO activities.
“Questions are frequently asked of: where CSOs get their funding from, who they represent, how they make their decisions and what impact they are having. There are concerns about lack of internal democracy and transparency in CSOs; and that they are driven by donor priorities rather than those of poor communities,” observed Dr. Okello
He emphasized the principles of accountability as openness and information sharing, stakeholder participation, monitoring and evaluating performance, being open to feedback and applying learning in decision making. Governance structures must also be in place, and organizations should ensure that they are legally registered with the appropriate authorities and complies with all relevant national legislation
In his presentation, Dr. Okello also highlighted challenges affecting accountability such as Donor dependency, limited government support or lack of clarity on the role of CSOs, changing regulations, shrinking CSO space, unstable funding and weak capacity of CSOs
In conclusion, Dr. Okello reiterated that “ CSO work is important, but there is a constant pressure to show relevance and value for money. To survive, we must demonstrate relevance, that we are responsible to our stakeholders through our work and being able to demonstrate the impact of our work. A cardinal role of CSO is to have duty bearers held responsible for their action or inaction, and to always strive to inform and inspire others.”