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Accountability Matters, Making a Pledge is Easy

pledge
By Ajay Parekh

The itch I want to scratch today is related to accountability and outcomes from the vast number of pledges being made to help reduce if not eliminate some of the most important injustices of the world. This article goes out to anyone writing a pledge and even more to anyone reading a pledge to please focus on the targets and outcomes that a pledge can have. It is important to have clarity about the deliverables and criteria with which the pledge can be monitored.

Let me start this subject from where I was first motivated to write this article. Over the last few months I have seen companies in the arts, culture and creative industries make many #BLM pledges, pledges for better mental health and welfare for staff, pledges for diversity, pledges for supporting SMEs, sole traders and even some for freelancers. Pledges where companies have expressed their desire to listen more, be better educated and promise to do the right thing. I have read statements suggesting ‘we must do better’, ‘we must do better as people’, ‘we must talk less and act more’, ‘we must examine our practices so that our workforce looks more like the world around us’. Congratulations to all for making these pledges and writing the obvious but really, is this it! Of the many pledges that I have read not one stated a timeline, an outcome, a person against which the delivery of the pledge could be held accountable.

If, after the many years of trading, organisations and industry leaders feel the need for further education before committing to a plan or even making change then clearly they are throwing this into the long grass.

If you have to wait for your staff and wider community to bring important issues to your attention then many of you are not doing your jobs properly or simply not caring enough to ask the right questions. If companies have not already looked around the boardroom or senior management team to see if the people in the room reflect the city or culture they work in, if you have not spoken to your staff about the issues of poor welfare and onsite working conditions or simply not asked them about what really matters to them in life and work then please make time to do so. Organisations in the arts, culture and creative industries lacking in budgets to tackle anything more than the short term needs often find themselves making promises through public pledges. It is not necessary to make pledges in open season.

I know that the many important issues of society and community are difficult to solve and require strategic thinking and long term plans, but we should be much better than this and we must stop writing pithy statements in the hope that we stand out from the crowd.

Over the past year I have read many more pledges, such as, pledges for fair pay, pledges by EU countries for a Covid-19 global response ($8bn), World Bank Group reconstruction pledge for Gaza ($3.5bn), Global Fund Donors pledge to Fight to End Epidemics ($14bn), in 2019 27 countries pledging to replenish the Green Climate Fund (GCF) which came to $9.78 billion equivalent for the next four years (this is in addition to the $9.3 billion previously pledged in 2014), hundreds of ‘zero-net deforestation-free by 2020’ goal pledges, and even Jeff Bezos gets in on the act with $10bn to fight climate change to win a willy waving contest with The Gates Foundation pledging an additional $1.6 billion to the Gavi vaccine alliance for the next five years, plus an additional $100 million specifically for COVID-19 vaccines and the list goes on and on. I have watched years of BBC Children in Need televised events where millions of pounds are pledged and more recently the BBC’s The Big Night In raising over 67million pounds for great causes and issues that need the support. All in all I cannot imagine anyone reading these headlines and PR statements has the ability to audit and monitor the pledge itself, but many do get caught up in the momentary newsworthy hype and celebration.

Then you have the social cause pledges, the pledges of time, resource, new thinking and of course pledges to ensure injustices of the world are not perpetuated in our homes, countries and companies. Pledges to support a 50:50 fair pay scheme, #BLM pledges, and even more against racism, inequality and prejudices, pledges for animals in extinction, pledges made by the football associations asking parents, coaches and spectators to behave with more positivity, government pledges to remove gagging clauses, the 3% pledge for pay equity, pledges for better mental health and welfare, pledges for climate change issues and the high profile pledges for #metoo.

When I started thinking of writing this I was not expecting to see such a wide ranging effort from people, companies and organisations of the world willing to solve some of the most urgent problems and injustices we face. Truly humbling and exhausting in equal measure. In fact when you read the response you would think the govts and leaders of the world were not doing anything at all, and certainly not to solve the most urgent injustices and issues that have been pervading human society for generations.

The trouble is that for every pledge I have read I have read counter articles raising issues of pledges not delivered, pledges not fulfilled and certainly not meeting the criteria it was originally founded on. It seems we are so immune to the cause that many people think that by simply making the statement alone is fulfilling enough, to get recognition of wanting to show your support and willingness to put the world right means we can all go back to work and not really know what happened next.

It is easy to list the unfulfilled pledges that had a financial value to its aim, here are a few to highlight, the US CEOs who signed a celebrated Business Roundtable document, promising to elevate worker interests, who are now resorting to furloughs, the global pledges for the deforestation-free which out of the 400+ companies not one is due to meets its deforestation-free pledge this year, the UK govt’s failed pledge to build 200,000 new homes for first time buyers, in fact it seems that govts and some of the biggest corporations in the western world are guilty of breaking their pledges quicker than anyone can assess if the money was ever delivered in the first place.

The more challenging scrutiny comes when assessing the cultural, social justice issue pledges. The type I read on LinkedIn and many social media channels, the ones that have no discernible target or timeline with which to benchmark and audit.

Even when it comes to donating, the global collection sites have lengthy aggrievance policies for the non-committal of funds with some of the terms and conditions on the more popular crowdfunding sites not able to do any more than ask backers to fix their payment accounts and/or the site will continue to remind them for a further 7 days. So for 7 days you can wallow in the glory that you meant well and gained some recognition for it before you forget to update your credit card details to ensure the payment doesn’t go through.

It seems pledging has become a business in itself with philanthropic organisations like Pledge1% and the more recently successful social media campaign Pull Up or Shut Up working directly with corporations to not only target their attention to where it matters but creating processes and procedures to help them monitor the success.

Finally, let’s get a few personal motivating factors out of the way. I write this article as a reaction to what I have read, seen on my social media streams, and written with a low level of research. I do not want this article to take anything away from the current wave of pledges being made and actions being taken to help solve important issues of the world. The urge to write something on the need for accountability and outcomes overwhelmingly won and I gave in. I am happy to be corrected and better informed if any of my readers have a view on this. I wish you all a safe passage through these difficult and challenging times.

This article was first written and posted on LinkedIn in July 2020.

Also by Ajay Parekh:

What is Experience? An Accumulation of Lessons Learned

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