25 September 2019

Launching Our Second Decade With Vision, Urgency, and Joy

Amidst a decade of profoundly gratifying moments I’ve experienced since founding Accountability Counsel, a pinnacle was this month’s gathering in Washington, D.C. with our board, staff team, and global partners from seven of the 50 countries in which we’ve worked. These brilliant leaders from Colombia, Haiti, India, Liberia, Mexico, Mongolia, and Nepal, are people with whom we have collaborated through trying circumstances over years, some resulting in all out victories for local communities, some resulting in policy wins, and some resulting in intense struggles that continue today. We came together to celebrate a decade of Accountability Counsel, to reflect, and to draw inspiration from one another as we launch our second decade.

Pictured, left to right: Robi Chacha (AC Attorney), Gloria Molina of Comunidades Unidas (Colombia), Battsengel Lkhamdoorov of Gobi Soil (Mongolia), Natalie Bridgeman Fields (AC Founder & Director),
Yolette Etienne of ActionAid Haiti (Haiti), Caitlin Daniel (AC Senior Attorney), Gabino Vicente of Santa Ursula (Mexico), Samer Araabi (AC Research Director)

At a symposium titled “Using Our Voice” we hosted with Open Society Foundations (OSF) as part of this gathering, a broader DC-based policy audience had a chance to hear directly from these community leaders. Together, they reflected on what has worked, what hasn’t, and what needs to change for local communities to achieve accountability for the human rights and environmental impacts of internationally-financed projects. We are looking forward to sharing each of their stories, in their own voices, in detail soon.

In the evening at a celebration of our anniversary, Yolette Etienne of ActionAid Haiti addressed Accountability Counsel’s role in shifting power between “those who have it and those who deserve it” as she shared the hope that our work brought to a community of nearly 4,000 displaced people in Haiti. In the act of finding hope, she explained, they regained power.

Collectively, the stories of our work show the solidarity that sustains us and why the vision forward is both clear and urgent. Our strategy to achieve this vision ties into our theory of change, and is made concrete through the stories of our partners and the communities we serve. Behind each of these stories from Liberia to Mongolia, from Haiti to India, is anguish that is both needless and avoidable. For the millions of people threatened by projects every year, we urgently need to scale the accountability systems that exist to prevent and remedy this abuse, and the civil society ecosystems and capacity that make their struggles for justice possible.

Charting Our Course for the Next 10 Years

Accountability Counsel’s top three organization-wide priorities within our five-year strategy are to:

  1. support cases throughout the globe that succeed in achieving community human rights and environmental goals through our direct services and knowledge sharing models;
  2. use those community cases and research to inform policy advocacy to maintain existing accountability offices that achieve a baseline of best practice that can advance a more just system; and
  3. embed research support in case and policy initiatives to increase their impact and success at achieving the vision we seek in our theory of change.

We have made progress working with allies to strengthen accountability systems through each of our cases, run out of our Communities program. These cases cause positive ripple effects regionally — through inspiring local action, building strong accountability offices to provide a forum to redress harm, and by engaging decision makers at financial institutions and companies to prevent harm. Over the next five years, our vision is to scale up regional offices, building off our growing Asia and Africa teams, that will enable our Communities program to grow our solidarity with local and regional leaders at the forefront of movements to challenge abuses in international finance.

As we reflect on our success in translating our deep study of and expertise on accountability offices into policy change, in the next decade, our Policy team will double down on our commitment to keeping existing accountability offices strong and effective. This work toward a strong and effective system will focus particularly on the first mechanisms ever created at the World Bank Group, which are both currently under review. We’ll continue this work with the focused attention that has been critical to the value we bring to policy-makers, accountability office professionals, and the communities we serve.

Accountability gaps persist where communities lack effective avenues to engage with corporations and investors to prevent or remedy harm. Closing these gaps is central to our long-term vision, and our next decade will focus on two key financial flows touching countless people and places: Chinese finance and impact investment. These are two areas where we have seen progress in the past few years, but where we are just part way through a change-making process. Much of this work falls on our Policy team, whose success in these areas will depend on new investment to grow the capacity of the team.

Lastly, our Research program has played an increasingly impactful role in building accountability ecosystems. Our small, but mighty team of researchers brings our broader community information, technical tools, and qualitative research that is often determinative in our own case and policy work. In addition to case tools that we are working to share with our network of advocates, our Research team is preparing the Accountability Console for launch in just over a month, a database that is the first of its kind with information and analysis of every complaint ever filed with every accountability office. It will serve as a tool to help all actors in our global accountability ecosystem prevent harm, seek remedy, and understand patterns to inform policy. This is only the start of the impact we believe our Research program can have on our organization’s own work and in our field, when scaling up of this team is complete.

Growing A Sustainable, Healthy Organization

As we build our three program teams and seek to expand the active membership in the now collectively run International Advocates Working Group we founded in 2013, the plan for the decade to come is also an important moment to reflect on our organizational needs to achieve our vision.

Because we rely on strong local partners, we are focused not just on our own resource needs, but the challenges our partners acutely face to obtain the financial, security, and technical support this work requires. We often assist partners in their own fundraising, lend security advice, and bridge technical barriers drawing on our own scarce core support. As we enter our next decade, we are excited to work with our partners to address some of these barriers to resources head on, and through a collective effort you will hear more about soon.

We’ve been fortunate to have gone from an organization of just me in 2009, with Echoing Green support and a $30,000 first-year budget, to the $2 million budget supporting the global team that we are today – in large part thanks to support from our committed foundation funders and individual donors. Our scaling plan envisions a $6 million organization of around 50 people, operating from a number of locations around the world. We aim to sustain our impact through a combination of philanthropic funding, in kind support, and earned revenue.

We are thrilled to launch our next decade with new and important support from Luminate, which shares our belief in the importance of pairing “standards for openness with increased focus on accountability and enforcement.” We are working to build new relationships with foundations who can provide the substantial, multi-year funding that will allow us to keep our laser-like focus on the communities we serve as we grow.

With a proven decade of achievements, equipped with learning from our challenges, and running with a strong team and clear vision, we are ready to shift power in the decade to come. We’ve shared the vision, you see the urgency; the joy comes in the human connections where people across cultures, and from unimaginably different circumstances, can find common cause in building a movement for communities to be heard. Thank you for being a part of it.