Fernanda Munhoz, founder of Accountable tells us about fostering social change through business and the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Fernanda Munhoz: I just returned to the UK after spending 5 months with my parents in Brazil, so I’m currently in hotel quarantine. I’m doing ok and excited to be home in a few days. I’m thankful I got to spend this time with my family, that would never have happened outside the current circumstances.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you joined Accountable.
Fernanda Munhoz: A few years back I came across the tech for a good community in London. I had no idea what open source was or the first thing about AI or machine learning, but I was fascinated by how people were taking an interdisciplinary approach to social change and how innovation and tech offered new ways of solving issues I cared so deeply about.
Until then I’d approached social change through quite traditional routes. I studied Politics and Human Rights, volunteered, campaigned, and worked at a few non-profits. The community set me in a new direction. I went on to work on an open-source software solution for charities, helped develop the first independent online directory for vulnerable women in the UK, and ran a chatbot for people experiencing domestic abuse in South Africa. Along the way, I learned the importance of innovation being user-led and how fundamental this is to achieving social change. It’s this that really drew me to Accountable.
Accountable was started by The Social Change Agency (SCA) who has nearly a decade of experience supporting groups exploring new forms of citizen-led power. SCA knew from experience that managing funds and collective decision-making are two of the most common issues that groups face when setting up or looking to scale outside the traditional charity sector. In the face of a complex crisis like Covid-19, community groups will often be the quickest to mobilize, know where the need is greatest, and adapt to meet those needs. However, they will also often have no bank account, legal status, or back-office systems. This presents a significant challenge when it comes to accessing and managing money safely. Not having these systems in place also rules out obtaining more formal funding for thousands of groups.
Our Accountable money management service helps bridge this gap. We act as a fiscal host to groups with no legal status, taking on time-consuming accounting responsibilities like securely processing payments, as well as risk management. This opens the door for charities, trusts and foundations to directly, and safely, fund frontline organizers. There’s a public record of all transactions. This element of transparency helps to increase trust and accountability from groups to their funders, beneficiaries, and community.
When we launched Accountable we quickly informed our existing networks and it spread mainly through word of mouth. Now, 12 months later, we’re supporting more than 200 groups and the Mutual Aid movement up and down the country. Nearly £1 million has been transparently managed through Accountable, directly impacting the communities they serve. The groups get a seamless platform to manage their money and can get on with what they do best.
How does Accountable innovate?
Fernanda Munhoz: We like to disrupt things and venture into uncharted territory. When lockdown hit last year and we saw over 1 million people mobilize themselves through Mutual Aid networks and their local communities to help those in need, we knew that something like Accountable could offer them the necessary support and infrastructure to operate. We had been introduced to a piece of technology called Open Collective that immediately matched our understanding of these groups’ needs so we took a huge leap, mobilized our team and resources, licensed the tech, and created the support to make it accessible and launched Accountable 10 days into the UK’s first lockdown.
Innovation goes to the core of our work. Our CEO, Esther Foreman, set up SCA to create a new suite of frameworks, tools, and support services that innovate, respond to, and enable the next generation of people, communities, networks, and movements approach to change. Innovation is embedded in our processes. We thrive in the murky waters of moving into the unknown but are rooted in our work of translating it into practical action.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business and how are you coping?
Fernanda Munhoz: A lot has changed since we launched Accountable at the start of the pandemic. Our team has grown, we set up the non-profit CIC arm of the business, and recruited a board…everything whilst working remotely for the first time. Our staff is deeply tied to the Covid-19 community response through our networks and own personal time, so being able to respond to the situation through Accountable too has been deeply rewarding.
We’ve also been looking forward to the post-pandemic future when we enter the recovery stage. Accountable should be well-positioned to provide long-term support and help groups evolve from crisis response to sustainable movements that create resilience within their communities and society. While Accountable was set up in the backdrop of the pandemic response, we know that distributed networks and movements for change could benefit from this and we look forward to learning the lessons of the pandemic response to apply them for movements for social impact on a variety of fronts.
Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?
Fernanda Munhoz: The moment just before we decided to launch. We saw communities starting to mobilize to provide support, and we knew Accountable could help, but we weren’t ready. We had just been confined to our homes, our staff was engaged in other projects, and we were all grappling with the reality of the pandemic. But when we discussed the idea, the desire to do it was unanimous. We couldn’t have done this with any other team. Every single member of the team worked outside their job description, their comfort zone, and most especially in the early days of their work hours, but everyone just came together to create this amazing thing. We all knew it was something that we specifically had to do because nobody else was going to do it.
We already knew that this was needed so it was easy to trust your gut and experience. Not to say it was easy, we definitely ran before we learned to walk in some aspects, but we stayed rooted in the communities we serve and worked with them to get to the right place. It’s been tough, but undoubtedly one of the most exciting things we’ve created.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Fernanda Munhoz: We took it step-by-step. As new challenges developed, we introduced tools –Whatsapp, Trello, Calendly, Slack – and approaches – buddy support calls and tea time – to adapt to remote working and cope with a new way of living. Virtual recruitment has been interesting. We hired four new staff members during the pandemic and tested things like an open Zoom call before an interview to give the candidate the feeling of “coming to the office” and meeting the team.
Recreating the serendipity of chit-chat in the office kitchen or after-work drinks has been the hardest. But we found ways for the team to stay connected through virtual quizzes, cooking classes, shared Spotify playlists, and others. We’re definitely looking forward to seeing (and in some cases meeting) each other soon.
Can you relate to us a case study from your experience?
Fernanda Munhoz: In May, Guys and St Thomas Hospital Charity (GSTC) used Accountable to channel support into specific postcodes in Lambeth and Southwark that were not covered by existing groups and were falling through the cracks of statutory services. Alongside the financial support given by GSTC, SCA supported 19 groups to work more effectively for their communities and assisted two teams of volunteers to set up mutual aid groups in their areas. Over £20,000 has so far been delivered directly into these communities through Accountable.
“Regranting through Accountable was new to us as a funder. We’re interested in finding models that are the most appropriate to support work that isn’t always supported. The areas and the communities that are least supported are also those that tend to be stopped by the barriers of traditional funding models the most.” Michael Parsons, Portfolio Manager, Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity.
Your final thoughts?
Fernanda Munhoz: As funders increasingly interrogate their blind spots and civil society looks to meet the challenges of a post-pandemic world, Accountable offers a new way to show support, paving the way to directly fund social action and involve communities in the process. We have a chance to shape how we create a new world and life on the other side of this, and I hope that the new innovations that will come out of this crisis have people and the collective at their forefront.
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