Guest blogger Steve Barker from the World Resources Institute explains how transparency about funding can complement overall efforts to maintain intellectual independence. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author alone, and may not reflect the views of Transparify.
There’s an old saying that knowledge is power. That’s why transparency—or open access to information—is a key tenet that guides the work of the World Resources Institute.
Take one of our key projects, The Access Initiative. TAI is the world’s largest network dedicated to ensuring that citizens have the right and ability to influence decisions about the natural resources that sustain their communities. Working with more than 250 civil society groups in more than 50 countries, TAI helps citizens secure access to environmental information, access to public participation, and access to justice. By securing these rights, citizens are aware of the environmental decisions that directly impact their lives and livelihoods—and they’re empowered to hold governments accountable, organize social and political change, and demand improvements.
Transparency is important not just for how citizens interact with powerful government and business interests, but also for organizations like ours that accept funding from a variety of donors. As Upton Sinclair once said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” Understanding how an organization is funded helps observers to judge that organization’s independence.
Without proper protections and transparency, donations could have undue influence on think tank research and policy recommendations.
How World Resources Institute Practices Transparency
That’s why World Resources Institute (WRI) made the decision to be completely transparent about where its funding comes from, and how donations support the valuable work that we do.
- Information about WRI’s funders is available on our website, www.wri.org. With just two clicks from our homepage, any visitor can view a spreadsheet with a specific breakdown of donations ranked by size, covering 85 percent of our fiscal year 2013 funding. The remaining 15 percent comes from many small donors. The spreadsheet includes the name of the donor, the amount donated, and the program goal supported. In a separate document, we list all of our funders, including individuals who donated to WRI.
- Many organizations place donations from corporate foundations in a “foundations” category. WRI categorizes these donations as “corporate” funding, an extra step towards transparency.
- WRI also observes transparency in our internal communications. Transparency guides interactions between accounting and our program staff. For example, we share our financial results and indirect costs freely throughout our organization. And our leadership displays appropriate transparency in communications to staff and the public around major institutional decisions—including financial decisions.
Transparency Matters for WRI’s Reputation for Independence
Transparency supports one of WRI’s core values: independence. At WRI, we believe that our ability to achieve our mission depends on research and program work that rises above partisan politics, institutional or personal allegiances, or sources of financial support. When accepting donations, we convey to our partners and funders our strict commitment to unbiased judgment in our research findings.
WRI works closely with corporate partners and takes corporate donations in part because the private sector moves faster and can be quite influential with the public sector. But WRI makes clear to funders that our work product cannot be changed or require sign off from a donor—the integrity of our research and our on-the-ground projects always comes first.
WRI prides itself on rigorous, independent analysis. Financial transparency helps reinforce our reputation. This candor ensures our credibility, and helps build trust for WRI as an independent organization that works to “turn big ideas into action.”
Steve Barker is the Chief Financial and Administrative Officer of the World Resources Institute, a global research organization based in the US that works closely with leaders to sustain a healthy environment.