Q & A with John Bines, the Chief Executive of EveryChild
In order to increase the long-term impact on the lives of children, EveryChild, a UK based charity decided to close down as a traditional NGO and transfer its income and assets to a new global alliance, managed and governed by national NGO members. We had a chat with John Bines, the Executive Director of EveryChild to understand the thinking behind this decision.
NEAR: Tell us about EveryChild’s contemporary collaborative approach. How does it look like?
JOHN: EveryChild has been investing in a member-led global alliance of local civil society organisations working directly with children and families. This is called ‘Family for Every Child’ or ‘Family’ for short. Following a recent evaluation report, EveryChild plans to dissolve and transfer its assets to Family at the end of September.
NEAR: Why was it important for EveryChild to create an alliance with organizations working directly with children and families?
JOHN: EveryChild believes passionately in ‘subsidiarity’ i.e. that decisions are made and solutions developed by people who fully understand the problems and challenges from first hand experience. As the saying goes ‘only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches’. It was this belief that underpinned the strategic direction.
NEAR: In what specific ways would you say that ‘Family’ ensures that these organizations and the families it exists to serve have the agency to influence solutions to the challenges that impact them?
JOHN: The members work together to identify, develop and implement initiatives. Each member works directly and closely with children and families in their own context. Being a member of a global alliance also supports the organizations own advocacy efforts.
NEAR: How did you ensure that your 'exit' was responsible and that it did not affect the children?
JOHN: Key principles were developed to guide our responsible programme exit. These were: 1. that the work we have done must be sustainable, 2. that there should be no detrimental effect on children or communities, and 3. that there should be no loss of expertise or momentum for change.
NEAR: How do you think such an approach can/will influence change in the current aid system?
JOHN: The recent evaluation has provided evidence that the approach is achieving more change than EveryChild’s traditional approach ever could. One initiative developed by members in Ghana, Rwanda and South Africa focused on the impact of social protection on child care has led to policy change affecting more children than EveryChild would have reached in a year.
In terms of influencing change in the current aid system, I hope it encourages other authentic civil society organisations to demand their right to a play a leadership role in developing solutions in their communities. It is great to see the NEAR network doing this.
NEAR: In what way would you say the traditional development approach has failed?
JOHN: I see the traditional development approach as an unholy marriage between arrogance and benevolence. Their arrogance has meant that development organizations have not focused on accountability to the communities they profess to support. I look forward to the death of development in much the same way that people celebrated the death of colonialism. Collaboration is the watch-word for the 21st century
NEAR: How does this collaboration look like?
JOHN: It takes various forms, but all member led. Often a member is facing a challenge and calls upon other members to support them with that challenge. This has happened recently with institutional care in Indonesia and foster care in India. Additionally, members take advantage of the General Assembly to initiate new initiatives.
NEAR: What are some of the challenges you have faced so far while shifting to an alliance of independent members?
JOHN: There were many. Perhaps the most significant was responsibly completing EveryChild’s existing programme commitments. Whilst, for obvious reasons, our programme teams across the world were extremely supportive of the change in approach, they were inevitably personally impacted as the programmes came to an end.
Another major challenge was addressing the innate prejudices that existed. This was two-way. Some stakeholders’ starting point was that local organisations would lack the leadership/organisational skills required. Equally some local organisations assumed we were merely trying to find a different way to push our agenda.
NEAR: How does the traditional EveryChild’s model compare to the new member-led and collaborative approach? What specific changes are you seeing if any?
JOHN: Family has just undertaken an evaluation using the outcome harvesting technique designed specifically for networks/alliances. This has yielded over 50 separate outcomes for children all as a result of members working together. Some of these outcomes are national policy changes in some of the world’s largest countries. The credibility of being a member of a global alliance and the value of collaboration have supported members in achieving that change.
NEAR: I am curious about the process of convincing EveryChild’s funding partners to stay on and continue supporting the new approach? Was that a challenge?
JOHN: We were always very clear that some of our funding partners would not make the transition. The approach was simply too different. We were very grateful that a couple of large US Foundations provided support in the set-up phase and they continue to support Family now. The response of EveryChild’s individual supporter base has been really encouraging with 92% of supporters who answered a recent survey agreeing that Family would have more impact than EveryChild.
NEAR: Is this an approach one you would recommend to other INGOs?
JOHN: Well they have to do something don’t they? Many INGOs have been interested in what we have done, but don’t see any real appetite for change amongst the majority. Aid/Development is ultimately an industry with lots of people employed within it. Intervention is in their DNA and turkeys don’t vote for Christmas.
NEAR: It’s now a month since the WHS. What was your view of the summit?
JOHN: The highlight was the launch of the NEAR network. The launch of ROHAN was also good to see. The Grand Bargain sounds good in theory, but I’m worried that the price of the Grand Bargain will be donors demanding more compliance from local organisations. There’s also the risk that more of the usual suspects will simply set up their own satellite organisations to circumvent it.
NEAR: How do you see the aid system looking like in the next 25 years?
JOHN: Do you want hope or expectation? Either way I see a change in the share of voice from where the money is to where the people are. I hope it will be fast, I fear it will be slow.
NEAR: As a supporter of NEAR, what do you think is going to be our biggest challenge?
JOHN: Maintaining resolve without getting too angry. There are a lot of people out there who see the world in a certain way. They took it in with their mother’s milk. I live in a country that calls itself ‘Great’ Britain for example. Enough said.
NEAR: What advice would you give NEAR?
JOHN: Keep going! When the time is right, expand to become more global perhaps. Don’t listen to people like me.
NEAR: A word for other INGOs?