The organization we both represent, Plan International, is an international non-governmental organization (INGO) working on children’s rights, with a particular focus on girls. Internally we operate as an alliance that allows each member country to govern itself while agreeing to work together on programs with common goals and approaches. This arrangement means that member entities at Plan are highly interdependent on each other to deliver results and impact to the communities where we work and to ensure operational excellence, efficiency, and effectiveness to the donors with whom we partner to finance our work. It also means that no one part of Plan can deliver in isolation or in full control of every aspect of the work.
That may sound scary, but it is not. In fact, it is empowering. It perfectly embodies the environment in which every international development stakeholder – donor, implementing partner, government, corporation, national, and community-level civil society entity – operates today.
The days, if they ever existed, in which an outside entity would come in with an external agenda and resources to design a program, fund it, and implement it with minimum input from the communities, populations, and country actors with which it worked are long behind us. Sustainability and accountability, the defining guiding principles driving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), require more than "token" local buy-in; they require genuine local ownership. And this paradigm, in turn, requires we get used to working effectively with less direct control over our "ideas," our voice, and our financing.
In other words, we all need to get used to doing more with less full control. The International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), a voluntary, multi-stakeholder initiative that seeks to improve the transparency of development assistance (we have both written about this here, and others have written about our efforts here), is key to making this all work – for donors, for countries, for communities, for children.
With our highly decentralized distributed expertise and power structures, organizations like Plan International have the potential to be effective, adaptive, and catalytic development actors. But only if every part of the Plan family contributes to the research and learning agenda by accumulating and disseminating knowledge and encouraging experimentation and innovation at every level. For us, IATI is not a theoretical aid effectiveness concept but a real-time tool to drive change, improve coordination and learning, and enhance accountability to the communities we serve.
As we observe the 2016 launch of the Aid Transparency Index, which is the only independent source to measure the level of transparency in the world’s top donor entities, it is worth renewing publicly our commitment to publishing to IATI at Plan. At the moment, only a handful of Plan entities is doing so. And too few INGOs have embarked on this path. This lack of buy-in is a problem because – together – INGOs manage a very important chunk of private money supporting international development. Full aid transparency requires INGO participation.
Implementing IATI in Plan is challenging. Legacy management information systems make the task expensive and daunting. But there is no second thinking and no going back. Transparency makes us more accountable, more efficient, and more effective in the long-term. It is our intent to continue to drive this agenda forward. As INGOs advocate for more transparency and accountability on the part of governments and international institutions, let's also be sure to take a dose of our own medicine.