22 June 2012 at 12:56 BST

On the road to good governance

Transparency and accountability are crucial both in the fight against poverty and to promote social development. Lance Croffoot-Suede and Nathalie Hobbs argue that global law firms can play a vital role in the process

The Campaign for Female Education is empowering schoolgirls in Africa Pal Teravagimov/Shutterstock.com

An inaugural Advancing Good Governance in International Development seminar was held earlier this month at the Saïd Business School. Some 120 prominent academics, government representatives and policy makers, private sector figures, and aid officials met over two days to explore this important subject.
It was an unusual event that brought together representatives from all the various stakeholders to share ideas on some of the most challenging issues confronting the sector.
In an era when greater transparency and accountability for the delivery of aid funding is in high demand – from both aid donors and beneficiaries – the seminar examined issues relating to the governance practices of social sector organisations, focusing in particular on measures that will enhance responsiveness and direct accountability to aid beneficiaries.
While good governance and accounting to clients – whoever they might be – is uncontroversial and indeed central to diminishing poverty and disempowerment globally, how to implement and enable better governance within various organisations and social enterprises is a much trickier exercise.

More than a process

The event was partially sponsored by global law firm Linklaters, with the firm’s central role growing out of its collaboration with the Campaign for Female Education (Camfed). This relationship has proved quite a journey for all involved. It began in 2008 and continues today with considerable momentum.
Camfed has the mission of delivering girls’ education in sub-Saharan Africa and powerfully demonstrates how the empowerment of young women is the route to lasting social change.
The organisation asked Linklaters to study its governance model, to find out whether, how and why the model works and how best to articulate it. For Linklaters, the project appealed because the firm maintains that governance is more than a process. Good governance can bring about better results and greater benefits to all involved, in any sector.  As a result, Linklaters produced a report entitled Camfed governance: accounting to the girl – which was launched at the April 2010 Skoll World Forum, the pre-eminent annual global gathering of social investors and entrepreneurs.
That report was warmly received across the international development sector – by practitioners, funders and academics – and it led to a joint commitment to action by the law firm and Camfed at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), in September 2010. This commitment – good governance as a key to empowerment – was selected to be featured by CGI in front of its membership, which includes heads of state, executives from leading corporations and financial institutions, directors of leading non-governmental organisations, and the international press.
Some distance has been traversed since the commitment’s inception, and the firm has found its presence in this field has been particularly timely, with governments and the international aid sector focusing on the importance of governance, accountability and transparency in delivering sustainable development, as well as looking for practical solutions to reduce poverty responsibly.
Such was the response to these efforts, it became clear to the firm and Camfed that providing a space for a meeting of minds for the sector would be valuable, and thus the germ of an idea grew. From early 2011, we began discussing and exchanging ideas with Skoll and the Blavatnik School of Government.

Synthesising ideas

The seminar set out to synthesise the fragmented ideas of governance that are frequently propounded to improve governance and, thereby, social outcomes by integrating academic research with social and private sector perspectives. It also aimed to formulate standards for governance in international development. Energetic debate over 12 sessions provided an excellent forum for the sharing of ideas, best practice and challenges, and has generated much excitement in the sector, not least on our Twitter feed.
While much headway was made, there is much yet to be achieved – both in terms of knowledge-sharing in the sector and dialogue among stakeholders. The call for research following the seminar – supported by funding from the organisers – will go some way to maintaining the momentum for further progress.
Advancing good governance and accounting to clients is central to diminishing poverty and disempowerment globally in the international development sector, and sooner rather than later.
This seminar was the culmination of efforts over a number of months. It recognised that using legal expertise to help increase the impact of organisations working to effect social change is a crucial part of how such firms can make an important difference in the international development sector.
It is also part of the broader role law firms should play as responsible members of the community.

Lance Croffoot-Suede and Nathalie Hobbs are partners at the New York and Hong Kong offices respectively of global law firm Linklaters, which co-hosted the Advancing Good Governance seminar


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