Disability Rights

Transatlantic Dialogues: Collaboration and Fun in the Disability Rights Community

Contributed by Catherine Townsend, Co-Chair of the IHRFG Disability Rights Working Group –

Collaboration is the talk of the town. We encourage our grantees to do it and aspire to do more of it with our colleague funders. I recently participated in Ariadne’s 2014 policy briefing in Barcelona, Spain, which reminded me of the essential elements needed to support collaboration and the value of expanding our transatlantic dialogues around human rights.

For several years, IHRFG’s Disability Rights Working Group has communicated with our European counterparts at Ariadne and the European Foundation Centre (EFC), which hosts a Disability Thematic Network. In 2013, talk moved into action when we merged the Ariadne and IHRFG disability listservs. The transatlantic dialogue deepened with a session at Ariadne’s recent meeting co-sponsored by EFC and the Disability Rights Fund, featuring a member of the IHRFG working group (Alison Hillman from OSF). The session focused on the causes of and abuses inside institutions for people with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities.

We have much more work to do together, but moving the transatlantic relationships from online to in-person was invaluable. Here’s why:

  • Peer learning: Listening and learning from others’ experiences and approaches provides new insight to inform our work. Moving the conversation to Europe (OK, I’ll admit that Barcelona offered a lovely setting to boot!) also shifted the topics of conversation and opened up new areas of understanding for me.
  • Networking: Who knew that J.K. Rowling supports the rights of children with disabilities through the Lumos Foundation? Cultivating current relationships is always important, but we need to move out of our comfort zone if we genuinely want to meet new partners and hear new ideas.
  • Solidarity: Just as our grantees can feel isolated, grantmakers also need peer support and camaraderie. In the case of disability rights grantmaking, we are a small but passionate group, and coming together gave me a greater sense of a community with a shared agenda.

The Ariadne meeting cultivated this transatlantic collaboration with a casual learning environment for grantmakers using:

  • Humor: “How do you make Lemonade out of Lemons?” After dinner one evening (and several glasses of wine!), funder colleagues shared their stories of grants that went wrong. The honesty and humor exhibited by those who shared their stories provided rich learning material AND lots of laughs.
  • Unstructured time that was built in: Yep, that’s exactly what I meant. There’s no need to arrange formal meetings when down time is part of the equation. While I sought out specific meetings, I also had time to get to know new colleagues working on diverse issues outside of my own focus areas.
  • Freedom to widen our lens: Collaboration requires us to get out of our silos (whether they be issue-based or institutional) and reflect on how a diversity of challenges and solutions might be applicable to our own work. Sometimes this means attending sessions that “don’t have anything to with my work,” testing that assumption and exploring intersections. In the “disability” session, it was easy to see how violations against women and the Roma population reinforce violations against children with disabilities (in fact, these groups often overlap). Ariadne gave me a healthy dose of reflection and inspiration about how my grantmaking could better reflect these realities.

To be part of the growing collaboration (and the fun), join the disability rights working group of IHRFG and/or Ariadne’s disability community, and join our merged listserv too. Contact Azeen Salimi.


The Disability Rights Working Group of IHRFG seeks to raise the visibility of people with disabilities within human rights funding and demonstrate how inclusion of people with disabilities can strengthen human rights grantmaking. It also serves as a space in which funders can share information and delve into trends in human rights work as they relate to persons with disabilities. The Working Group shares a listserve with the Ariadne disability community of European funders.

For more information, please contact Azeen Salimi.

Beyond Charity: A Donor’s Guide to Inclusion
Beyond Charity: A Donor’s Guide to Inclusion. Disability funding in the era of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities” is a response to the urgent need for guidance on promoting disability rights in international cooperation. This useful and easy-to-read guide supports donors to address disability from a human rights perspective, in particular by supporting representative organizations of persons with disabilities or disabled persons organizations (DPOs).

Coordinators:
Diana Samarasan, Disability Rights Fund
Catherine Townsend, Wellspring Advisors

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