Transparency – what are the benefits? | ActionAid UK

Judith Davey

Director of People, Performance and Accountability

What exactly is transparency? I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately – what it means, why it matters and crucially, how it can make a difference to the people ActionAid works with around the world.

Hafeza Khatun and other women at a circle at Fathapur, Shahrasti, Chandpur, Bangladesh
Hafeza leads a Reflect Circle to help women discuss and learn from each other in Chandpur, Bangladesh

We asked 16 organisations to tell us what transparency means to them. What they told us is fascinating — and it’s all here in our transparency report.

Here’s the Cambridge Dictionaries definition: “Transparency: a situation in which business and financial activities are done in an open way without secrets, so that people can trust that they are fair and honest.” I found this a useful starting point for ActionAid’s approach.

Transparency can be empowering

At ActionAid we know that transparency can be transformational. Access to accurate, timely and relevant information can make a world of difference to the lives of the poor and marginalised people that we work with in communities around the world.

Knowledge is power, and transparency is a stepping stone to increased empowerment. ActionAid is known for our participatory methods which include involving beneficiaries (or rights holders, to use our terminology) in decisions that affect them in a meaningful way. Transparency Boards in communities describe the work we are doing, who the donor is and how much the project costs.

What does transparency mean for our supporters?

We communicate clearly what we do to our supporters. Where possible, we ask people what information they want from us about our impact and effectiveness. Then we aim to deliver it succinctly, in the right form, and in the most cost-effective way.

Connecting supporters with people living in poverty overseas

Being transparent supports ActionAid’s mission and connects supporters with people living in poverty overseas. So for example, we linked up our UK supporters with women in Bangladesh who were survivors of acid attacks – a particularly brutal form of violence against women and girls. Through social media they were able to exchange messages and our supporters expressed solidarity and support.

Both UK supporters and the women in Bangladesh were hugely affected by the experience – they found it emotional, engaging and uplifting. I doubt there could be a better way of getting across the impact of our work.

Being open about how we spend our money is important

Openness about our financial affairs and how we spend our money is important and we always make financial information available on our website and when we talk to supporters.

We publish financial data to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), a small but important aspect of our approach to transparency. But complying with standards like these can involve a lot of time and resource. Full compliance presents us with some challenges, particularly given the current lack of evidence about the usage and effectiveness of such initiatives.

How the UK public and beneficiaries regard the IATI data is not yet clear. At ActionAid we believe it’s important to focus on ways of being transparent that are proportionate and meaningful.

Join the debate to help us improve

No organisation is perfect, and ActionAid is on a journey to improve our policies and practices. This report is part of that journey and it explores some thought-provoking perspectives, from Amnesty International to the Department for International Development, the BBC to John Lewis Partnership. We might not agree with all of them, but they’re all worth reading and we’d love to know what you think too.