Guest blogger Daniel Kaufmann from the Natural Resource Governance Institute looks back on his organization’s journey towards full financial disclosure.
“Walking the talk.”“Practicing what you preach.” These oft-invoked metaphors speak to the importance of matching actions to words. Another cliché is “pulling back the curtain”—showing the world that you have nothing to hide. At the Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI), we assumed we were doing all of these things—until Transparify rang our bell.
Let me explain: Over the years we have conducted much research, policy analysis and technical assistance on transparency around the globe. The evidence clearly suggests that transparency matters, whether with regard to socioeconomic development in general, or in key sectors like the extractive industries.
So it’s no surprise that we at NRGI are deeply committed to the principles of transparency, accountability and good governance in the oil, gas and mining sectors. We’re passionate about those principles—without information, citizens can’t hold their governments accountable for the proceeds from natural resources that should fund human and economic development.
Shining a light in dark corners, where information valuable to citizens is often hidden, is one of the pillars of our work. Yet, we had never really turned our critical gaze inward to determine whether we were observing the very disclosure practices we advocate.
Last year, Transparify assessed more than 150 think tanks in over 40 countries, focusing on the extent to which organizations disclose information about who funds their work. NRGI was rated above average, receiving three out of five stars. But what is above average for some,was worse than mediocre for us; the rating was a real wake-up call. It served as an important impetus to our efforts to immediately improve our own transparency, so we did the homework and took concrete action. We are pleased that this year we have been given a five-star rating by Transparify—signaling that our disclosure of donor funds is now “highly transparent.”
In the spirit of our multi-stakeholder approach, our review involved consultation with our board, staff, donor partners, Transparify, and organizations previously awarded five stars, like the Center for Global Development and the World Resources Institute. Within a few months of our 2014 rating, we disclosed additional financial information, going beyond what is traditionally made available in annual financial statements and IRS tax forms. Specifically, we published donor names, total grant amounts, annual grant amounts, grant periods and short descriptions of how funds are being used. We provided this data for contributions and grants of $100,000 or more, which account for more than 90 percent of NRGI’s annual funding.
Transparify’s work in the think tank sphere complements initiatives to improve the transparency of official development aid funding, such as Publish What You Fund (PWYF) and the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), with which I have collaborated. We at NRGI appreciate Transparify’s initiative to make transparency organizations more transparent. Its efforts have nudged us to ensure that we are fully in sync with our own policy prescriptions and open to the scrutiny that we—and all who work in the public interest—deserve. But we will not rest on these five-star laurels—instead we strive to continue improving on all facets of transparency.