This column was prepared by Dr Lalanath de Silva, Head of GCF's Independent Redress Mechanism. It is the second of a series of reflections on his five years serving as head of the mechanism.
What an adventure it’s been, setting up a brand new Independent Redress Mechanism (IRM) at the Green Climate Fund (GCF). It involved everything from updating the mandate of the IRM, recruiting, training and managing staff, writing its procedures and guidelines to preparing work plans and budgets, managing relations with the Secretariat and Board, and most importantly addressing complaints and grievances. But this column is not a narrative of what I did. Rather, it is a collection of five lessons I learned in the process. These lessons went over and above the basic requirements to be transparent, fair, just, quick and cost friendly.
Lesson 1 : the value of good Board relations
The GCF Board is like none other I had worked with before. It consists of 24 Board members, 12 from donor nations and 12 from developing nations, each with an equal vote. The Board had a unique dynamic that I had not experienced before. I learned quickly that it was important to socialize new ideas and concepts with Board members. Maintaining a constructive and mature relationship with the Board and its members was therefore critical. Grievance redress mechanisms often fear interference with their independence from the Board of their parent organization. I am thankful that the GCF Board and its many members have never interfered with the IRM’s independence. On the contrary, they only kept affirming it and insisting on its importance. During the course of my tenure, the GCF Board updated the terms of reference of the IRM, adopted a set of progressive and standard-setting procedures for the mechanism along with landmark guidelines for itself on how to process recommendations on complaints and reconsideration requests from the IRM.
Lesson 2 : the value of extensive consultations
Part of my work included updating the IRM’s mandate and developing its procedures and guidelines. Both were mandated by the Board. Here I learned that extensive consultations take time but yield greater ownership and acceptance of the outcome. As part of these exercises, we undertook extensive consultative processes. This included public calls for proposals and consultations with GCF stakeholders. Consultations were also held with Board members, civil society organizations, national designated authorities, GCF accredited entities and GCF Secretariat staff. These consultations brought many constructive and progressive ideas to the table.
Lesson 3 : the value of a communications expert
In recruiting staff, I started by bringing on board specialists in mediation and compliance review as well as support staff. No doubt this is necessary for a well-resourced grievance mechanism. But over time, we faced the challenge of getting the word out that the mechanism was up and running and available to project-affected people and developing countries. Despite our very best valiant amateur efforts as communicators, subsequent evaluations showed that civil society actors and other stakeholders of the GCF, including affected people, knew very little, if anything, about the IRM. To fill this gap, we have now recruited a Communications Associate. In retrospect, this should have happened five year ago. If I were allowed to re-do staff hiring, I would include a communications professional in early hirings, to lead the IRM’s outreach efforts. There is a time lag between becoming aware of a redress mechanism and the actual filing of grievances.
Lesson 4 : the value of mature relations with management
Relations between a grievance redress mechanism and the management of the parent institution is a challenging one. On the one hand, the mechanism has to examine the due diligence of management in project design and implementation in the context of complaints received. On the other, as part of the parent institution, independence has to be maintained, while also collaborating on administrative matters and fostering collegial relations. Challenges to the independence of a mechanism will come from the outside and from within the institution. This is not so much from direct interference – but rather from less obvious day-to-day sources such as administrative tasks. Challenges to independence and efficiency (which translates to timely complaint handling) can come in the form of administrative delays or denials, and mostly a lack of knowledge or a poor understanding of the mechanism’s independence and mandate. The lesson I learned was that drawing clear lines politely and firmly while maintaining respectful collegial relations was the foundation of a mature relationship with management. At the GCF, the IRM and Secretariat have worked through many such issues and institutionalized acceptable protocols and procedures that help maintain healthy relations.
We also conducted inreach events at the GCF for staff. These were called “Learning and Dialogue Forums” and were conducted under the Chatham House rules. They created a safe space for open, honest dialogue between the IRM and management staff. We learned from each other on those occasions.
Lesson 5 : the value of good public relations
The IRM conducted an annual stakeholder survey to gauge how well we were doing. The survey served the useful purpose of informing us of where we could improve and what we had done right. One consistent message of appreciation we received was about our efforts at going out of the way to have good public relations, to reach out to complainants and civil society with empathy, and to be transparent and informative about the IRM. Even when a case had to be closed without any remedy, we reached out to complainants to explain to them the reasons for the outcome, and offer them a forum to discuss alternative ways to address their grievance. A redress mechanism must be “survivor” or “complainant” centered and its staff must be trained in basic counselling skills that are critical to helping complainants who may be traumatized by the grievance, as well as the burden of pursuing a complaint process with a grievance mechanism.
It is my hope that these five lessons might be helpful to others who are thinking about establishing a new grievance redress mechanism or improving one that already exists. Many such mechanisms are being established, particularly by the private sector. I am also hopeful that these lessons will serve the IRM well as it translates these experiences to providing remedy for grievances brought to it in the future.