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In our work with civil society organizations (CSOs), we sometimes overuse some concepts, wear them out quickly or neglect to engage sufficiently with the concepts. This article is about the principles that come together to form the values that we adopt by investing time, effort, mind, work and willpower, and that we observe in the process of turning our individual efforts into a promise for social change (i.e. when we get organized in one way or another), and how these principles can be organized in practice.

Leading change: Designing and Implementing Programs With Guiding Principles

What are the operating principles of rights-based CSOs?

A system is a whole made up of multiple physical or conceptual components that interact with each other and their environment to achieve a goal or outcome. CSOs also emerge and operate with the collective will of individuals who come together on a voluntary basis to achieve a specific goal. Therefore, each of them is a system that sits within, influences or is influenced by larger systems.

This book description points to the following questions: What is our collective will as an CSO, what do we want to change, and what outcome do we want to achieve? How should we build and strengthen the relationships between our sub-units and our relationships with the external environment so that we gain the position, consistency and strength to influence other systems towards our goal and create the change we want to achieve?

In fact, all systems, whether civil society organizations, corporations, mafia-like organizations or states, provide answers to these questions in one way or another. Each of them has a purpose, sub-units and principles, values or morals that determine its relationship and position in relation to external systems. This inevitably leads us to the following question: on the path to the change we want to bring about as CSOs, and particularly as rights-based CSOs, what are the factors that differentiate our existence from all other systems or strengthen our relationships with similar systems and ensure our consistency and legitimacy? The answers we give to these questions on a personal level as individuals within the CSO will also be reflected in the collective will of the CSO.

A distinguishing feature for CSOs based on a rights-based approach: Working with principles

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which defines and guarantees human dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of people to freedom, justice and world peace, has been the basic normative framework for all work conducted for this purpose for 75 years. The rights and the legal system based on this fundamental framework give people today hope to claim, create and live a life and a future worthy of human dignity and in harmony with all other living beings and nature.

Rights-based CSOs have set themselves the task of realizing the rights and freedoms defined in this framework and creating equal opportunities and possibilities for all. However, there are no universal rules for what a rights-based approach should be.

In general, it is expected that the principles and values defined at the normative level are internalized by the CSOs working to realize these principles and values and that the organizations are able to look at the field of rights with an integrated understanding in order to fully realize the rights and freedoms. It is believed that in this way, rights-based CSOs will be able to adopt an integrated approach that ensures coherence between their goals and their existence, and implement an integrated approach by developing the necessary skills in this direction.

From this perspective, it can be said that all principles and values defined as conditions for guaranteeing and realization of rights and freedoms constitute a set of commitments that distinguish rights-based CSOs from other systems and strengthen the legitimacy of rights-based organizations.

Working with principles as a prerequisite for good governance

Rights-based CSOs generally advocate for the protection, development or use of a particular right or rights. The compatibility of principles with a particular right or rights can help the CSO to define its mission and objectives, but also forms the basis for the work of the organizations. Ideally, there should be harmony between the change an organization wants to bring about, the role it assigns itself in creating that change, and the way it achieves it. While CSOs develop effective strategies to recognize certain rights and prevent violations, principles form the basis of these strategies. They provide guidance in setting tasks and goals and in planning.

Rights-based CSOs often take on the task of protecting the rights and interests of society and rights-holders in general, on the assumption that this will lead society to a better place. It is therefore of great importance that society trusts and supports the CSO. To ensure this relationship of trust, it is important that the organization acts transparently, accountably and reliably by working with principles.

In designing the BİRLİKTE program, we wanted to ensure that the principles we set out in the model are guided and implemented in different ways at different levels of the program. In doing so, we first defined the general principles of the BİRLİKTE program based on the founding principles and values of the STGM with the participation of the entire team. We dedicated a lot of time to this process. As a team, we had the opportunity to discuss topics such as the relationship between principles and values, what they mean, what they can facilitate in practice and what we need to focus on in particular.

BİRLİKTE program and 6 principles that are internally connected

Although the principles for organizational development of good governance adopted by an organization must be a product of its own reality, as mentioned earlier, we have developed the organizational capacity development model in the light of our work with more than ten thousand civil society organizations for almost twenty years, the experience we have gained and the discussions in the international literature. We have identified six principles that are inextricably linked. (*)

At the top of these principles is participation.

We can define participation as the creation of opportunities that ensure equal and active involvement of all parties affected by decisions at all levels.

The most important of these opportunities are the mechanisms of openness and accessibility for all stakeholders and beneficiaries of CSOs, information, consultation, involvement and feedback on these processes and outcomes. CSOs become transparent, accountable and reliable to the extent that they increase their participation. For an CSO, participation means not only the involvement of all stakeholders in decision-making mechanisms through established methods, but also the involvement of the CSO in the decision-making mechanisms and processes that affect the area in which it operates (policy, administration, etc.).

