NGOs Respond to Prodder / GuideStar

Wednesday, 1 April, 2009 - 13:55

Aadila Molale reports on the first round of sector engagements on the Prodder / GuideStar International NGO Directory Pilot Project. The project is expected to produce a feasibility study on the use of GuideStar as a back-end solution for the Prodder NGO Directory and the viability of Prodder / GuideStar International partnership going forward.

In South Africa where civil society campaigns and advocacy work have been a dominant feature of the NGO sector, a directory of any nature is a useful networking tool to facilitate sector collaboration. In 1987 when the Prodder Directory first went to print, the image of a compass was included in the logo to represent the idea of the directory being a guide to development sector projects. By mapping development stakeholders and programme areas across South Africa (in a less virtual/visual age), Prodder was the first publication of its kind to provide information on the contributions of NGOs, donors, government and corporate social investment (CSI) initiatives to development.

Comparatively, the GuideStar system, founded in the United States in 1994, was developed with the primary focus on reporting, with the aim of increasing transparency in the US non-profit sector. GuideStar International (GSI), in conjunction with local partners, provides information about civil society organisations in 11 countries. A core value driving on-line public access to NGO reports through GSI is the belief that public reporting is vital to the strength and success of the sector.

The difference between the two systems is the level of detail and depth of information. Where the functionality of Prodder was growing in increments, partnering with GSI to establish a Prodder / GSI NGO Directory in South Africa is a leap in technological developments, searches and reporting outputs. In the future, the Prodder / GSI Directory will enable users to do much more and far sooner, than had we not entered into the partnership.

In broadening the scope of Prodder to facilitate sector reporting on a new GSI platform, SANGONeT consulted Prodder directory users. A series of focus group discussions were held following the SANGONeT NGO Engagements.

The objectives of the meetings were to generate feedback on the system from potential users, assist with change management and to prepare an implementation plan for the new Prodder / GSI system.

The focus group discussions in Durban and Cape Town, held on 10 and 13 March 2009 respectively, involved approximately 30 participants. This was followed by a NGO CEO Circle, a meeting of CSI professionals and a donor round table on 17 March 2009 in Johannesburg.

In particular, the following items were tabled for discussion:

  • Organisational reporting, the benefits and pains of reporting, the distribution and audience of the reports;
  • The benefits and risks of greater organisational transparency, and
  • Public access to information on organisations working for public benefit.

Discussion and responses
Producing organisational reports is not a particularly gratifying experience. Participants felt that reports are not thoroughly read, are rarely appreciated and are produced very often for the sole purpose of satisfying donor requirements. Although reports are occasionally used by organisations to reflect on achievements, they are mostly external documents and are rarely used internally to reflect, learn and improve organisational programmes. The potential value of reporting as an opportunity for evaluation and organisational self-reflection was discussed. Participants expressed unanimous support for the idea of a standardised reporting format for all grantmakers and funders.

The issue of accountability in the NGO sector was raised alongside the discussion on transparency. That accountability in the sector is still a difficult issue was evident in some of the passionate exchanges that took place. However, as Caroline Neligan from GuideStar International was quick to point out, accountability and transparency are often conflated. While greater transparency can result in improved accountability, determining accountability is an evaluative process. Greater transparency, however, assists with public relations (marketing), increases trust amongst staff within organisations and beneficiaries, and facilitates reporting.

Joanie Fredericks of Rural Education, Awareness and Community Health highlighted the importance of trust when engaging beneficiaries and communities. People want to know that their contributions are visible and they want to keep abreast of developments. While an organisation's website can be effectively used for purposeful communications, a listing in Prodder / GSI presents all organisations on an equal footing in a standard format and can increase traffic to the organisation's website.

Some concerns were raised about the potential abuse of the detailed information presented on a Prodder / GSI platform. Threats identified included: private sector use of the directory for marketing purposes, the potential of Prodder / GSI to become a ‘gatekeeper’ to funding (e.g. if an organisation is not listed, it would not be considered for funding) and the use of organisational data within the context of the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering (FATF) principle, as raised by Ricardo Wyngaard of Inyathelo - The South African Institute for Advancement.

Several participants were eager to address the issue of accessibility to the online environment. It was argued that Prodder / GSI platform has the potential to become an exclusive system if there is not a concerted effort to include CBOs and organisations operating in rural South Africa. Implications of this discussion went far beyond the focus and scope of Prodder, as comments about mobile access and the ‘digital divide’ pointed to the fact that there is still plenty of work for SANGONeT and other ICT stakeholders in the area of ICTs for development.

Outputs from the focus group discussions will inform the Prodder / GSI implementation plan, with more meetings scheduled during April 2009 in Johannesburg and Pretoria.

The implementation of the Prodder / GSI NGO Directory is expected to complement and enhance SANGONeT's range of online services. As the best of directory technology through GSI is combined with the history and engagement of Prodder and NGO Pulse in South Africa, we anticipate that Prodder / GSI will provide an important resource, space and tool for users to contribute to, and draw on, a wealth of information for, by and about the NGO sector.

- Aadila Molale is the Prodder Project Manager at SANGONeT.

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