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Stars Foundation invests in organisations and ideas that transform the lives of disadvantaged children and their communities globally.

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2014 Independent Review: A long hard look in the mirror

Posted by: Alex on 07 Apr 2015
in Blog, Transparency

Receiving feedback can be a bit like hearing a recording of your own voice.

At first it’s a bit uncomfortable and raw, but then it gets interesting. After a while you face the realisation that the impression you have of yourself is somewhat different to how others hear you…

We’re pleased to be sharing a summary of an independent review of our Impact Awards process that took place over 2013-2014.

It is the first objective appraisal of our work and due to its depth and broad scope it has taken us a while to process, absorb and, importantly, act on what was uncovered.  

Some of the findings have been affirming and others quite challenging, but in general, they confirmed our instincts about strengths and areas for improvement in our Impact Awards process.

In the spirit of transparency and the hope that others might learn from our experience we are making a summary available.

On the right track

It is pleasing to know that the core values underpinning the awards are well supported. Our approach of recognising locally led development with flexible funding had almost universal approval.  

We aim to work with award holders as a partner rather than a funder and when we get it right, this relationship positions Stars as a valuable supporter.

However, this relationship dynamic is an area where we can improve.

For example, how we define funding as ‘unrestricted’ has not always matched an award holder’s interpretation, which can mean that the flexibility of an award has not always been realised.

Indeed, this mismatch in our ethos – what we want to achieve, versus the reality – was uncovered in a number of places.

This review has helped us to identify where we need to improve and has been a catalyst for us to challenge our assumptions, definitions and practice. 

Growing pains

The Impact Awards started in 2007 and in those days recognised just a handful of locally led civil society organisations.

Every year we’ve looked to expand, identifying and awarding more examples of strong organisations accountable to their communities.

However, in general the structures and processes in place for awarding 18 organisations in 2014 are similar to when we awarded three in 2007.

There are areas where we can clarify the key aspects of our approach. This has led us to reassess the full spectrum of the process, from the very start, all the way through to our relationships with successful organisations.

My colleague Cecile has recently outlined some of the changes we are trialling to strengthen our process for the 2015 Impact Awards.

Acclaim, not ‘a claim’

The review challenged us to revisit our assumptions around what we want to achieve through the awards.

This has been the subject of much internal debate and has significant implications on the kind of organisation we are.

It is important to Stars that the awards identify, recognise and support strong organisations with an established track record of listening and responding to the needs of the communities they serve.

The awards aim to highlight these organisations and demonstrate our commitment to the role they play in supporting children and young people in their country.

Therefore, it is vital that we continue to monitor and evaluate our performance as a funder.

We must ensure that we are supporting organisations whose work truly benefits the communities that they are accountable to and that our support helps them to strive towards the impact they seek.

Testing times  

On reflection, we’ve used the review as a springboard to instigate a number of changes in our 2015 awards process.

We feel more internally aligned to the purpose and processes of the awards, and hope that this improved confidence develops our practice.

The proof of the pudding will be in the type of organisations we award in 2015 and our ongoing relationship with them. Something we are keen to review and share in the future…