How to manage governance and due diligence when working with partners

Written by Nyambura Thanji, Equality Now

Please describe a risk your organisation has faced when working with partner organisations:

Equality Now partners with various organisations to achieve its broad objectives. One of our key tasks is to review and understand our partners’ Governance structures. If there are weaknesses, there is a risk that our financial performance will suffer and our project outcomes will not be achieved.

How did you work on this problem?

Equality Now has taken the initiative to allocate funds for reviewing the governance of our partners on annual basis.

This process involves, for example, the partners providing a list of the board members and their backgrounds. The approved board minutes for the year must also be provided, which Equality Now reviews to understand the level of reporting to the board by the CSO’s management.

Equality Now then provides feedback to the partners on the governance review, including recommendations on how gaps identified could be addressed.

There are also instances where Equality Now allocates funds to our advocacy partners to build their corporate governance structures, including appropriate trainings to the leadership of these organisations.

What have you achieved?

Equality Now has achieved a high level of awareness of the risks that comes with poor governance, both internally and at partner level. In addition to implementing an annual review of our partners’ governance, we also carry out robust due diligence on our partner organisations before engaging with them.

We have worked with partners in the past, with whom we have built their capacity in advocacy issues. The challenge is to achieve a balance between leadership and the successful implementation of an advocacy project. In extreme cases (for instance where we experience significant delays and gaps in implementation), we have discontinued the partnership and set minimum conditions for both our initial and repeat engagements with said partner.

What did you learn from this experience?

Equality Now has learnt that some organisations that are set up by visionary leaders might not necessarily have the right knowledge and understanding on wider governance issues, such as the role of a board. The success of an organisation and largely the success of our advocacy work heavily relies on good governance of an organisation. Poor governance leads to mismanagement of funds.

We have learnt to always look beyond the organisation’s leadership. We like to engage with the program team and understand their level of involvement in project implementation. This is not possible without resources so we ensure that we allocate funds for monitoring.

What are your tips for someone facing the same or similar issues?

Understand where your risk lies in your pathway to achieving project objectives. If the challenge lies in a partner organisation not achieving objectives, it is advisable to look into the governance structure of that partner.

Addressing governance issues in any organisation is not dependent on whether the organisation has funding to do so or not. The discussions around project implementation that concern timelines, milestones and intended results should provide avenues for identifying any governance issues within an organisation.

Addressing governance issues is a sensitive subject. If you find an issue within an organisation, alert the management of that organisation to take on the issue. Directors want to deal with management issues in their organisations and do not want to feel like sensitive issues are being diverted to their staff.

Nyambura Thanji, Equality Now

Nyambura Thanji is the Finance Manager at Equality Now and is currently responsible for overall financial management at the Africa office. She is responsible for leading and overseeing all financial efforts to ensure the overall success of the organisation, the organisation’s mission, vision and values. Nyambura’s previous experience is in both internal and external auditing, with extensive experience in organisational due diligence. She led the team that developed the Equality Now risk policy and has been instrumental in ensuring a sound risk management plan is in place as well as being an advocate for risk awareness across programs at Equality Now.

Equality Now