TAI Weekly

TAI Weekly | Data privacy
Print Page

  • Scrubbing too clean
  • WatchedApp
  • Serve not loot
  • Escape the method police
  • TAI Spotlight: How to save capitalism from itself
Scrubbing too clean
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

Remember Operation Car Wash? It’s the corruption probe that began in Brazil but has roiled politics across Latin America. A trove of secret documents has revealed that Brazilian prosecutors and judges tasked with cleaning up corruption made use of highly questionable and even illegal procedures to accomplish their goals. Now, Rafael Neves, Ernesto Cabral, and Rafael Moro Martins have meticulously compiled revelations from Peru that show dubious methods by prosecutors there, too.

Such investigative reporting is not without its risks. We know that attacks on journalists have been on the rise. This past Saturday marked the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists and it had Bernard Tabaire asking why it is so rare to see anyone punished for abusing a journalist who happened to be doing journalistic work. Past time for some accountability.

Hopefully it will not deter a new generation of journalists from coming through, so glad to see iWatch Africa announcing plans to train 60 journalists across Ghana to combat corruption and improve accountability, data, investigative and digital tools.


Journalists often use WhatsApp, as do activists working on transparency issues worldwide. So, more concern that seemingly secure platforms are increasingly vulnerable. More than a dozen NGO activists, journalists, and political dissidents around the world have spoken out after receiving warnings privately from WhatsApp that an Israeli spyware has been allegedly used to monitor, track, and listen on their mobile phones. We are deep into an arms race between secure communication and hackers/surveillance operatives.A World Economic Forum report reveals that global consumers crave transparency and assurances of confidentiality and security when it comes to usage of their personal data. Learn more from discussions at the Mozzilla Fest as Digital Freedom Fund convened practitioners, lawyers, and activists in attempt to future-proof our digital rights.Looking to increase the integrity of elections around the globe, Twitter announced it will ban all political ads, adding pressure on Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg who received a scathing open letter after his refusal to follow suit. The heat isn’t only from Sorkin. NSA surveillance whistleblower, Edward Snowden, told Vox that Facebook is just as untrustworthy as the NSA. Zuckerberg’s own response to Sorkin is from the latter’s own screenplay from the classic 1995 Rob Reiner film “The American President.” Perhaps a response to Snowden is in the oven too, cooking.A couple of weeks back we flagged the latest African Governance Report by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation and now David Pilling builds on the data gaps it highlighted to suggest Africans start demanding more from governments that rule in their name. His suggestion? Africans must equip themselves with statistics on population, employment, and public services.Still on using data for public good, we turn to the potential for data sharing. The GovLab, World Economic Forum, TReNDS, and University of Washington — Applied Physics Laboratory invite you to join them as they lay out legal and operational barriers to data sharing and pathways to overcomes those barriers for effective data collaboration.Essential Long Read: Seeing Transparency More Clearly
In recent years, transparency has been proposed as the solution to, and the cause of, a remarkable range of public problems, so argues David Pozen in a forthcoming article examining the proliferation of seemingly contradictory claims about transparency. Pozen argues that to gain greater purchase on how transparency policies operate, scholars must “move beyond abstract assumptions and drill down into the specific legal, institutional, historical, political, and cultural contexts in which these policies are crafted and implemented.” One can see an equivalent conversation among practitioners as they consider the instrumentality of transparency. If there is such a thing as the “field of transparency studies” then Pozen says it is due for a “sociological turn.” He argues that the sociological study of secrecy generated powerful insights in the past and it can do so for transparency today.


Serve not loot
Ghana’s Auditor General, Daniel Domelevo, also has a message for public servants at the 6th International Institute of certified Forensic Investigation Professionals (IICFIP): “You have been called to serve not to loot!” Perhaps time for an Integrity Icon Ghana to provide some positive inspiration?

Global Financial Integrity gives a nice overview of a spate of bills in the US congress addressing illicit financial flows, from the ILLICIT CASH act to the TRAP Act to the CROOK ACT (acronym creativity is clearly well-prized among legislative staffers.)

Will Snell of Tax Justice Network argues we can supercharge international aid with smarter tax support that goes beyond narrow technocratic reforms to a broader view of ways to boost domestic revenues. One way is through more effective taxation of global firm operations and on that front Public Service International adds their take: instead of taxing a multinational’s numerous entities separately, it advocates taxing each multinational enterprise as a unitary entity. They argue that the only losers in this scheme are tax avoiders and tax havens.

Expect more calls for clamping down on tax loopholes and raising new taxes as treasuries face growing debt service payments. The IMF is trying to draw attention to surging public debt-to-GDP ratios in East Africa as Burundi joins a list of 9 African countries in high debt distress. Kenya is not yet on that list, but has been upgraded from low to moderate risk as the country’s lawmakers recently voted to increase the country’s debt ceiling to Ksh9 trillion ($90 billion) in the current 2019/2020 fiscal year breaching the East Africa Community’s debt target that is equivalent to 50 per cent of the GDP.

