Om na te lezen: Developing an Intercultural Framework of Accountability 

Hieronder volgt de uitgewerkte versie van de bijdrage van Ihtsham Ravi aan het NZR-Seminar over Geld en Zending van 26 april 2023.

Accountability is a concern in development work. My experience of working with two Christian organizations in Pakistan has made me realize the complex issues involved in the accountability framework. When I started working after completing my theological education in Pakistan, my studies had not provided me with training on accountability measures: narrative and financial reporting were literally foreign concepts. It was not that I lacked skills to write reports, but because the structure was complicated and without any guidelines, I felt at a loss. Once, I went to a restaurant traveling for project purposes, it did not have printed bills available (welcome to a developing country). Upon return, I had to explain the expense to the finance department why I chose this particular restaurant. I felt embarassed  by the whole situation as if I were not trusted in my job. I was faced with another dilemma: my theological training was of no use in this profession. Narrative reports did not require any theological reflection. On the other hand, while I struggled with the accountability framework of the Western partners, the working environment had many accountability issues of its own. It was clear to me, that the accountability framework of the Western Christian organizations lacked an understanding of the situation of developing countries.

Accountability has received significant attention in the past decades in the development work, but it is envisioned within the Western context. The European Commission’s Directorate General of Justice, Freedom, and Security has identified at least 140 initiatives for accountability in non-governmental organizations in the past decades.[1] These initiatives were developed in the Western context to facilitate accountability mainly for transparency in the region itself. When these accountability structures are extended to non-Western contexts, it causes frustration between development practitioners in the West and non-western contexts. Money that goes to the global South is generally perceived as a ‘gift’ which is different from the Western ‘aid’ perspective.[2] Therefore, the accountability framework is understood in other contexts as ‘distrust,’ and ‘suspicion’. It is not that accountability is not found in other cultures, rather the understanding of it differs. Mary T. Lederleitner in her book Cross-Cultural Partnerships: Navigating the Complexities of Money and Mission writes that “[i]t is not a problem that financial accountability is discriminatory to cross-cultural partners… The greater issue is that we need to begin to redeem the essence of the meaning of true accountability and implement it throughout all processes and parts of our ministries.”[3]

In this paper, I will reflect on the accountability framework from the perspective of Mary Lederleitner; she proposes a need for cross-cultural understanding of accountability by redeeming it from the contemporary secular, hegemonic influences of the Christians in the West Because,for a healthy partnership between Christians in the West and Christians/people in the global South, current accountability structures need to be redeemed and both sides, Christians in the West and the global South, should reflect on who is accountable for what and why. This paper does not attempt to answer them from a universal perspective, but rather lens generates a broader perspective by engaging with the definition of accountability in the Western context from a non-Western perspective, specifically of a Pakistani Christian.

What is accountability? 

When I was working for a Christian organization in Pakistan, in the beginning, I found the concept of accountability ambiguous. So, I looked up the dictionary and found that accountability means holding an individual or organization responsible. Oxford Dictionary online explains it as ‘… being responsible for your decisions and actions and expected to explain them when you are asked.[4] This understanding of accountability is limited, and other cultures do not share this, for example, several words are used to translate the word accountability in Urdu, two of them are: ehtisab and jawab da. Both carry negative connotations of being answerable. But, the English word accountability has a positive understanding compared to Urdu. This means accountability is not a universal construct, and every culture and language has its specific understanding of it.

The concept of accountability is representative of cultural, and historical conditions. Historically, development work was a close part of the church, and accountability structures were not as complex as today. Whatever a missionary would report from a foreign context, it was accepted in most cases without question, and if there was a financial request it was acted upon at once. Over time, two significant changes have occurred: Western Christian organizations started working with local partners, and international laws became rigorous in controlling transnational financial transactions. It has made accountability a lengthy process.  Its application from the Western to non-Western contexts forces Christian organizations to conform to it, although they are ill-equiped to do so. However, not conforming would mean that the   ‘partnership’ (contemporary understanding of donor and receiving organizations/individuals) will end. Such a system disregards cultural differences.  The cultural and historical changes in the West have influenced the understanding of development work, by making it bureaucratic, and using the terms of ‘partnership’. 

