You may have heard of or even be involved with ACFID: the Australian Council for International Development. With over 130 members ACFID is the peak body for Australian non-governmental organisations (ANGOs) involved in international development and humanitarian action. Major ANGO identities like Care, Oxfam, Save the Children and World Vision are affiliated with ACFID. Its long-standing mission is to reduce poverty and inequality within and between nations and champion the human rights of the poorest people in the world.
Through informative dialogues and events, ACFID raises public awareness about foreign aid and speaks out on the big issues – climate change, migration, refugee and asylum seeker rights, human rights and humanitarian response, to name just a few. As well as being an industry interlocutor and change agent this network plays a pivotal role in setting standards for good practice among its member organisations. Think Aussie aid gurus with legit cred!
Since its inception in 1997 the ACFID Code of Conduct (the Code) has been a voluntary, self-regulatory sector code aiming to keep members honest and accountable by setting practice standards that signatories are required to meet.
At a recent AGM, ACFID announced the adoption of a brand new Code for the Australian industry effective from June 2017.
In a media release, ACFID CEO Mark Purcell said:
“ACFID’s members enjoy the support of around 1.6 million Australians each year and depend upon their support in times of greatest need. We don’t take that support for granted. The new Code agreed today is shorter, clearer and more accessible, making it easier for donors and partners to hold members to account.”
What’s different about the new Code?
Conducted with comprehensive stakeholder engagement, this will be the third version of the Code. In what is a much clearer format, 9 high-level quality principals and 32 related commitments replace the previous 54 principals and 145 obligations. Reducing the number of requirements will likely help NGOs communicate their objectives in a simpler and more inclusive way to a broader pool of partners and stakeholders.
“The principles reflect good development practice and as such are relevant to all development actors whereas the commitments are specific to ACFID Members”.
Boasting the latest in development buzzwords, the abridged quality principals include: rights, protection and inclusion; participation, empowerment and local ownership; sustainable change; quality and effectiveness; collaboration; communication; governance; resource management; people and culture.
Alongside this simplified architecture, more robust accountability mechanisms have been developed to oversee implementation of the principals. To monitor compliance, 89 indicators have been developed in line with the commitments. Compliance indicators come with associated verifiers outlining how NGOs can prove their success in upholding their commitments.
So what does this mean for Australian NGOs going forward?
Aside from a new set of compliance measures for ANGOs, the revised Code won’t change business as usual much. The real benefit is that this version will be easier to comprehend and communicate. It also reflects the way that NGOs have shifted their values and/or changed their various approaches over the past five years.
A 2015 Code of Conduct draft discussion paper analysed what bearing key changes affecting the international development sector may have on the way Australian NGOs work. The paper raised some interesting points about how a new code would better reflect the changing nature of Australian aid.
“… as actors in a rapidly changing global context, [Australian NGOs] will need to be more agile to adjust and adapt to ensure that they are effective actors in contributing to a better, more just world for all”.
After consulting members, the paper finds that ANGOs tend to be reflecting more on accountability, increasing their focus on results and impact, including a stronger focus on the voice of primary stakeholders, highlighting the importance of collaborating with others to effect change and reframing their discourse to focus on inequality and sustainability (as opposed to poverty).
It claims that while fewer people are living in “poverty” the total number of people living in “extreme poverty” remains high and economic inequality continues to rise. In light of this, aid organisations are being encouraged to subtly shift their focus away from “poverty” and towards “inequality and sustainability” to remain relevant. This may be so, but the discursive shift is certainly not revolutionary and simply mirrors the new Sustainable Development Goals – the set of UN global targets intended to shape development agendas over the next 15 years.
Interestingly, moving away from traditional service delivery and project-based work “Australian NGOs are increasingly playing roles in partnership brokering, systems strengthening, on-line campaigning, global advocacy, policy making, alliance building, curating information, facilitating community-networking and playing the role of watchdog and analyst”.
Tapping into new technologies, more NGOs are using innovative marketing platforms like crowd funding, SMS marketing and social media, and alternative financing models like social enterprise, impact investing and loan financing. In a world increasingly shaped by high-tech invention, NGOs could play a pivotal role as advocates for more human-focused approaches to innovation and enterprise by providing equitable access to technology and encouraging businesses to invest in affordable and sustainable innovations.
Amidst this radically new landscape, are ANGOs becoming more like power brokers, leveraging their resources and networks to encourage social benefits for marginalised populations?
I also think it is worth pointing out that the Australian Government’s continued commitment to private sector partnerships and national interest-style aid is ushering in a larger number of corporate actors as suppliers of products, services, infrastructure and technologies for development. I wonder whether (and if so, how) private-sector actors should (or could) be held accountable for the same collective principals agreed upon by the non-profit community.
For more on specific future trends and challenges facing Australian development, you can check out ACFID’s Ahead of the Curve Blog series for some insights from far more experienced professionals than myself…
Do you have any reflections on the new code or how the updated compliance measures might impact ANGOs?
Featured image: Painting the Australian Aid logo in Solomon Islands (Credit: Yvonne Green/DFAT, Wikimedia Commons)