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The Subsidy Fund is revolutionising organisations

If I were a donor, I would put more money in the Subsidy Fund because it is revolutionising organisations

November 2020

TPO Uganda is a local organisation fully managed by Ugandans and has worked in humanitarian aid and development interventions for over 26 years. TPO Uganda is independently verified against the Core Humanitarian Standard on Quality and Accountability (CHS) since 2018 and a member of the CHS Alliance.

We talked with Rehema Kajungu, Deputy Director, about her experience, learnings and challenges to obtain independent verification, as well as ways to overcome these.

A woman from the affected community sharing her story with TPO Uganda staff, 2020.

Why did TPO Uganda decide to get independently verified against the CHS?

TPO Uganda was established over 26 years ago and we have interventions in both humanitarian and development contexts mainly in community-based mental health and psychosocial support, child protection, prevention of gender-based violence, household economic strengthening and disaster risk reduction. The reason for getting independently verified was to receive an external assessment and honest review of how well we apply the CHS. We wanted a reality-check to learn and grow as an organisation. We do good work but to gain more credibility, we wanted it to be subjected to a reliable international quality standard assurance check and HQAI’s audits fitted the bill. We were certain that opening up our systems and policies to be audited would encourage us to be compliant and in the long run support our long-term development and sustainability. We also wanted to be more accountable to affected communities. We periodically conduct satisfaction surveys with people affected by crisis and take our accountability to our stakeholders seriously.

Group discussion with TPO Uganda, 2020.

What triggered your decision?

At this stage, allow me to recognise the contribution from HQAI’s Subsidy Fund that has made it possible for us to undertake the independent verification. We had always desired to get on this journey but were hindered by the costs involved. As we shared our interest with Danish Church Aid, one of our donors, they informed us about HQAI. The entire team at HQAI has been extremely supportive, explaining the Subsidy fund and guiding us through the application process for a subsidy.

We secured a 50% Subsidy for the initial audit expenses and received another 40% by Danish Church Aid to cover the costs of the audit. Subsequently, HQAI increased the Subsidy to 70% for the mid-term audit.

I would like to reaffirm that the HQAI’s Subsidy Fund exists and is easily accessible. If I were a donor, I would put more money in the Subsidy Fund because it is revolutionising organisations.

What has changed since your independent verification against the CHS?

Since we embarked on the verification journey, TPO has seen tremendous improvement in its systems. The initial audit was a reality check for TPO to reflect on our systems and operationalise policies and processes in a practical way. The external auditor, who was extremely thorough, identified gaps which we set ourselves to improving. This has led to a number of changes in our internal quality system and changing practices in our work with communities affected by crisis. All staff are more accountable to the people affected by crisis as they recite an accountability statement before each interaction providing them an assurance of the safety of interventions but also a contact to report to should it be necessary. Our policies and systems have been reviewed to accommodate the recommendations from the initial audit.

Further, it has led to a positive impact on funding as a number of donors including the Dutch Relief Alliance, USAID and Penny Appeal recently used our initial audit report and shortened their due diligence assessment. We have increased donor confidence in our systems and as a result, a month back, we signed a USAID OVC grant amounting to 20m USD, as a prime agency.

We have now more confidence in our systems and are more empowered and bolder to apply for bigger grants. We have improved the accountability to our partners, affected people and communities and even staff in many ways. The staff now identifies more with the organisations vision and mission statement. These are recited at every meeting and all staff are encouraged to practice them and apply them in their daily work. There is value addition to all our activities as a result of the verification exercise.

A men during a group discussion with TPO Uganda, 2020.

What are your biggest challenges in relation to the CHS and independent verification?

The CHS Alliance verification scheme and HQAI as an independent auditor are not well known in Uganda and many African countries by either Civil Society Organisations involved in humanitarian work, government entities or donor agencies. This makes this very important CHS independent verification not carry as much weight as it deserves.

For most donors, it is not a necessity that agencies undergo one of the CHS independent verification exercises. This further weakens its appeal as it is not a requirement for donor funding.

Most donors support projects with no funding for institutional support costs. Since most donors are not aware or request one of the verification options of the CHS (note from the editor: CHS self-assessment, independent verification or certification), it is difficult to secure funding for it. These costs include funds to support audits, maintenance costs to do an in-depth analysis and implement the audit recommendations. Many organisations in humanitarian work in Africa are cash trapped – and these costs are not supported by most donors making them hard to sustain.

What are some of the levers you can mobilise to overcome these challenges?

TPO Uganda strongly values the CHS and HQAI’s independent verification services and as a focal point and a member on the CHS Alliance board, I commit to publicise and be an ambassador for CHS independent verification in Uganda and beyond. I promote it through putting it on the agenda for our annual donor round table discussions. We include it on our printed communication, educational and branding materials. We use our social media channels to talk about our experience, we advocate and talk about it in meetings with peers, development partners, communities and governmental ministries. I also encourage as many NGOs to sign up and apply for one of the independent verification options and the Subsidy Fund.

I believe that CHS at 6 years and HQAI at 5 years, there is a lot of potential in promoting quality, accountability, spearheading participation, safeguarding, facilitating localisation, reducing duplication in multiple due diligences; that the donors and other stakeholders should appreciate and commit resources to it.

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