Better Than Most is a regular feature of The Business of Giving, examining the best places to work among social good businesses and nonprofit organizations.
Denver: And tonight, you’ll be going to Kearny Street in downtown San Francisco to visit the offices of Accountability Counsel. We’ll start the segment with their Founder, Natalie Bridgeman Fields to tell us about what they do and then you’ll hear from other members of the staff on why it’s a special place to work.
Natalie: Accountability Counsel defends the human rights and environment of communities around the world using international level strategies through community, lawyering, and policy advocacy to achieve justice.
Lani: I get to spend time with these communities and I just can’t tell you the kind of appreciation. It’s hard to describe the appreciation that they express for what we do and just the way that sustains not only me but I bring those stories back to this office to try to sustain the whole organization.
Sydney: Every member of our team whether or not we’re actively involved in one of the Accountability Counsel’s cases, gets to be a part of our case travel and get to travel to the communities to really experience what the types of projects that we’re working with are, see the impacts on the ground and really see the power of what our team of lawyers is doing in action.
Samer: Internally, we’ve built this content management system from scratch that allows us to communicate on issues that we’re working on to input information into a centralized system and have weekly updates and there is a bot that grabs all of our updates in any given week and emails them out to the team tagging any particular issues that we’re working on so that all updates related to a given complaint or a given project all get siloed in one place for easier retrieval and things like that, and everything is then tied back to a broader set of goals and KPIs to make sure that we’re operating in a way that fits into a broader theory of change.
Natalie: Through this counsel, this handcrafted internal database that Samer’s created with Marisa where we can do all the updating virtually. So, everybody’s already coming to the staff meeting every week having read all the updates so we can really dig in to what we need to discuss. Where do we need to engage and get feedback? What issues do we need to talk about to understand the morale of the organization? What are the high points? What are the low points? What are we struggling with, and to me that’s been joy to see that evolution of the organization and the tools that we’ve been able to build that are handcrafted specific to our need, to make the most of our time together and to move us forward productively.
Sarah: About innovation, I just want to say that we have an office environment where everybody is really given the freedom to be creative and to think about solutions for each of the communities that we’re working with or each of the policy problems that we’re dealing with. They’re all unique, and they all take a really nuanced approach, and if someone were to set policies that says you have to run every case this way or you have to run your policy campaigns that way, I don’t think we’d have the same success that we have. So, we have a management style that really allows people and encourages people to be creative and come up with the best fit for the problem that they have at hand.
Lani: Here, I can do this incredible work, and I know that I am judged on my work and not on my appearance. I know that I can work from home if something is happening at home, or I need to be there. I have just so much autonomy and freedom to do the best work I can but in the best way I can and that doesn’t require a suit and high heels.
Natalie: As I was building this organization, we created a culture of recognizing the talent that we’ve brought through this program, and then trying to turn all this training and relationship building we’ve done through law fellows and internships and to careers, and we’ve been thrilled to have done that. Also bringing on people part time and then convincing them to come full time even if we haven’t had the funding to do it. We make it work. By doing that, we’ve built a culture around people who want to be here not because of the pay; because they deeply care and aligned with what we do, and that’s made a successful working environment.
Hannah: Are lobby lunches where we all try step back from our work and sit around the table together and talk about what’s going on in people’s personal lives. Specifically over the summer, we try to offer at least one or two days where some of the staff members can talk about their professional careers or their journeys to Accountability Counsel which is really great when we have full-time students especially law fellows. They can see how all of these lawyers got to where they are and also I think personally, it’s really inspiring even though we know the stories of all of our staff members to think about that again. It’s just really inspiring to work with all these people every day.
Marisa: My first week that I joined Accountability Counsel as an intern, we had a lobby lunch, and I had no idea what was going on but one of the things that makes me proud to work here is to think about how included I felt even just in the first few days coming here. Everyone was so excited to have new people here and there was a returning law fellow actually who came and spoke about what he’s doing next and he asked for some advice and we had a collaborative lunch where we all had a conversation together and got to know each other a little better. I think that speaks to the collaborative nature and culture of this work environment here.
Caitlin: If any of us is feeling overworked throughout the day, we can go on the other room and ask somebody if they want to take a break and play Bananagrams or Scrabble or something like that. Some folks are doing five-minute calisthenics breaks that I don’t necessarily take part in but I do feel like it’s that kind of a supportive culture where if you’re feeling stressed out, you can always go in another room and take a break and have a chat with somebody.
Sydney: On Tuesdays, Samer really started a tradition of bringing people together to go climbing after work which has been a really fun way of pushing each other outside of work and bridging especially over the summer, a lot of the interns were able to come with us and bridging those maybe professional divides and really working together and pushing each other towards a really hard goal and a lot of people are new to climbing. Doing that has been really fun.
Sarah: I want to talk about just one really great part we have at Accountability Counsel which is after we’ve been working here for six years, you get to take a sabbatical, three months paid, and I’m the first employee who actually got to do it.
Natalie: We have post travel decompression days off. So apart from your vacation days, apart from sick days, if you feel the need to take a day off after an intense period of travel, that’s encouraged. The other thing is we have a mental health policy where people are encouraged to take up to 10 sessions a year with a mental health professional above and beyond whether their health insurance covers it or not to make sure that they’re being able to take care of both preventative and post-traumatic mental health care. It’s so important to our staff also that we prioritize taking care of one another and ourselves as this work is very challenging to sustain over the long term if we don’t do that self-care.
Denver: I wanna thank all those who participated in this segment: Caitlin Daniel, Sarah Singh, Sydney Speizman, Hannah Schiweck, Samer Araabi, Marisa Lenci, Lani Inverarity and Natalie Bridgeman Fields. To hear this again, read the transcript or see pictures of the participants and the Accountability Counsel offices, simply come visit denver–frederick.com
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