Depending who you speak with “accountability” can be strictly related to finances but to others it is defined simply as taking responsibility for one’s actions. Who we are and where we are positioned in the youth sector will change our relationship to accountability and who we are accountable to.
As a Metis person, I have personal accountability to my ancestors and wolverine clan responsibilities. Wolverines can sniff out food 20 feet under the snow and I relate this quality to my work as a program manager for the Youth Opportunities Fund (YOF), supporting youth in finding resources in often under-resourced communities. My accountability is to the land and its stewards, which means respecting local First Nation’s protocols and teachings I am aware of and taking responsibility in learning them.
What influences how you are accountable to your communities?
Not-for-profit organizations have to juggle being accountable to their board of directors, the community, and funders. Evaluation is one way to measure accountability and often required by funders. However, evaluation processes are often inaccessible and this inaccessibility leads to a lack of understanding of the value of evaluation for the organization itself and a negative relationship to the power dynamic that has been created. In the YouthREX Beyond Measure Report another finding was that “funder models of evaluation are mismatched with the needs of youth-serving organizations, especially for grassroots organizations.” In Northern and remote communities this inaccessibility is exacerbated. As under-resourced organizations struggle with evaluations that do not serve them there are other influences to consider. Optimism Bias is a tendency to believe that the future will be better than the past. While being optimistic is generally good for your health, an optimism bias can result in youth-serving organizations not taking precautionary action and assuming that work will take less time and cost less.
How do funders create safe spaces for more realistic reporting?
When foundations think about accountability, it is crucial to think about how foundational wealth was accumulated. As my colleague Justin puts it,
“The wealth that we control as funders, in the words of Edgar Villanueva, is ‘twice stolen.’ First tremendous wealth was accumulated through the theft of Indigenous lands and resources, and the forced relocation and enslavement of Black peoples. Secondly, by placing this wealth in tax-sheltered foundations, the money has been moved from the hands of the public to the hands of a few decision-makers within foundations.” Justin Wiebe - Rethinking the Funder Grantee Relationship
Where does this leave the role of the foundation? While corporate foundations are accountable predominantly to their shareholders, government foundations should be the most accountable to community. For foundations the understanding of community is often seen through the reporting of the organization.
It is important to me that YOF grants support grass-roots projects led for and by the communities they serve because these projects are more likely to demonstrate community accountability. It is crucial that foundations continue to adapt their relationships and responsibility to communities, as foundations can shape and shift entire communities through their investments.
What does the future of accountability look like to you?