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Government funding and the ecumenical sharing of resources.

Government funding through northern ecumenical agencies to southern ecumenical partners has been a fact for many years. A number of northern agencies secure the major part of the funds they have available from government sources. Others, wary of taking too great a proportion of government funding, have set limits to it. Their fear has been that such funds would in some way alter the nature of the organization or distort its priorities or limit its ability to speak out critically about government action. However, for the vast majority of northern agencies related to the World Council of Churches substantial amounts of the money that they have available to contribute for both emergency and development purposes come from government sources.

New realities

The debate about the effect on the ecumenical sharing of resources of large amounts of the available funding coming from government sources has gained in intensity in the past few years. This is partly because of the attempts within the ecumenical family to clarify a code of conduct for all parties in the sharing of resources, following the ecumenical meetings at Larnaca and El Escorial. The emphasis on mutuality between northern and southern partners, on holistic concepts of development and on consortia rather than bilateral funding relationships can all be seen as conflicting in some way with the demands made by the acceptance of government funding.

At the same time, for many northern agencies the amount of government funding being made available has grown. This is particularly the case in response to the growing size and number of emergency situations around the world, but it is also more generally true. For some, this has coincided with a drop in income or a greater demand to earmark individual contributions from churches and the public. The balance therefore is shifting in a direction which makes unearmarked contributions to generalized programmes and to holistic programmes difficult to maintain at former levels.

At the same time the availability of funds for economic and social development programmes, for responding to emergencies and for rehabilitation needs is far greater than that for mission and evangelism and for the core costs of maintaining the institutional church with its central offices and councils of churches. The amounts of available funds are becoming increasingly unequal as the northern church "aid agencies" grow and "mission" organizations decline.

This begins to pose problems for many of the ecumenical resource sharing forums: continental programmes funding a wide range of individual country programmes, participation in Round Table meetings and agreements to fund total programmes, pooling of resources into a common emergency appeal and accepting a single reporting framework on the total programme. It may be possible to accommodate one or two large ecumenical donors who need to earmark their government funds and attribute them to specific parts of the total programme on which they can specifically report and account. The problem comes when the majority of funds for such a programme come from government sources and require earmarking and separate reporting and accounting. In such circumstances the viability of Round Table arrangements and pooled funding of major programmes decreases. The result is that smaller amounts of money flow from the ecumenical agencies through the ecumenical resource sharing system, subject to what is frequently seen as ecumenical discipline.

While governments have been making more funds available for use through northern agencies and have considered church-related agencies, with their generally low overheads and their access to distribution networks of churches throughout the world, well worth working through, more recently the total aid resources from northern governments have in real terms remained static and in some cases have declined. Added to this are the new demands from Eastern and Central Europe and the diversion of government resources from the south to the east. Consequently, there is a decline in the funds available for some of the traditional programmes which have featured in ecumenical resource-sharing lists for years.

With declining aid resources and the ideology of the 1990s, governments are increasingly looking for "value for money" and more detailed accountability. This often requires higher levels of monitoring and reporting than in the past. If the continued flow of funds is to be ensured, northern agencies must thus ask more questions and place more demands on southern implementing partners to meet these requirements. Frequently southern partners resent this, seeing it as a lack of trust in the relationship. Increasingly, northern agencies are being encouraged to have their own staff monitoring major grants rather than accepting the reports of southern partners. In complex situations, agencies with their own staff permanently based in the area of need are seen by some northern governments as able to provide added value and are therefore at an advantage in obtaining funding for a given situation from government sources.

Governments are also interested in learning lessons about appropriate and successful development from the relatively small-scale (in their terms) funding they place through non-governmental organizations, which they can use to influence priorities in their larger bilateral and multilateral funding. This, too, requires more detailed reporting and closer engagement and dialogue with the implementation of the programmes.

The most recent development is a desire on the part of northern governments to fund directly not only southern governments but also southern non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including churches, councils of churches and church-related organizations. With their own aid management offices, northern government staff are often closer to the situation than the staff of many northern agencies with their infrequent short visits and their reliance on the reports of their partners. This weakens the credibility of northern agencies to advocate and raise funds on behalf of their southern partners.

The request from the northern governments to southern organizations is for specific, time-limited programmes, with clear targets, demonstrated ability to meet those targets and a high level of capacity to report and account for funds. In many places, ecumenical organizations, with their complicated constituencies, multiplicity of tasks and difficulty in getting sufficient qualified personnel, are not easily able to take advantage of this new source of resources. If these resources begin substantially to be redirected from direct channels through northern agencies to southern NGOs, ecumenical partners will find it difficult to secure the funding they require from their traditional partners and yet may not be well placed to receive the funding directly from their own constituencies or from northern government aid monies available locally.

