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Breaking boundaries: Fostering trust and self-sustainability through collective accountability.

[Originally published in WINGS]

By Mario Roset, CEO, Civic House

During my days at WINGSForum2023 in Nairobi, I shared something we do frequently at Civic House. It is already having excellent results, and many people resonate with it. I like to call it “Collective Accountability”.

Civic House is an international non-profit organisation that works to expand social and civic uses of technology. It has been working to promote economic self-sustainability within its ecosystem and for civil society in Latin America for the past 15 years. What we have learned about economic self-sustainability is that two different solutions provide financial predictability and autonomy. 

  1. By developing recurring donations: seeking recurrence is vital in any individual donor acquisition channel. With only 500 donors donating USD 10 a month, NGOs can foresee a monthly income of USD 5,000. This income is stable and can keep growing by recruiting new recurring donors. Unattainable? I don’t think so. In fact, over 4,000 Latin American NGOs using Donar Online as their fundraising platform have raised USD 84 million in the past years. Impressive, huh?

  2. By designing products or services that bring value to the community, this model enables growth and lets NGOs stay close to the issues they’re trying to address. Fortunately, the market sends crystal clear signals. If these products or services really add value to someone, validation will be immediate.

Of course, we’ll probably need seed capital to kick off social projects, but once the kick-off phase is over, shouldn’t we have long-term funding solutions? 

With that in mind, by the beginning of this year, we decided to design and launch the first Self-Sustainable Circular Fund, which aimed to create programmatic and financial autonomy for our first cohort of 6 NGOs. The concept is easy. We provide grants of USD 10,000 - up to USD 30,000 - for those organisations that have built a defined self-sustainability plan for the next 2 or 3 years. It is the kind of funding for those who already know they would be able to make it if they had the proper investment. The selection process is based on trust, and we only ask for a presentation of the plan and a spreadsheet with its numbers and assumptions.

As you can imagine, these six organisations have different strategies for improving their self-sustainability. However, they all act as a cohort with the same common goal. It doesn’t matter how they plan to become self-sustainable; however, most have developed plans that include individual monthly donors or selling products or services using technology to scale or lower costs. Here are two examples: 

There is an organisation called “Aqui Estoy” that works to provide emotional support using AI and a chatbot to thousands of people, and they are building their long-term strategy for individual recurrent donors by investing in their brand, in innovative digital campaigns and leveraging their team skills for supporting and retaining their upcoming new donors. Another organisation called “Fonselp”, which is a digital platform that connects private companies to social causes, has decided to invest its funds in developing a new set of features that will enable it to provide a premium service and charge companies for that.

The entire cohort shares honestly where they are, their wins and losses, and by gathering once a month, they have built collective accountability. They support and advise each other, become accountable to each other, and as a group. They know that the success of one is part of the cohort's success. All of them have received trust-based funds, and Civic House has disbursed the full amount immediately. We are also part of the cohort. We are there to support, to learn for future cohorts, and to bring to the table the skills needed, even though these grantees are not accountable to us.

In contrast to conventional accountability systems, collective accountability represents a higher level of trust. It resembles a supportive community where honesty is paramount. Here, individuals openly address issues and challenges, all with the shared objective of empowering one another with knowledge and tools.

But there's a deeper dimension to this. It's about a shared purpose. When this cohort succeeds, it isn't just about personal achievement. The grantees recognise that their efforts create a ripple effect, supporting the next generation. Through innovative income methods developed by the Circular Fund, they can reinvest in the fund and even play a role in selecting the next beneficiaries.

Here’s a quick guide to how it works:

  1. Planning for self-sustainability: Organisations committed to achieving economic self-sustainability are encouraged to prepare comprehensive two- to three-year plans.

  2. Selective cohorts: A carefully selected cohort of organisations deemed ready for self-sustainability is chosen to receive funding simultaneously.

  3. Collective inception: The initiative is inaugurated collectively, ensuring that all participants share expectations and objectives from the outset.

  4. General dashboard: A shared dashboard provides visibility into the progress and results of each organisation, fostering transparency and accountability.

  5. Monthly facilitation: Regular monthly meetings are facilitated to provide a platform for mutual support, idea exchange, and collective growth.

Collectively, these elements drive unwavering commitment and engagement among our initial six grantees, thanks to the power of collective accountability. 

Civic House's Self-Sustainable Circular Fund is a shining example of how trust, collaboration, and shared purpose can pave the way for a stronger and more self-sufficient nonprofit sector. Civic House is sowing the seeds of a brighter future for civil society by empowering organisations to take control of their financial destinies. Mario Roset co-founded Civic House, an international non-profit organization as a result of +12 years of working to strengthen Civic Society and understanding that lowering entry barriers to new innovators and leaders is a key factor. As CEO, he works closely with a team of 60 full-time professionals in 4 different countries where they have a mission to provide funding, innovation, strategic advice, infrastructure, global alliances and a vibrant community of social leaders and social start-ups.


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