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TPA Full Disclosure Series

TPA Full Disclosure: Cheri-Leigh Erasmus on Advocating for Greater Accountability
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What lessons can those versed in other sectors bring into the transparency, civic participation, and accountability (TPA) field? This week on “Full Disclosure – the People behind TPA” interview series; Global Director of Learning at Accountability Lab, Cheri-Leigh Erasmus share insights and lessons from bridging across different development communities.

Cheri-Leigh has spent a decade in the higher education and development arenas. In her current position at Accountability Lab, she works with a team of young changemakers in Liberia, Nepal, Nigeria, Mali, Pakistan, and South Africa who are unleashing change and finding ways to hold governments accountable.

Photo Credit: Cheri-Leigh Erasmus

  • How have your years in the higher education and nonprofit management field shaped your work on TPA issues, including your role as the global director of learning at the Accountability Lab?

While my work experience in the education sector can at times seem far removed from TPA issues, it was the perfect space for me to grow my program design and strategic planning skills. Working in the education space taught me how to listen to a variety of stakeholders with incredibly diverse backgrounds and needs, and to find ways to deliver services to these groups. I think this understanding of service delivery really helps my understanding of the Lab’s work in relation to civil servants and bureaucratic spaces. It mostly comes down to having learned the ability to listen, evaluate, and find ways to adapt. Additionally, working in student leadership development carries over directly to catalyzing young change-makers to advocate for greater accountability.

Beyond my professional experience, my interest in governance is shaped profoundly by my upbringing in South Africa. I have first-hand experience of a government that only serves a portion of the population both under Apartheid and as a result of endemic corruption, and have also witnessed the power of both individuals and movements in changing systems. This lived experience shapes why I view integrity and accountability as crucial ingredients for creating governments that work for all. 

  • As you have worked on TPA issues/ projects; what significant change(s) have you seen? And what other changes are you excited to see in the next few years?

I’ve worked on governance issues directly for close to 3 years, since joining the Accountability Lab. I joined the organization during a very exciting growth period during which we have gone from working in 5 countries to 9 with fully-fledged Labs in addition to partnerships in 5 more countries. We have also really deepened the level of creativity and adaptiveness of our work, and proven our ability to be agile especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. I am extremely excited about the continued growth of the organization and the ways in which we can play a role in equipping communities to hold their governments to account.

Furthermore, I am seeing shifts in how organizations in our sector are holding themselves accountable on equity and inclusion. I believe that meaningful stakeholder engagement and citizen-oriented design that go beyond ticking boxes can truly change the way decisions are made around funding and programming. This process of working towards equity will require uncomfortable power shifts within organizations but is necessary to bring about change at a systemic level so that affected communities have more agency in development processes. I think it is long overdue and look forward to seeing it unfold.

  • What recommendations will you give your younger self or anyone starting out in this field?

Stay curious! Never stop asking questions from people with more experience from you, and from the communities with whom you’re working. You can never know and understand everything, and you can only push yourself further and have a greater impact by listening and learning.

  • What invention(s) doesn’t get a lot of love, but has improved the world? 

Right now we are all pretty tired of Zoom – or maybe I am just speaking for myself – but it has certainly kept us connected amidst the pandemic.

  • What songs take you back to your teen years (especially when you do TPA work)? And why? 

Yikes! My taste in music is extremely eclectic. But when I think of this question in relation to TPA work, my love for hip hop comes to mind. The genre has strong ties to telling the stories of disenfranchised communities and provided an outlet for many young people who were finding their voice amidst societal inequities. I also have to mention musicians like Hugh Masekela, Johnny Clegg, and others who masterfully told stories of South Africa’s oppression on the global stage. Music is an incredibly powerful tool for social change, and I’m always excited about the work the Accountability Lab does to equip socially conscious musicians in Nigeria, Liberia, and Zimbabwe.

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