Lief Wenar defines accountability as second-order responsibility. He explains that ‘when we say someone is responsible for something, we mean that it is up to them to take care of it. When we say that someone is accountable for something, we mean that they have extra responsibility on top of this – a responsibility to show that they have filled their original responsibility.”[5] Accountability is also viewed as a set of definitions, procedures, and standards ensuring the responsible use of funds for the stakeholders.[6] ACT Alliance, a Christian development organization, adapts this perspective to ensure accountability in its work.[7] This understanding of accountability  reflects western perspective only.

The accountability structure of Pakistani Christians revolves around biradari (clan): whatever promotes its well-being is good and whatever harms it is evil.[8] In their understanding, Christians in the West are part of their biradari because of being Christians and paperwork does not matter as long as it promotes the ‘well-being’ of the biradari.

There is the wide misconception among Western Christians about Christians living in a communal society, that they neither have an accountability structure nor want to be accountable. Lederleitner writes what she has heard regarding it from others as, “Well, you know—they are into that collective thing! They do not care about financial accountability and integrity!”.[9] This situation is more complex than often perceived in the West . For instance, Pakistani society is governed by a culture of honor and shame in which Christians are more afraid of being dishonored than failing to complete paperworkTo translate this into the current accountability framework requires a theological and cultural understanding of the context, and means revisiting the Western idea of accountability. 

Accountability to Whom? 

I have often struggled with the question, if we are equal in Christ, why am only I accountable to the other? Wenar explains that accountability has a direction, for instance to whom one gives an account.[10] This person or agency has the power to evaluate positive or negative and also to set standards. The one who is accountable to someone is under the power of the one who has the authority to ask questions about the responsibility assigned to an agent of social change in society. This relationship is governed by contracts binding on both sides. When I started working in a developing organization, I realized this image of accountability evokes binaries of powerful and weak. Pakistani society is hierarchal, money determines power relationships, and the one who gives money is more powerful than the one who receives it. The unidirectional accountability reinforces this power dynamics already existing in Pakistani culture. This can easily be misunderstood as Pakistani Christian organizations being accountable to Western Christian organizations. 

Sensitivity to power dynamics in development work has moved the development sector to phrase the relationships between Western and non-Western organizations with the word ‘partnership’. Kang San Tan writes that a partnership is a relationship in which different strengths are the contribution of each one involved and the core of any partnership is ‘equality and mutuality’. Tan illustrates the different contributions of partners; Western partners contribute mission expertise and resources while non-western local field knowledge, passion, and workforce.[11] Further, he argues, in the Christian context partnership accountability should be mutual.[12] This can make the issue of the power dynamic in the partnership addressed better than any one-way accountability approach. The current partnership framework, in the view of Kang San Tan, reflects Western paternalism in mission paradigms, leadership patterns, economics, and technology.[13]Western churches, thus create church relations based on colonial binaries of powerful/weak, developed/underdeveloped/privileged/underprivileged instead of equality. Rarely, Christians in the West are ready to listen to Christians in a non-western context: without realizing the need of local Christians, most Christian organizations want to work within their mandates and accept project proposals only serving their interests. Project areas, strategies, and timelines are defined according to the understanding of Western Christian organizations, and the role of local Christians is reduced to implementing them. They are silenced and continue to view themselves through a Western lens.[14]

Accountable about What?

When I was working in Christian organizations in Pakistan, the central question of accountability was about finances. Was the budget properly spent? The activities utilized the budget allocated if not then why? I often wondered whether the narrative report is given equal value because hardly ever a question was asked about it. The partnership between the Christian organizations in the West and non-western context accountability is mostly about how the money was used. It is measured through reporting; these reports are narrative and financial. In the narrative part, questions answered are about activities conducted, and participants, and the financial part explains the expenditures planned and occurred in them. Whatever is deemed important in accountability is about money in the end, which reduces these partnerships to money. Financial transparency is one aspect of accountability, but it has come to dominate the whole discourse. Patra Yusuf, a Roman Catholic Bishop in Pakistan, observed that the over-emphasis on material goods by missionaries in Pakistan led local Pakistani Christians to believe that Jesus is a ‘material liberator’ and that those who came to announce Him are too.[15] This observation reflects the relationship of Christians in Pakistan with money and those who evangelized them. Both sides were concerned about money, affluence, and abundance.

