South Africa film fellows 5
Photo credit: Sydelle Willow Smith
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Driving positive narratives about change and accountability

Why We Invested: Accountability Lab

The world over, a lack of accountability is undermining fair, equal societies; the most marginalised voices are not heard in critical conversations and leaders are not held responsible for their decisions. This in turn means people in power are not held to account or answerable for the use of that power. Accountability is critical as it ensures that governments and other service providers deliver on their responsibilities by responding to citizens’ demands in an evidence-informed way. This should ultimately lead to effective governance and the development of trust between people and power-holders.

In the discourse on accountability and other public interest issues, narratives are fundamental to the way citizens receive information, adapt to their realities, and shape their identity. The recent global trend plays on the human tendency to prioritise negative over positive elements in society. This has seen public attention grabbed by authoritarian leaders, institutional scandals, poor economic conditions and grand corruption. With the background of wide scale corruption and poor economic growth, negative news and narratives have created social disillusionment especially among the youth in Africa's more fledgling democracies. At Luminate, we believe there is a pressing need for tools that counter the perception of futility, open channels of engagement, and celebrate positive elements in government and civil service.

Accountability Lab is one organisation that makes active use of these positive framing tools. Luminate is proud to announce a $420,000 grant over 2 years to support its South Africa and Nigeria programmes. These focus on shaping narratives and highlighting brave leaders and civil servants who go against the grain and challenge the status quo of corruption.

Accountability Lab was founded in 2012 with a mission to build a new generation of active citizens and responsible leaders around the world. Accountability Lab's young and dynamic team helps change-makers develop and implement positive ideas for integrity in their communities, unleashing positive social and economic change. Underpinning its work is the assumption that individuals can influence institutions and systems. Accountability Lab's role is to surface these individuals, empower them to agitate for change within systems and strengthen their collective identity.

Accountability Lab uses the convening power of campaigns to build coalitions of like-minded individuals and organisations. These campaigns create positive engagement around the issue of integrity; advocacy and policy change; and skills and knowledge development. Working to build the skills and knowledge of the new generation of responsible leaders, Accountability Lab engrains itself in the ecosystem and uses learning, data, and networks to build communities for change and support efforts to shift the policy and practice of accountability in its practice countries.

Accountability Lab is active in six countries, each with contextual programmes including a version of  Integrity Icon, its flagship campaign designed to “name and fame” positive role models - instead of shaming those who are corrupt. Integrity Icon has been a been a hit - for example in Nepal, the last season reached an estimated three million viewers (10 percent of the population) and generated 10,000 votes. In South Africa and Nigeria, the programmes have national reach with thousands of people participating in the Integrity Icon campaigns, media engagements and the Integrity Icon website. The winners have come from diverse and often remote parts of these countries and have become accountability champions in their communities and sectors. The campaigns have struck early wins including an ask from the South African Minister of the Department of Public Service and Administration to develop Integrity Icon as part of the Open Government Partnership action plan. South Africa Integrity Icon 2018 winner Vinny Pillay was also invited to serve on the National Ethics Committee at the Department of Public Service and Administration for 2019.

Accountability Lab takes pride in being an adaptive organisation with a clear learning agenda and programmes that respond to the various country contexts. The Nigeria work is recent evidence of this, where the team will also run a music programme called Voice to Represent (Voice2Rep), producing mainstream music content that extols accountability and transparency values. Feeding off the energy of the vibrant Nigerian film and music industry, Voice2Rep is already indicating that music, through lyrics and positive idols, can be used as a tool to shift thinking and hold governments accountable. This ties in with a tenet of Luminate's Africa strategy to engage the youth through alternative channels in the arts and creative spaces.

In South Africa and Nigeria, the campaign draws in the skills and talents of young people to celebrate the best of the public service. The Integrity Icon Film Fellowship demonstrates that by doing the right thing, people and systems are impacted in positive, tangible ways. Makhulu and Sunshine Cinema have partnered with Accountability Labs in South Africa to tell the important good governance and responsible leadership narratives of its Icons. In Nigeria, HD Films have partnered with the campaign to run a Film School that empowers young people with skills in mobile storytelling, shooting, and editing.

To ensure greater reach, Integrity Icon, Voice2Rep, and the other Accountability Lab campaigns are designed to be more inclusive, aiming to draw nominations from communities outside the major metros. In the same spirit, the team ensures there is strong female representation and the campaigns are run in a manner that is culturally sensitive and uses messages that are relevant to the communities. In South Africa and Nigeria's current political context, as the countries deal with conversations around state capture, grand corruption, and economic stagnation, Accountability Lab will also support media organisations in fighting society's fatigue with stories on corruption by offering an alternative narrative. The positive framing will build overall trust in government and make it worthwhile for citizens to engage in public discussions and have their voices heard, building on work done by other civil society organisations.

Luminate's funding over the next two years, alongside the long-standing support from other partners, will help Accountability Lab build internal capacity, experiment with new ideas, and learn from the full repertoire of channels available to them. We look forward to working with them in unearthing and celebrating positive role models who will use their agency to shape the quality of public discourse around accountability and good governance.