Mixed reactions

This changing pattern of government funding has evoked mixed reactions from northern agencies. On the one hand, after years of maintaining that one of the most effective ways of engaging in development is through southern organizations rather than directly through northern-inspired and operated programmes, there is satisfaction that governments are recognizing this and making support for southern NGOs a focus of their aid programmes. On the other hand, there is a concern that political reasons, notions of "good government" and "democracy" and a desire to foster civil society are driving this trend. There is also fear that what lies behind this shift is a pragmatic assessment of the ability of southern NGOs to deliver services to the poor more cheaply and more effectively than southern governments. This can be seen as the privatization of aid and services which should be the responsibility of southern governments and could ultimately be detrimental to the spirit and distinctiveness of the non-governmental sector.

Allied to this is a certain degree of paternalism: a fear that southern organizations will not be able to stand up to the demands of northern governments, that they will be flooded with easy money for large programmes far beyond their capacity to deliver, which will eventually put the organization into disrepute, lead to a cessation of funds and possibly lessen the credibility of northern partners who have advocated for these partners with their governments for many years. Alongside this is the concern that northern governments will use southern NGOs for specific pieces of work but have no long-term relationship with them, no willingness to fund core institutional costs and will drop such organizations without notice when policies and directions change or when programmes are not implemented in the way northern governments expected. Additionally, there is a fear that if levels of government resources through northern agencies decline, the ability of those agencies to maintain their current size and influence -- not only to fund programmes of partners in the south but also, and perhaps more importantly, to educate and campaign on issues of international justice such as international debt, commodity prices, effects of structural adjustment programmes -- will also decline.

No doubt it is difficult for southern ecumenical organizations, who cannot be expected to be intimately familiar with changing patterns of availability of funds for sharing, to reconcile the statements from northern partners with what they see in practice. Ecumenical statements to which all have subscribed emphasize the importance of mutuality, with all equally giving and receiving. They stress respect for the judgement of those closest to the situation of need about what is best for them and the beneficiaries with whom they work. They place the accent on empowerment, trust and equality in relationships. Yet what is increasingly seen are demands for greater accountability, desires to target funding more closely to northern guidelines of good development practice and smaller amounts of funding for large regional or multisectoral programmes in which grants are expected to contribute to the whole rather than being earmarked.

Some of these seemingly restrictive shifts are certainly the result of the increased proportions of funding coming from government sources. But it is by no means the only reason. It would be wrong to attribute changing attitudes of northern agencies in the ecumenical resource sharing debate exclusively to shifts in government funding policies. In many regards the development guidelines of some government aid providers, particularly for funds they are prepared to channel through northern agencies of provide directly to southern NGOs, differ little from the development guidelines of the northern agencies and include several of the priorities annually confirmed at the regional resource sharing meetings.

For many of the northern ecumenical agencies set up at the end of the second world war to respond to the needs of refugees and others in Europe, the 1990s is the decade when they mark their fiftieth anniversaries. As these agencies look at what has been achieved over the last half century they cannot help being struck by the continued persistence of poverty, by the growing emergency situations in which their supporters expect them to play a role, by the failure of decades of development education to significantly change northern attitudes and life-styles to one of greater concern for the poor and by the continued obscenity of third world debt, unfair trading terms and decreasing real aid levels about which they have been campaigning for years.

A recent exercise called "Discerning the Way Together" was initiated by four of the largest European ecumenical agencies in order to reflect on their work and to look forward with the help of southern partners. While it reaffirmed much of the work that has been done, there was also recognition of the failures, including the lack of institutional learning from experiences of the past about where external funds can make a difference to strengthening the poor. Such considerations have led to suggestions that the agencies concentrate their limited resources of personnel and money on maintaining fewer and deeper partnerships. In this way, it is argued, it is possible to sustain real involvement in programmes and dialogue about the best use of resources and the way forward, which is necessary for more effective use of limited resources.

Many of these changes of direction, both those brought about by the increase in government funding and those brought about by the changing perceptions of the northern agencies about what might make a greater difference in alleviating poverty, do not really challenge the fundamental principles behind the ecumenical resource sharing debate. There is common agreement about most of the characteristics which have been articulated as important in the ecumenical sharing of resources. Such characteristics as putting the least advantaged first, acting with -- rather than for or about or over -- those being served, respecting the judgement of those being assisted about their needs and how to meet them, responding to existing needs while understanding, resisting and seeking to change the systems which create and maintain inequality -- all are agreed to be important by governments, northern agencies and southern partners.

The challenge comes not so much to the principles and characteristics but to the instruments which have been set up by the ecumenical family to regulate, facilitate and police the ecumenical sharing of resources. As operated at present, those ecumenical instruments seem to require unearmarked giving, acceptance of generalized reporting and accounting and clear divisions of tasks between those providing funds and doing northern advocacy on the one hand and those defining and implementing programmes of assistance to those in need on the other. These instruments have to be transformed to allow mutual questioning, challenging, learning, accountability and responsibility for implementation by both the northern and southern contributors to a programme, if they are not to be threatened by increased proportions of government resources and by reflection and changing perceptions on the way forward.
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Title Annotation:Ecumenical Diakonia: New Challenges, New Responses
Author:Borden, Jenny
Publication:The Ecumenical Review
Date:Jul 1, 1994
Previous Article:Ecumenical diakonia.
Next Article:Christian theology and development.

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