Ben Jackson is Chief Executive of Bond. Bond is the UK membership body for organisations working in international development representing over 400 members ranging from large agencies to smaller, specialist organisations.
Recent media stories about the salaries paid to some international development CEOs have raised an important debate about NGO transparency and accountability. But the heated exchanges focusing on this issue in isolation misses an opportunity for more important conversations with the public about what charities really do, how they work, the challenges they face, the mistakes they need to learn from and how they can deliver the greatest possible impact for people living in poverty. Any discussion of salaries needs to take place with reference to these issues of effectiveness, and the good that organisations do.
Justine Greening, International Development Secretary, is right to call on NGOs to be transparent, but her comments might be taken to suggest that UK NGOs are not doing anything to respond to this challenge. This is not the case. Take, for example, the International Aid Transparency Initiative, the global standard for publishing data about where and how aid money is spend. Of the total worldwide number of organisations that have published to this standard, 91 per cent are UK NGOs.
Of course, this is just one way NGOs can be more transparent about where their money goes, but it demonstrates an important practical step to be more open and accountable to the British public and those they work with in developing countries. Bond is a champion of this agenda, and we have been working with our members since 2011 to support them to publish their data and disclose project, governance and performance information as part of Bond’s Effectiveness Programme. We know there is more to be done; but UK international development NGOs have made important progress.
While we have made significant progress in the fight against global poverty, immense challenges remain: one in eight people go to bed hungry every night, and 57 million children do not attend school. UK NGOs are at the coalface of responding to these challenges, and every day they work hard to save and improve lives in some of the most difficult places in the world. The stakes are high; failure can lead to further suffering. For example, providing basic services after a humanitarian disaster involves complex, logistical and practical challenges which do not reach the media headlines. We mustn’t lose sight of this reality amid the media flurry. UK aid saves lives every day, and as a nation we should be proud of the work our UK NGOs do.