Our dedication to building good corporate governance and increased transparency calls for strong partnerships across sectors. One of these is with the Open Government Partnership (OGP). Last fall, The B Team and OGP launched a new partnership to bolster private sector action on beneficial ownership transparency, open contracting and protection of civic space.
Since then, we’ve worked together to advance ideas on restoring trust, combating threats to civic rights and building government solutions that empower citizens. Last month, our Governance & Transparency team joined open government innovators, experts and reformers in Tbilisi for the fifth annual OGP Summit.
Three days of discussions focused on accelerating open government reform to improve the lives of citizens around the world. We sat down with Governance & Transparency Director, Robin Hodess, to talk about the key Summit takeaways, the future of beneficial ownership and how business can help build open, accountable governments committed to participation and serving societal needs.
This year’s OGP Summit covered topics ranging from blockchain to climate governance to e-procurement. What, in your opinion, were some of the most surprising takeaways or conversations?
Given all of these great topics, it was really surprising that we still didn’t have enough businesses attending and participating in these important discussions. There’s little doubt that collective solutions to opening government and advancing accountability in areas including data, climate and public contracting need to be designed together with the business community. Companies have begun to realise the opportunity of developing these solutions, so we need increased private sector participation in these conversations.
Along with the Natural Resource Governance Institute, The B Team co-hosted a session on what’s next on beneficial ownership transparency. What were some of the major themes that emerged from this conversation?
We’re in the fortunate position to have gotten past the first stage of this work, which means in many countries beneficial ownership transparency is now the norm. This also means for many companies, there’s an obvious solution—ownership registers—to problems they face with knowing their customer and having fair access to markets. Having said that, what’s ahead of us now is the detailed and trickier phase of implementing registers, which will require deeper work, sharing of expertise and, above all, ongoing conversations with those that use this ownership information and therefore need it to be accurate.
Specifically for business, what trends, attitudes and/or actions can we expect to see from the private sector around beneficial ownership?
In the next year or so, businesses across the European Union will be required to provide beneficial ownership data, as has already happened in the UK. Companies need to get ready for this, but also contribute to ensuring this becomes the standard beyond Europe. Business is operating in an increasingly interconnected world. Supply chains are global and companies are working with partners around the world. It’s critical that company ownership information isn’t limited by geography. Another important frontier for companies is how they will embed information about beneficial ownership into their due diligence processes going forward.
We’re seeing more and more countries and regions establishing public beneficial ownership registers. What do you see as the role of OGP National Action Plans in making open company ownership the global norm?
OGP is a great platform for countries to set ambitious targets on beneficial ownership while having the space to learn and grow when implementing these goals. OGP commitments on beneficial ownership can be specific and ambitious, focusing on thresholds and open data formats. The cross-country learning that takes place inside the OGP network allows countries to ensure that their efforts reflect emerging best practice.
In the UK, for example, the government consulted with the private sector, civil society and citizens when implementing a public register, later incorporating their feedback and addressing errors spotted. The UK registry is now accessed more than 20,000 times a day, and while it remains a work in progress, it has already exposed a number of ownership irregularities.
Outside of the beneficial ownership space, what were some of the emerging themes at this year’s Summit?
This was the first OGP Summit where we had dedicated sessions on youth and gender. These are emerging areas that are only going to become more important. When OGP was first established, it focused on how to use data and transparency to improve government. This proved too narrow. To truly improve and open up government, we must make it relevant to priorities for youth, gender and inequality. How could improved transparency provisions leverage the power of youth in monitoring public services? What kind of ‘open data’ do we need to inform and inspire stronger policies on violence against women, for example? We’re seeing a shift, not just in linking the open agenda to these themes, but in how we approach the work.
This year also saw more focus and discussion on how open government can impact on people’s everyday lives. Not openness for openness’ sake, but openness for impact. In Buenos Aires, for example, a new portal maps information on sexual and reproductive health services for young people, including brick and mortar services that provide free contraceptives and HIV testing. Open government reform is at its core about people. It’s not about technocratic change, but about how we can empower and engage citizens to play a key role in using data to shape how they are governed. When we focus on open government reform, we’re focusing on health, education and other services—all areas that enhance the opportunities of people around the world.
You were also named incoming Co-Chair of OGP’s Civil Society Steering Committee at the Summit! What does this role entail?
The role represents civil society in the OGP Steering Committee. What sets OGP apart is the collaboration between civil society and governments. And this is reflected in the Steering Committee structure: I’ll be co-charing along with the government of Argentina. On the Steering Committee, we focus on both the governance of the Partnership and its thematic priorities. By representing civil society, the other Steering Committee members and I try to ensure that co-creation within OGP is real and that civil society is given the access to engage meaningfully. In short, we try to keep OGP members honest and as committed as possible to the democratic values that underlie the partnership.
How do you see this role strengthening The B Team and OGP’s collaborative work?
In this role, I’m focused on bringing the energy of business to OGP and the open government movement. There’s a tremendous interest across the OGP community in more business engagement. All the time, I am asked about how to get more of the private sector involved in open government work. Stepping into this Co-Chair role, I think, will help The B Team and OGP better explain the value and aim of open government to business. There are already two B Team Leaders, Mo Ibrahim and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, serving as OGP Ambassadors, who help give voice to this effort.
As the open government community, we can enhance our work to target business engagement on specific commitments and actions such as public service delivery, where many private sector actors are involved. Bringing business in, but in a very targeted and focused way, is key. From there, we can broaden engagement over time. I’d love to hear from others about how they think we can bring OGP and business closer together.
From your perspective, what are some of the most impactful ways business can help to build and maintain open and accountable governments around the world?
It’s always helpful when businesses are early adopters of change or drive change themselves, bringing in concrete solutions. Business is obviously a major stakeholder in open government reform in areas such as public contracting. When we see business innovating, participating and driving more transparent processes we see better success for reform.
Want to learn more about The B Team’s work on beneficial ownership and open government? Read our latest beneficial ownership report or contact our Governance & Transparency team at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo by Open Government Partnership