Historically, Christians in the West have never considered Christians living in the global South able to contribute to the theological life of the church in the West. Which is reflected in the accountability framework. In the reporting sections, lessons, insights, and theological content are often not required. It is a serious concern in the context of partnerships because it indicates that one partner has everything while the other has nothing to offer. Sometimes when Christian organizations in the West expect such a contribution, the Christians living in global South, are not ready for it. A gradual encouragement from the churches and Christians in the West would open up the space of mutual sharing of financial and spiritual resources.  

Christian organizations in the global south are often places of nepotism, sexual harassment, and malpractices. The limited  focus on money does not address other aspects of accountability related to organizational behavior and structures. The partnership contract between Western and non-Western Christian organizations mentions code of conduct, but in the case of violation offers a modern technology-based solution that is beyond the reach of beneficiaries[16]. In Pakistan, many Christian organizations neglect the minimum wage requirement of the Pakistani government for its staff. Often there is a disparity between the salary of the head and other staff workers, employment benefits, job situation, and many other aspects. Churches in the West should explore areas of accountability beyond financial procedures. Within their organizational structure gender quality, justice, and diversity prevails but not when it comes to their partner organizations. But aren’t these areas of accountability too?

Another aspect that needs attention is a theological understanding of accountability in development work. Church is the body of Christ and this understanding of the relationship between Christians in the West and the global south should make them accountable to one another. But, when it comes to mutuality, Christians in the West cannot even imagine accountability for themselves to Christians in non-Western contexts: why should they be accountable, and for what? Are they not giving money to others? In each context, both partners need to find what aspect of their work they can be accountable for. The church that opens up for the sharing of affluence with another church should also be open to exchanging spiritual gifts from the lives of the church they support.

Why accountable?

In my past work, I have wondered if we are equal partners and money is not central to who we say we are, why do we need to be accountable? Foreign missionaries did not hold accountability as a value, it is an expensive process and insensitive to the beneficiaries, so why do we need it at all? Humans are involved in the disbursements of financial aid and therefore chances of misappropriations exist. It is a reality for everyone involved in financial matters. Accountability is not a completely foreign concept among Christians. I find the theological basis of human nature to start answering this question helpful. In this world, we live in structures influenced by the power of sin, and until we are here, accountability sustains us in walking the path of God righteously. There are stories of many Christians on both sides of the world falling into the temptation of the misuse of money, and financial dishonesty in the development work. Stories of such financial dishonesty are evidence to work diligently on the accountability framework in the Christian development work to decrease such incidents. 

A challenge in answering why accountability is related to the missionary behavior of the past that conforms to the hierarchal perspective of the global South. In the history of the church in Pakistan western missionaries were never held accountable. They were not open about the decision they made on behalf of the local Christians, and Pakistani Christians were afraid of asking for accountability because of their perception of authority. This behavior of the missionaries continues to create difficulty for Christians who want to take pictures, signatures, and other verifiable means to fulfill accountability requirements. People draw comparisons between local and foreign missionaries, especially with the latter, who never do such things. Now, local Christians who replaced the foreign missionary leadership of the church struggle with the current accountability framework.  

Accountability is an expensive process, often projects have to separate costs, time, and energy to complete this requirement; it is expensive and bureaucratic,[17] and many Christian organizations in the global South lack sufficient understanding of the procedures, mechanisms, and purpose for accountability. As I mentioned at the beginning, the Urdu word for accountability has a negative connotation that informs the understanding of Pakistani Christians. This situation does not have a quick solution. Christians in the West and the Global South have different perspectives on accountability; a contextual theological reflection will be a good starting point to initiate a debate on accountability within the Christian framework. 