The other principle we have identified in our model is value creation.

We define the principle of value creation as the evaluation of all policies, strategies, plans and activities that an CSO designs and implements in line with its mission, based on the change and social value they create.

Indeed, CSOs have the potential to create social value through the opportunities that arise from their very existence and the activities they carry out. Joining together for a common goal and developing collective thinking and action is in itself an important opportunity for the well-being of the group, community or society concerned. On the other hand, in today's world, CSOs can play an increasingly active role in solving many social problems. The value they create in every area - from strengthening participatory democracy to disasters and emergencies, from the environment to health, from poverty alleviation to education, from culture to sports - with the expertise and resources they can mobilize is also a key value for the organizational development of an CSO. For this reason, one of the principles of the organizational capacity development model we have developed is to focus on the organization's ability to provide answers to the problems it faces. This is also an expression of the organization's effectiveness.

Another principle that forms the backbone of our model is transparency.

We interpret transparency in CSOs on three levels. Organizational transparency in our model means that an organization's governance, decision-making, selection and management of staff and volunteers, organizational structure and processes related to its functioning are defined in advance and that information from the field is accessible to relevant stakeholders. Transparency of activities means that information about the activities carried out by the organization is available to the public, while financial transparency means that external reports such as the organization's financial statements, audit reports, and information and documents related to financial management are available to the public.

Transparency is a necessary condition to ensure the trust and legitimacy of an CSO among its staff, volunteers, target groups and stakeholders. At the same time, it enables it to be seen as a secure organization by donors and funders. In this sense, we can consider transparency as a prerequisite for an organization to be participatory, accountable and sustainable.

Another principle of ours is the principle of accountability.

By accountability we mean, in the broadest sense, the ability of an CSO to be accountable to the relevant parties for the appropriate use of its resources and powers and to take responsibility for fulfilling its obligations. This principle also means that decisions and practices must be defensible and that the CSO's leadership and management team, volunteers and staff are accountable for the actions and statements they put on behalf of the organization. To meet this requirement, the organization's decision-making processes and administrative and financial transactions must be recorded in a way that is understandable to all stakeholders.

In contrast to transparency, accountability also emphasizes the obligation to respond, justify and act responsibly. The accountability of CSOs also includes demonstrating that their activities are compatible with their non-profit status.

The principle of sustainability in our model refers to the CSO's ability to continuously create the resources and management capacity to ensure its existence.

Necessary elements for sustainability are that an organization provides the necessary human and financial resources for all its work to achieve its goals, and makes regular plans and reviews to this end. When the manager, leadership team and volunteers of the CSO change, the organization; the successful transfer of its vision, mission, values and governance-related processes is also a prerequisite for sustainability. According to this principle, we assess the CSO's contribution to the sustainability of society and the world in environmental, social and economic terms, in addition to its own sustainability, and the development of strategies, plans and actions in this direction.

The last and perhaps most important principle of our model is anti-discrimination and equality.

This principle states that the CSO should base its organizational structure and functioning on equality and inclusiveness in terms of rights, freedoms, resources and opportunities, both in the administrative processes within the organization and in all the work that the organization carries out towards third parties, and strengthen these elements.

CSOs adhere to standards for services and the production of information that is accessible to all. An important element of this principle is gender equality. Social gender equality; It requires active measures to ensure gender equality in all administrative processes within the organization as well as in all studies, field research, support and services, advocacy, policy making and development.

How did we design and implement the program based on these principles?

After determining the program principles, we determined what these principles mean for the BİRLİKTE program, how the principles should be implemented at the program level, and which principles should be applied in the activities planned in the program document and how. Therefore, we have prepared a detailed checklist of the work that needs to be done at the component level or the issues that need to be considered in order for the whole program to be in line with the determined principles.

We then carried out detailed studies to ensure that the tools developed within the program were in line with the principles. For example, when defining the organizational capacity development model and creating the list of questions for the self-assessment tool, we created a context matrix showing which questions relate to which principle, identified the indicators and listed the tool sets.

In the events we organized together with the organizations participating in the program during the BİRLİKTE program, we tried to see the principles as a guide for ourselves, like a checklist, starting from the beginning with the information process and in various consultation processes and joint application methods, including event planning.

Working with the principles; determining the methods and mechanisms for implementing the principles and values of our organization both in our organizational structures and in our work and applying them effectively is an indispensable compass for us on the path to the change we want to create.

So how can we better implement a system in which no rights holder is left behind and social change in the organizations we work with is organized on the basis of principles? This question is perhaps one of the issues we should continue to think about.

*The principles of the BİRLİKTE program have been determined based on the principles that form the basis of the human rights-based approach to development, the founding principles and values of the STGM and the principles of good governance generally accepted in civil society.

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