Open Society Foundations Launch New Initiative to Step Up Fight for Transparency

LONDON—The Open Society Foundations on Friday launched a $10 million Transparency Champions Challenge to empower reformers around the world to improve government responsiveness and accountability. 

The Open Society pledge of new resources to support the efforts of civil society and government transparency champions hinges on other governments, companies, and/or private foundations coming forward with similar commitments, with the goal of raising $50 million by 2014.

Through international efforts such as the Open Government Partnership, the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, and recent legislation in the U.S. and EU that forces oil, gas, and mining companies to disclose payments to producing countries, there is an unprecedented amount of new information about government revenues and expenditures being placed in the public domain.

Under UK leadership, this year’s G8 Summit may further increase global disclosure around land transactions, foreign aid, government budgets, taxation, anonymous shell companies, and public contracting.

Making more information available about the money that governments receive and spend is an essential first step in helping improve development results and democratic governance. The Transparency Champions Challenge will help translate this increased transparency into real accountability, by supporting a wide range of citizen and government efforts to ensure that people actually use this new information to promote more responsive and effective governance.

“Governments and corporations around the world are beginning to release unprecedented amounts of information about their revenues and expenses, but most citizens will never benefit from this new transparency unless someone interprets and publicizes the information disclosed,” Chris Stone, president of the Open Society Foundations, said. “It is critical that civil society is able to build the tools and capacity to effectively engage citizens on budgetary matters, and citizens are able to monitor and influence how decisions about public resources are made.”

In recent years, many innovative citizen- and government-led efforts have taken advantage of increased transparency to help improve government effectiveness and accountability:

  • Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), an Indian NGO, has used paint on hundreds of mud walls across India to track rural peasants’ annual entitlements to wage labor employment in the absence of access to the government’s online tracking mechanism.
  • In Mexico, activists at the NGO Fundar use budget research and advocacy to increase allocations for maternal mortality and improve the quality of maternal health services.
  • In the Philippines, the government is using participatory social audits to directly involve citizens in monitoring local public infrastructure projects.
  • In Tanzania, the government is preparing its first citizens' budget document to explain in plain language how public resources are spent.

By supporting these types of efforts, the Open Society Foundations and other potential partners to the Transparency Champions Challenge can help build and sustain a powerful global constituency for government and corporate transparency.

“Around the world, anticorruption activists and government reformers are standing up to those few bad actors in the public and private sector who collude to rob the poorest people of the funds they need to fight poverty and hunger,” Jamie Drummond, co-founder of the ONE campaign, said. “This Transparency Champions Challenge will give financial and political support to these courageous campaigners and transform our talk of a transparency revolution into a reality.”

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The Open Society Foundations work to build vibrant and tolerant democracies whose governments are accountable to their citizens. Working with local communities in more than 100 countries, the Open Society Foundations support justice and human rights, freedom of expression, and access to public health and education.