Co-organized by Rendir Cuentas, the “Resilient Roots” initiative and the Center for Social Innovation and Graduate Studies in Social Organizations of UDESA, a seminar was held at the University of San Andrés (UDESA) in Buenos Aires to exchange experiences about engaging with CSOs’ own primary constituents at the end of November 2019. Thus, those of us who attended the event were able to learn valuable experiences about how to approach the concept of dynamic accountability. Due to its innovative features, the experience of the Argentine organization Avanzar deserves to be highlighted.
Avanzar is a non-for-profit organization that makes micro-credits and training on various topics (i.e. bakery, hairdressing, depilation, Internet sales, among others) accessible to vulnerable populations. It was established in 2000 when Argentina was going through a profound institutional crisis. From the beginning, transparency, responsibility, solidarity and trust were key values embraced by the organization.
It is through a call for proposals made by the Resilient Roots initiative in 2018 that Avanzar became involved with the concept of dynamic accountability, opening up to its primary constituents: the inhabitants of the slums of the southern area of the city of Buenos Aires (Los Piletones, 1-11-14, 21-24 and Ciudad Oculta).
Initially, the organization conceived the term ‘accountability’ associated with the transparency or disclosure of its accounting reports due to the focus of its work on granting small loans. Even members of the communities where Avanzar operates initially approached it to get money/checks or to attend trainings. This resulted into limited involvement of the primary constituents in the organization.
Based on the Resilient Roots initiative, the Avanzar team decided to establish Promoting Councils (Consejos Promotores) made up of the people who made use of the organization’s services to establish a two-way communication channel and gather opinions on the impact of its work. This was complemented by a constant disposition for listening towards its primary constituents. As a result, the communities and their inhabitants became more deeply involved, for example, by recommending new categories of micro-credits, such as for home reforms given the precarious constructions of the slums.
Likewise, the members of the Promoting Councils suggested new trainings, which opened a conversation about the different types of trainings that the organization could offer and their locations. Gradually, the primary constituents moved from proposing new types of microcredits and trainings to becoming even more actively involved in the organization
Given Avanzar primary constituents’ social activism experience with other community organizations, the need to move from deliberation to action soon became evident. Thus, the organization initiated a mentoring program that involved members from its own primary constituents: those entrepreneurs, who had knowledge and experience to share, began mentoring others who were struggling with their economic activities and/or who were falling behind in their loan payments. In this way, mentors with knowledge of the same field accompanied and helped others in arrears.
On the other hand, people from the organization’s primary constituents offered to teach courses on trades they had previously developed (e.g. crafts based on recycled materials). Thus, the primary constituents began to play an even more active role in the organization, both in the delivery of its main services (micro-credits and trainings), as well as in the planning of new projects for the organization.
Although the concept of dynamic accountability might be perceived as a complex one to grasp, in practice, Avanzar undertook an important process of organizational learning. Avanzar went from implementing transparency actions through the disclosure of its financial balance sheets, to becoming answerable and being responsive to the feedback of the people with which it works and making the necessary adjustments to achieve the expected results. In this way, the notion of accountability got expanded.
In conclusion, in line with commitments #5 (people-driven work) and #11 (responsive decision-making) of the Global Standard for CSO Accountability, Avanzar decided to promote dialogue with those with whom it works and supports. This led its primary constituents to assume a key role in the organization’s decisions and Avanzar to making decisions based on feedback from the people it serves.
*We would like to thank Luciano Travieso, Avanzar trainer, for sharing this experience with us.