These are loaded words. If I were so inclined, I could spend months, probably even years of my life philosophizing on what each of these three terms mean in all of their different proclivities. But in the world of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), these concepts serve as the benchmarks of organizational development.
So, are you ready for a crash course in NGO management?
First, there is no one definition of a non-governmental organization (I get this question all the time!). The Kosovo Women’s Network defines a non-governmental organization as one that does not support any specific political party and works to serve the society in which it exists based on it’s own particular needs. To this definition, the Kosovo Women’s Network has also included a commitment to non-violence and equality regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation and age. (I subscribe to this particular definition not only because it is the one used by my host organization but also because it reflects my own personal understanding of why we in the field do what we do – for the benefit of the STAKEHOLDERS).
I’m sure those of you who are unfamiliar with NGOs are wondering why ethics, accountability and transparency are necessary for an NGO to be both productive and efficient. As I have hinted to above, NGOs measure their success in a unique way – they look at how their work is meeting the demands of their beneficiaries or target group in particular and society in general. So, if they cannot maintain the support of both, they cannot do their jobs. The way for NGOs to ensure their continued trust and involvement is to be open to them.
But, how are these benchmarks to be achieved, especially in the context of a network of over 80 organizations? To address that issue, the Kosovo Women’s Network developed a code of conduct (also called the Ethical and Accountability Code) in 2006, becoming the first NGO in Kosovo to do so. The code of conduct addresses several main target areas, including mission and program, good governance, human resources, financial transparency and accountability, civic responsibility, and partnership and networking.
Highlights include: the development of a clearly defined mission with input from stakeholders; annual evaluation of the organization’s activities and their contribution to the achievement of mission objectives; the creation of a comprehensive policy manual by the Executive Board; the establishment of standards of employee behavior, including behavior that contributes to the public image of NGOs; the adoption of written policies regarding conflicts of interest, such as misuse of funds, and acceptable sources of funding based on the organization’s mission; the publication of the organization’s annual budgets and the cost-effectiveness of its activities; the provision of adequate information on issues to the public and media; and an agreement to not criticize other network members for the benefit of their individual organization.
(To read the code of conduct in its entirety, visit http://www.womensnetwork.org/)
Here in the office of the Kosovo Women’s Network, I see these principles in action daily. Several times a day, we field both phone calls and visits from employees of member organizations and other NGOs, local and international students, representatives of the media and ordinary citizens. They are granted complete access to information, whether in the form of interviews with staff members or the publications that take up every inch of spare space in the office and are printed in multiple languages.
The process of integrating the code of conduct into the operating procedures of member organizations has been slow. These may seem like basic measures, but nothing is ever that simple, especially in a country like Kosovo, where the public and its institutions are still dealing with the aftermath of war and independence. This summer, as the Kosovo Women’s Network begins evaluating the progress of implementation of the code of conduct among its members, I will be visiting as many organizations as I can to discuss the issues firsthand.
Posted By Tiffany Ommundsen
Posted Jun 29th, 2009