While ‘building community’ has finally hit mainstream, community has been core to our impact hypothesis since the start.
It may not have always looked like the communities of today: Whatsapp Groups, Slack workspaces, and email listservs. To us, those are just the ways in which the community communicates. The hallmark of our community has always been the deep level of trust that exists between members — even ones who have never met before — and the high degree of intentionality with which our members act to both cultivate and nurture that trust.
The definition of 'community' that we use is:
...[A] group of individuals who share a mutual concern for one another's welfare...It's distinct from a group whose members may share ideas, interests, proximity, or any number of things but lack concern for one another. Such groups can have huge memberships, like the MOMA or American Medical Association, or Greenpeace, but their members do not share any strong social connectedness.
— Charles H. Vogl, The Art of Community: 7 Principles for Belonging
This definition distinctly captured the observations and experiences at Acumen Academy: there is mutual care here. In 2020, with the launch of Acumen Academy, the next question that we sought to understand was 'how might we create a community that is both locally-rooted and globally-connected?' In other words, how might we foster the same sense of belonging that local teams were cultivating in-region and across borders.
While we come from all over the world, with different experiences and points of view, we all value how we show up in the world. It’s the nuanced way we approach our work that binds us and enables us to see ourselves in each other.
Good communities give their members a place to belong. Great communities turn that belonging into action, enabling members to be and give their best selves to it.
— Marica Rizzo, Acumen Academy
We’re building the Acumen Academy Community on three pillars:
- Our Shared Purpose and vision for a more just, inclusive and sustainable world. We each have a role to play and we recognize that it will take all of us.
- Our Shared Values expressed in our manifesto. How we strive to show up in the world and where we return to when faced with challenges and uncertainty.
- Our Mutual Care for each other. We don’t just recognize that it takes all of us, we genuinely care about each other and we solve problems together.
Case Study: A Flourishing Community Amid a Global Pandemic
Arancha MartinezArancha has led the creation of People's Protection App (PPP), a biometric solution to make visible to millions of "invisible" people and that gives them access...
Just a few weeks before Spain imposed a national lockdown on March 14, 2020, the inaugural cohort of Acumen Fellows in Spain held their first seminar as a part of the year-long program. Arancha Martinez is a member of that inaugural cohort. She is the Director at ComGo.io in Spain, where she leverages blockchain technology with the aim of revolutionizing the social sector by promoting efficiency, traceability, and transparency.
Amidst a surging pandemic, Arancha’s team was approached by the Asociacion Española de Fundaciones, an independent collective of Spanish foundations, to partner in deploying their blockchain technology to provide a secure way for frontline charities and organisations fighting coronavirus to access crucial funds. With an enabling partnership with IBM, who provided access to their cloud infrastructure, and UN Technology Innovation Labs, with whom ComGo.io was already partnering for work in Malaysia and who provided training to the Spanish foundations, the partnership launched STOPCOVID.io in just 15 days and was able to mobilize €2M and accelerate the adoption of digital solutions in the Spanish NGO sector.
Suresh KumarSuresh fights against child labour in Bihar through rescue, reintegration and rehabilitation of child labour survivors, and prosecution of traffickers and oppre...
Suresh Kumar is a 2020 Acumen Fellow in India and Executive Director at Centre DIRECT — an organization conducting rescue operations for child-trafficked victims to provide for their basic needs, including food, shelter, clothing, health and education.
In April 2021, the pandemic peaked in India. The country began recording the highest number of average daily cases in the world: 400,000 per day. While many donations to India were allocated to address immediate health-related emergencies, funding was needed to support the indirect effects of the pandemic.
In the midst of this highly risky situation, child-trafficking cases continued to escalate in many parts of India and Suresh’s on-ground rescue operations became increasingly complicated. Six of the child-trafficking survivors rescued by Suresh lost their parents due to the virus. With donations scarce, meeting basic needs was imperative to ensure the well-being of these children.
Shared-Identity as a Shortcut to Trust Enables Collaboration: Arancha and Suresh
While gathering online had become the norm, our teams embraced the challenge of transferring the Acumen Fellows Program to an entirely virtual experience. Our team decided that because each of the nine cohorts had spent the year learning and gathering online, we’d use this as an opportunity to host our very first Global Year-End Celebration for all of the cohorts, together.