The current accountability framework is insensitive in its outlook and focused on success. The notion of success overshadows the attitudes and behavior in development work. Many people consider their privacy violated, poverty profited and dehumanized by the accountability measures. Development practitioners are untrained in handling such sensitive matters. The current accountability framework views these measures to ensure transparency and to succeed in the goals in which money was invested, but they leave the beneficiaries violated. Lederleitner argues that success is not central in development work if one part of the body suffers, every partner should flourish.[18] This means accountability is beyond success and failure in the Christian understanding of development work. 

Accountability gives a sense of responsibility to the people we work for.  It ensures the credibility of the people involved in the work to those unaware of how their donated money is utilized. It also gives confidence to people in continuing their support to underprivileged communities and a sense of transparency about how their donations were spent. Pakistani Christians often complain about financial corruption within the church structures, pastors, and people working in Christian organizations. Accountability can restore this trust among Pakistani Christians. Similarly, being accountable extends that trust among the body of Christ globally, which offers the possibility of growing together in Christ for Christians in the West and Global South. 

Lederleitner considers accountability as God’s design to learn from each other and grow in the maturity of Christ.[19]Perhaps, this could be a starting place for constructing an intercultural framework of accountability, that seeks both partners to flourish in their ways, with Christ at the center of development work partnership. I do not assume that the above discussion resolves accountability issues in development work. I intended to generate a discussion and challenge preconceived notions about accountability that I have encountered in my previous work environments in Pakistan. What amazed me was the overlapping areas of concern with the Christians in Africa. But, it does not mean that solution of one context can be applied to another one. What I maintained through this whole discussion is: without involving local Christians in constructing accountability in development work it is difficult to achieve improvement in the current situation. 

[1] Dorothea Greiling, Michael Harris, and Rodney Stanley, “Accountability in Non-Profit Organizations Introduction to the Symposium,” Public Administration Quarterly 40, no. 2 (2016): 212–19.

[2] Jim Harries, Secularism in Africa: In the Light of Intercultural Christ (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 2015), 59-61. 

[3] Mary T. Lederleitner, Cross-Cultural Partnerships: Navigating the Complexities of Money and Mission (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010), 128. 

[4] “Accountability Noun – Definition, Pictures, Pronunciation and Usage Notes | Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary at OxfordLearnersDictionaries.Com,” accessed May 19, 2023,

[5] Leif Wenar, Accountability in International Development Ai in Ethics and International Affairs, 2006, 20 (1), 5.

[6] Humanitarian Accountability Partnership Standard Manual (Geneva, Switzerland: Sro-Kundig, 2010), 19.

[7] For details visit Act Alliance, Quality and Accountability, accessed online QUALITY AND ACCOUNTABILITY | ACT Alliance May 19, 2023. 

[8] Patras Yusaf, “Community: The Place Where Theology Is Made,” New Blackfriars 65, no. 771 (1984): 384.

[9] Lederleitner, Cross-Cultural Partnerships: Navigating the Complexities of Money and Mission, 33. 

[10] Wenar, Accountability in International Development Ai in Ethics and International Affairs, 2006, 20 (1), 6.

[11]  Kang San Tan, ‘Who is in the Driver Seat?,’  in Understanding Asian Mission Movements, eds. Kang San Tan, Jonathan Ingleby, and Simon Cozens (UK: Wide Margin, 2011), 55-56. 

[12] Tan, ‘Who is in the Driver Seat?’, 52.

[13] Tan, ‘Who is in the Driver Seat?’ 52. 

[14] Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Can the Subaltern Speak?,’ in The Postcolonial Studies Reader, ed. Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin (Oxford, UK: Routledge, 2007), 28-29. She argues that western representation of the non-western develops an theory that colonialized subjects adopt to view themselves. 

[15] Yusaf, “Community: The Place Where Theology Is Made,” 385. 

[16] Beneficiaries is commonly used to describe the recipient of the benefits from any development project by non-governmental organizations. 

[17] Wenar, Accountability in International Development Ai in Ethics and International Affairs, 2006, 20 (1), 7.

[18] Lederleitner, Cross-Cultural Partnerships: Navigating the Complexities of Money and Mission, 190. 

[19] Lederleitner, Cross-Cultural Partnerships: Navigating the Complexities of Money and Mission, 127-28.