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An Initiative Towards a New Ecology for the Human Rights Movement


By Barbara Klugman and Denise Dora
In 2012, the Ford Foundation created the $54 million Strengthening Human Rights Worldwide global initiative (SHRW), which funded seven human rights groups from the Global South and seven International NGOs headquartered in the Global North.
It aimed to further catalyze efforts under way to strengthen the perceived legitimacy and influence of local movements on global agendas and strategies and thereby create a human rights ecosystem to meet the challenges of the changing global context.
Most notably, it was designed to deal with the growth in political importance of emerging powers and declining moral valence of the West, and increased geo-political significance of regions. Louis Bickford was the primary program officer.
Four years later, in 2016, Ford commissioned a “Learning Review” of this initiative in order to generate insights for the field. The review team, comprising two ex-Ford Foundation staffers, Barbara Klugman, who lives in South Africa, and Denise Dora of Brazil, and Ravindran Daniel of India, Maimouna Jallow of Kenya and Marcelo Azambuja of Brazil, was tasked to assess if, and how well, SHRW contributed towards enhancing southern participation and shifting north-south power relations in the global human rights movement, and promoting shifts in debates, discourses, mechanisms, policies or practices of international or regional bodies or national mechanisms and legal systems.
The Review also asked what funding approaches best support the efforts of NGOs and networks in the Global South to influence the human rights movement and international NGOs. 
It should be noted that this initiative did not include national groups in the Global North, except as members of international NGOs. But the team considers it likely that their findings may apply to national groups in other parts of the globe that usually are assumed to have only a national ambit, and are funded accordingly and relate similarly to international NGOs.
The following key lessons are discussed in detail in the introduction to the public report at
Conditions that enable international influence of Global South groups
The Learning Review of SHRW found that human rights groups from the Global South brought new understandings into the movement internationally, and sought new remedies. What enabled this?
Principally, independent core funding to use nationally or internationally is what gave them the stability, autonomy and flexibility to introduce new agendas to the movement.
These enabled them to:
create their own collaborations rather than wait to be invited into venues or processes;
initiate evidence-gathering and analysis on issues they consider critical with whichever partners in other countries or among international NGOs, academics or others that they believe will bring key insights or expertise;
shape their strategic arguments, based on this evidence, in ways and languages that resonate with those they are targeting, including, where needed, to articulate their issues in terms that are meaningful outside of their own context;
choose which individuals or institutions will be most strategic to target to address their own issues, whether at local, national, regional or international levels; and
identify what from their experiences could be useful for others globally, and at what venues or through what processes to engage others.
Roles of international NGOs that support an effective ecosystem
Despite the inequitable, hierarchical and inefficient resource distribution and dynamics of the human rights movement, some international NGOs in this initiative demonstrated effective ways to support the development of a more equitable and efficient movement ecology. They:
use their brands or platforms to support local and national initiatives;
limit their use of resources by structuring themselves to add value to existing local resources rather than duplicate local staff and infrastructure capacities;
operate as membership-based organizations with democratic governance so that members from all parts of the globe influence their framing of issues and priorities for action;
collaborate in conceptualizing potential forums, research agendas, publications, policy think tanks or other spaces so that their agendas and processes routinely and automatically include people from the national level; and
include Global South and national groups in governance of international NGOs and of any coalitions, campaigns or other initiatives aiming to address issues relevant to these groups.
The review found that supporting constituencies in self-organizing so that they become independent financially and can use their voices independently, and routinely establishing alliances and other forms of collaboration, are important roles that both Global South and international NGOs are playing to maximize the power of the movement.
The Learning Review found that some international NGOs in this initiative had found ways to add value to the work of national groups without removing the agency of those groups in shaping agendas and strategies. However, in the perspectives and experience of the international experts interviewed and surveyed for this review, international NGOs in general continue to control agendas and spaces of the human rights movement despite the urgent need for stronger and demonstrably independent southern and national participants who are perceived as more legitimate players, particularly in countries and regions that are arguing that human rights are a western construct. 
This view is supported by evidence that the vast majority of funding for human rights advocacy goes to international NGOs in the West, and by a network analysis showing that, while groups from the Global South had significantly increased their importance in the network surveyed, large INGOs, in particular Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, remain entirely dominant in the space.
Funding a more effective and equitable human rights movement
The review team concluded that funders can translate these lessons directly into how they think about and support national as well as regional and international advocacy. In addition, in planning new funding initiatives, funders should ensure that:
their own regional offices or staff are co-producers of any initiative that will involve grantees in their regions;
intended grantees participate in framing the theory of change and markers of progress that will be used to evaluate success;
substantial time is allocated for building trust among any groups that may be working together for the first time, and any intended outcomes are realistic to the time-frame of the initiative;
the mix of grantees ensures diverse capacities and relationships in order to maximize impact;
collaborations between a grantee and others in the field are rewarded rather than anoint an individual grantee with a role or funds that may undermine existing or potential collaborations, or that may reward grantees who attribute changes to themselves rather than recognize contributions of multiple groups;
all grantees take initiative rather than vest power in traditional relationships between INGOs and local groups;
national groups can use their funds to target any level of the system, as opportunities are lost when funders separate “national” from “international” work and limit national groups’ funding to national borders. This approach prevents national groups from using whatever platforms are most strategic at any moment in time, and enables them to share their expertise with groups in other countries facing similar challenges;
ethics and transparency are the basis of any collective engagement the initiative requires among grantees, and between grantees and funders; and
a developmental evaluation approach is implemented from the start, so that grantees and the funder are in an ongoing and collective process of sense-making, learning and strengthening the work.
Where an initiative aims to shift dynamics in a field or movement, the funder will need to include engagement with other funders as a key dimension of its strategy, since field-building and field-shifting take a long time and substantial resources.
In addition to the public report, findings are summarized in three short articles, in English and Spanish, focusing on the human rights system, movement and funding: The Value of Diversity in Creating Systemic Change for Human Rights; Finding Equity—Shifting Power Structures in Human Rights; and Addressing Systemic Inequality in Human Rights Funding.
Findings have also been published as “The South in Transition: towards a new ecology of the human rights movement in the context of closing civic space”, in the December 2017 issue of SUR. 
Barbara Klugman worked in the Sexuality program at the Ford Foundation from 2003 to 2009. She has just completed her term as chair of the board of the Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Rights-Africa, and has joined the board of the Global Fund for Community Foundations. She works as a freelance strategy and evaluation practitioner.
Denise Dora worked in the Human Rights program at the Ford Foundation’s Brazil office from 2000 to 2011. She is on the board of the Brazil Human Rights Fund, and works as a lawyer and consultant for social justice philanthropy.



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