As cases began to settle in Spain and spike in India, a letter arrived in the inboxes of the Acumen Fellows in India from Arancha. She expressed her solidarity and spoke to the possibility of leveraging the blockchain-enabled platform for donations to the Acumen Fellowship in India community. Recognizing Arancha from the Year-End Celebration in December, Suresh replied to the letter, even though they hadn’t been in touch since, to explore where their work might intersect. What followed were eminent actions.
It began with trust and a recognition of shared identity and values. After only a brief conversation and two emails between Arancha and Suresh, funds arrived to Suresh and the team in just 8 days — a process that typically takes 2-3 months.
To be trusted is a big compliment, and Arancha’s trust in me and the work is largely linked to the shared journey as Acumen Fellows and the shared community we belong to.
– Suresh Kumar, India Acumen Fellow
Suresh and his team now have enough funding to support the livelihoods and education of these six children for two years.
Trust Enables Collaboration by Redefining Roles
We have to start with trust, not with asking someone to prove their trustworthiness. Trust doesn't come from having lots of paperwork in place.
— Arancha Martinez, Spain Acumen Fellow
Arancha’s letter also reached Vandita Morarka, Founder & CEO of One Future Collective, but her hope was waning. Among COVID-19’s many effects on society, one of the most insidious is the way it has affected mental health, giving rise to new challenges and aggravating pre-existing conditions. Vandita identified a pressing need to support the mental health of frontline leaders, grassroot organizations, vulnerable communities and others who have been battling the pandemic first-hand.
Arancha became acquainted with the work of Vandita and the need for mental-health intervention and was soon able to deploy a small grant to support her cause. Currently, One Future Collective has trained peer counsellors who can now provide mental health first aid in their communities through 1:1 therapy sessions. Today, 200+ people have attended their sharing circles, and their mental health care resources have reached another 4,000 people and counting.
Vandita explained that it was easy to establish credibility and trust with Arancha, knowing she was also a part of the Acumen Academy Community. They were both traveling down a path of moral leadership, trying to understand their individual and collective roles in mitigating the crisis.
Recognizing the effort and resources most social enterprises spend on pitching, documenting, and reporting to donors, Arancha and Vandita took a different approach. Working asynchronously and primarily through WhatsApp chat, the pitch was reoriented with cases & ground realities over a conversation and the reporting happened more consistently with updates exchanged each week. The resources that would have been needed to write these reports are now working to support the frontline instead.
“We should reimagine partnerships between social enterprises and a donor-investor. How can these partnerships be built on equality? Arancha’s adaptation to easier ways of reporting and accountability and the trust-first, paperwork-later approach shatters the conformity of traditional donor-enterprise partnerships,” says Vandita.
Vandita MorarkaVandita is the Founder and CEO of One Future Collective, a feminist non-profit working towards social justice through knowledge, advocacy and community building...
Along similar lines, Arancha invested her time and trust in 7 organizations within the Acumen Academy Community and deployed over €20,000 to mitigate the crisis. Each of these organizations encountered legal challenges to raise funds or were looking to support social issues which may not appeal to traditional donors in India. Each of these organizations have received small grants on the basis of trust, deployed rapidly. This has led to a reimagining of the traditional donor-enterprise relationship by rethinking accountability with simple and stead-fast steps rather than long-form reporting.
Arancha’s platform is based on trust and accountability, and these values came through in a time of dire need.
What enabled this community to flourish amidst a global pandemic?
Community builders know that a testament to whether a community exists beyond connections and a platform is how members show up when there is a test to the strength of those structures. The coronavirus pandemic has provided such test.
Building enabling structures for our locally-rooted communities to reach out across borders and generously offer their resources, experiences, and expertise to help each other. Recognizing their shared purpose, shared values, and mutual care for each other, and given a way to act on it, community members will show up for each other in big ways, no matter where they are in the world.
When Arancha learned of what was happening in India, she was compelled to act. While many may have compassionately acknowledged the challenges and the pain, she felt responsible for it and reached out.
I didn't need to know anything more about anyone. Just that they were an Acumen Fellow was enough.
— Arancha Martinez, Spain Acumen Fellow
The output of the story — €20,000 distributed to seven organizations in India — is the quantifiable piece, but it’s actually the least interesting part of the story. How the funds made their way through Arancha’s blockchain technology into the accounts in India faster than other donor funds could have been mobilized was not a result of technology: it was how the community members showed up that sped up the process.