Meet Accountability Counsel and founder Natalie Bridgeman Fields
We recently had the honor of hosting an event celebrating Accountability Counsel, an innovative organization working to protect human and environmental rights around the world. Over the past few months, I have gotten to know Accountability Counsel’s founder Natalie Bridgeman Fields, who is a fierce advocate and pioneer in international human rights and environmental law. Sparked by a call to action from a group of indigenous women in Chile who were arrested while peacefully resisting the construction of a dam on their critical water source, Natalie dedicated her career to holding the companies and institutions behind harmful projects like mines, agribusiness, and wind farms accountable for abuse. After spending a decade as an attorney for and partner to communities around the world, Natalie founded Accountability Counsel in 2009 to empower communities to defend their rights through a unique avenue for justice.
In the last nine years, Accountability Counsel has worked with nearly 40 communities around the world – from farmers in northeast Haiti to nomadic herders in the Mongolian South Gobi desert to fisherfolk in coastal Kenya. In addition to providing direct legal support to communities, Accountability Counsel works to address the systemic problems that perpetuate harmful projects through policy advocacy and research. Knowing that they cannot tackle such a complex problem alone, the organization is also a leading voice in the global movement for accountability in international finance. The impact of Accountability Counsel’s unique model has been recognized through awards from Echoing Green and the Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation.
Three takeaways from our evening with Accountability Counsel
Through the event at NeueHouse Madison Square, we were eager to share Accountability Counsel’s inspiring achievements – that embody what former New York Times columnist Anand Giridharadas calls “the grueling democratic work of truly changing the world from the ground up” – with our guests. Natalie began the evening by sharing this powerful video recounting the impact of Accountability Counsel’s partnership with Chinanteco communities in Oaxaca, Mexico. Together, they achieved a historic victory: negotiating the end to a hydroelectric project that would have devastated the communities’ critical natural and cultural resources.
The conversations sparked throughout the evening enabled our guests to connect over a shared commitment to justice and hope. Attendees left feeling energized to know that avenues for justice exist for such seemingly intractable challenges, and that committed advocates are dedicated to helping communities defend their rights. For those who were unable to join us that evening, I want to share three lessons that stood out.
1. Everyone deserves a way to defend their rights
Whenever a project affects land, natural resources, and livelihoods, there are risks to local communities’ human rights and environment. Even in fields like development or impact investing, where investors have a stated goal of creating positive impact on the ground, unintended harm can occur. No matter how a project is financed, communities deserve a way to raise concerns when their rights are threatened and resolve conflicts.
2. With a thoughtful model, small organizations can achieve outsized impact
With a high-leverage model and a developed theory of change, a small but mighty team can have an impressive impact in moving global systems toward greater justice. Accountability Counsel’s approach of achieving its vision through advocacy at both the grassroots and grasstops ensures that harm is addressed at the local level and prevented through systemic change. This model is not limited to human rights, but can be applied to social enterprises working to address a variety of challenges.
3. The value of creativity
In a time where we are bombarded with seemingly impossible challenges, taking creative approaches to achieve a vision for justice is key in building support for your mission. While there are numerous examples of creativity in Accountability Counsel’s core work, I want to highlight a unique approach that Natalie is bringing to raise awareness of the organization’s mission. She is climbing for justice this October through Jesse Itzler’s #29zero29 challenge, which involves climbing the vertical elevation of Mt. Everest by scaling a mountain in Vermont 17 times. She is dedicating each lap up the mountain to one of the advocates who inspires her work, and will be raising money through the climb to support Accountability Counsel. You can learn more about Natalie’s climb, her honorees, and how you can be involved here on the campaign page.
What you can do to support Accountability Counsel’s mission
If you are inspired by Accountability Counsel’s work and want to support their mission, there are a number of ways you can contribute. As a 100% philanthropically funded organization, their work is made possible entirely by donations from people like you. They are also always seeking pro bono partnerships, and have worked in the past with law firms, data science experts, and communications specialists. Finally, you can share Accountability Counsel with your network to help build the community of supporters that stands in solidarity with campaigns for justice around the world and enables the organization to achieve its vision.