What to do about it? TAI will be hosting a conversation among debt, tax and budget activists next month, but in the meantime Scott Morris reminds us that the changing debt landscape means that we cannot simply repeat the measures that resolved the last debt crisis – the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries initiative will not cut it, not least due to China’s current outsized creditor role to developing countries – bigger than all bilateral Paris Club creditors combined.

Many investors in East Africa (and worldwide) are Chinese, but how is that perceived locally? As a Chinese NGO stepped outside the country for the first time, it found itself caught in between Chinese companies hoping the NGO would smooth local relations and skeptical local communities. 

Essential Listening: Open Societies Are Under Threat
Open Society Foundations Founder and philanthropist, George Soros, muses on threat to democratic societies. “When I got involved in what I call political philanthropy some 40 years ago, the open society idea was on the ascendance. Closed societies are opening up, and now open societies are on the defensive. And dictatorships are on the rise,” he says.


Escape the method police

Thomas Aston, in the first of a forthcoming series, argues that too many of us get locked into orthodoxies and should focus more on how different evaluative methods are complementary rather than competition to each other. Also, a team of evaluation and learning leaders in fifteen foundations say dynamic learning systems in foundations requires examining how we work (not just what we know), understanding and adjusting our organizational systems to facilitate (un)learning, and finding implicit learning habits that are part of and enhance our regular work. 

Continuing the foundation thread, funders are always trying to adapt to learnings and shifts in context. Some complain they seem to be in permanent strategy mode. Yet most attention focuses on the thematic areas delineated for funding. Former TAI Chair Ruth Levine highlights a potential missing link between “what we want to work on” and the “how”. Ruth poses 5 questions that foundation staff can be asking to align operational set up to field ambitions.

In praise of the unsung heroes (non-profit leaders), Phil Buchanan writes on the challenge of nonprofit leadership and how nonprofit leaders can navigate perilous times. Find inspiration in the success stories of The Buen Vivir Fund and Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy. Nonprofit leaders may follow up with Ariadne network’s lessons on funding community organizing to reinforce democracy/public goods.
Good transition planning is important for nonprofits and still too much of a rarity argues Crispin Kaheru in regards to his “sudden” exit as the Coordinator of Citizens Coalition for Electoral Democracy (CCEDU). Turnover should be expected given the scrutiny activists are facing. “I think globally, NGOs- and especially those working on governance and human rights issues are under a lot of stress from various dimensions-including from governments and the people they serve.”

Another factor in nonprofit success? Sound board governance. Nikki Newton details good practice to fulfill fiduciary obligations.


TAI Spotlight: How to save capitalism from itself

Get Your Camera Ready – Announcing TAI Photo Grant | Transparency
and Accountability Initiative (TAI)

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but what images convey the currency of transparency and accountability? We want to find out. TAI launches a photo competition for professional and amateur photographers of any nationality to use their art to promote conversation around transparency and accountability issues.

Top Ideas in Cyber Design Competition Revealed | Hewlett Foundation
The foundation unveils five top ideas in its international “Cybersecurity Visuals Challenge” with OpenIDEO. The competition focused on reimagining visuals for cybersecurity, bearing in mind the complexity and importance of today’s cybersecurity challenges.

How to Save Capitalism from Itself | Ford Foundation
What is the future of capitalism? Read Ford Foundation President, Darren Walker’s take on Fast Company’s “New Capitalism” issue as he advocates for all sectors to reimagine a more inclusive capitalism.

Investing in Pop Culture Collaborative | Luminate
Luminate writes on why it renewed its support to the Pop Culture Collaborative, an organization pushing for authentic representations in mass media to build more inclusive and stronger societies.

Addressing Migration Challenges in a Globalized World | Open Society Foundations
 Magdalena Majkowska-Tomkin, the Open Society Initiative for Europe’s division director for the Migration and Inclusion Unit, highlights three basic principles policy makers must keep in mind if they truly want to craft realistic and humane migration policies.



Managing Director of Programs and Learning – Ongoing
Democracy Fund: Sr. Associate, Strategy & Learning – Ongoing
Call for papers: Nigerian Tax Research Network Conference – November 6
TAI Student Fellowship – Spring 2020 – November 10
Frontier Data Study – Global Stakeholder Survey – November 17, 2019
Mawazo Institute fellowship (for women pursuing PhDs at universities in East Africa) — November 22, 2019
Small Charities Challenge Fund for UK registered NGOs and Charities – November 28
TAI Photo Grant – January 13, 2020



ODI Summit 2019 – November 12 – 2019 (London, United Kingdom)
Global Partnership for Social Accountability – Global Partners Forum 2019 – November 19-21, 2019 (Washington DC, United States) 
Storytelling and the future of advocacy in the 21st century – November 21, 2019 (Washington DC, United States)
The Story Conference – November 27 – 29, 2019 (Melbourne, Australia)
The Impacts of Civic Tech Conference (TICTeC) – March 24 – 25, 2020 (Reykjavik, Iceland)
Transparency International: 19th International Anti-Corruption Conference – June 2 – 5, 2020 (Seoul, South Korea)
Women and Girls Africa Summit – June 9-12, 2020 (Durban, South Africa)
Amartya Sen Essay Contest 2020: Illicit financial flows – August 31, 2020