Timely contract review ensures ChildHope UK can continue to provide access to quality education
A4ID partners work to ensure continued access to education for Ethiopian girls
The legal challenge
International development charities are often required to sign highly complex contracts in order to implement their programmes in developing countries. Examples of this arise when partnering with other local implementing organisations, hiring staff and consultants, or crucially, when receiving grant funding – by far still the main source of income for charities.
In circumstances where grantors are typically large private foundations or a government department, due to the imbalance of power between the parties, recipient charities may presume that getting the standard terms of these complex contracts amended is impossible.
Before signing such grant agreements, it is advisable that charities have these contracts reviewed to assess the terms and implications, and to ensure that their interests are adequately protected, not least because such contracts could be highly onerous and are usually lengthy in duration. A4ID can facilitate free, high-quality legal advice to review any kind of contract that charities may come across.
A4ID Development Partner, ChildHope UK (ChildHope) is a charity established in 1989 as a response to the growth in the numbers of street children around the world. ChildHope believes that children should enjoy a safe and secure childhood, but for those growing up in extreme poverty, these rights are denied. ChildHope works with local partners to ensure these children’s voices are heard, their rights are upheld and they are able to access essential services.
In 2013, ChildHope secured its first grant from the UK Department for International Development’s (DFID) Girls’ Education Challenge ‘Step Change’ programme which sought to expand educational opportunities for girls. Focusing its efforts on Ethiopia, ChildHope developed a long-term partnership with a locally-led Ethiopian organisation, known as CHADET, to implement a four-year Girls’ Education Challenge Fund programme. This project aimed to enable girls (specifically those vulnerable to high levels of domestic labour, child marriage, risky migration and street-engagement) to enrol, stay and thrive in school. CHADET delivered the project, reaching 16,500 girls. ChildHope provided targeted strategic support, particularly in the areas of project management, financial management, governance, monitoring and evaluation and child protection.
Based on its proven track record, ChildHope was successful in its application to extend funding for a further four-year cycle in Ethiopia, as part of DFID’s Girls’ Education Challenge Transition programme, starting from April 2017. The contractual documents that ChildHope was asked to sign consisted of an Accountable Grant Arrangement (20 pages) setting out the general conditions of funding and the accompanying annexures, containing Special Conditions. Also incorporated into the terms of the agreement was a Handbook of nearly 100 pages.
ChildHope approached A4ID seeking its assistance to secure lawyers who would be able to review all the contractual documents and advise ChildHope on their suitability, as well as ensure its best interests are protected from the perspective of English law. A4ID therefore arranged for the services of a legal team from Allen & Overy LLP to provide ChildHope with pro bono legal assistance and the necessary assurances for ChildHope to proceed with execution of the legal documents.
No major changes were made to the contractual documents as the terms were unilaterally imposed by DFID. However, after the lawyers identified areas of ambiguity and uncertainty in the contractual documents, DFID clarified that the contractual documents in question were subject to ongoing revision. The lawyers were able to clarify to ChildHope that continued negotiations and amendments would be possible after the signing of the contractual documents, which was an important concession and of significant comfort to ChildHope.
Outcomes and impact
Due to the advice of Allen & Overy, ChildHope was able to continue its project in Ethiopia without any interruption in delivery or funding. Most importantly, the ultimate beneficiaries of the Girls’ Education Challenge Fund – the girls themselves – continued to receive an education without disruption. ChildHope found the lawyers to be ‘very responsive’ to their needs and ‘professional and flexible’. In addition, the work produced ‘reflected a genuine interest’ in ChildHope’s project.
The advice was relevant, comprehensive and useful, having a tangible, positive impact on ChildHope, both by empowering them at an organisational level, and more crucially by preventing disruption of their work for girls.
ChildHope expects that its greater confidence in understanding and negotiating contracts will continue to have an impact on the way in which it collaborates with different development organisations.
Through their legal support for ChildHope, the lawyers on this project played a significant role in ensuring the charity could continue its work in furthering the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including Goal 4 (quality education), Goal 5 (gender equality) and Goal 17 (partnerships for the goals).