Contributed by Keith Armstrong, Program Associate, IHRFG-
What was on your minds in 2014? IHRFG members led programming and exchanges about the human rights issues they support, challenges they face and innovative responses, while keeping their eye on global news and trends. We take a look now at the trends you were talking about, and where 2015 will take us.
In response to a number of countries enacting or reinforcing laws restricting homosexuality in 2014, members organized telebriefings studying the impact of these laws in Thailand, Uganda, and Russia, as well as an institute entitled, “Progress and Setbacks in LGBTI Rights Globally: What’s a Funder to Do?” As a testament to the urgency of the issue, 81 members joined the Uganda telebriefing, and more than 90 funders gathered for the institute – the most highly attended telebriefing and institute in IHRFG’s history. A key theme that arose from these events was the importance of funding effective communication. In contexts such as Uganda, much of the communication against the law was Western-oriented, which may have perpetuated the story used by the law’s defenders that homosexuality is a Western construct. It’s important to allow partners to frame and brand their communications in their own ways. Despite growing funder interest in this set of issues, LGBTQI rights work globally only receives 5% of the human rights grant dollars, according to the 2011 data from our Advancing Human Rights research. Yet, there are additional signs that the philanthropic sector is responding: Funders for LGBTQ Issues reports a nearly threefold increase in giving to LGBTQI issues by U.S.-based foundations over the past decade. Will the increased attention and visibility within our network lead to more funding in the future?
Members also took the lead in bringing the rights of children and youth to the forefront. A coalition of IHRFG members formed the new Children and Youth Working Group, which is currently organizing a session on supporting youth leadership development at IHRFG’s upcoming San Francisco conference. (Did the Nobel committee take note? The 2014 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi for their work to educate girls in Pakistan and to rescue children from slave labor.) From our 2011 Advancing Human Rights data, groups working on children and youth rights received 16% of human rights grants dollars. Our members contend that these grant dollars can be augmented when grantmakers not only consider youth as beneficiaries, but also as partners—with skills, insights, and access—in designing and implementing programs. Many funders, in fact, are directly engaging youth and other vulnerable populations in their grant decision-making processes.
As an outgrowth of this practice, several human rights funders formed another working group, in collaboration with Ariadne-European Funders for Social Justice and Human Rights, on “participatory grantmaking.” These working group members aim to promote the value that participatory grantmaking adds, in terms of connecting organizations, building movements, and increasing philanthropic literacy for grantees.
Social movements and populations, such as those described above, do not exist in isolation, so funders are also working to understand the complex ways in which they intersect. In an effort to strengthen the global human rights movement, in 2014 many human rights funders broke out of their “silos” to merge their work with that of peer funders and activists. To that end, IHRFG members launched three new working groups co-sponsored with other funder networks, including Ariadne, Peace and Security Funders Group, and Funders Concerned About AIDS.
The global economy was also a predominant topic of discussion among our members in 2014. As noted by Sara Burke of Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in SUR International Journal on Human Rights, the leading cause of protest worldwide between 2006 and 2013 is a “cluster of grievances related to economic justice.” While these grievances are rights-related, many of these protests do not use the language of human rights in pursuit of their goals. Our members are actively engaging issues of economic justice, and working to understand them from a rights lens. Last year, members organized six conference sessions, telebriefings, and articles on the subject, including primers on financial regulation, how to build human rights risk assessment into corporations’ planning processes, and the impact corporate engagement at the U.N. has on the Sustainable Development Goals. In these sessions, funders discussed the importance of supporting fiscal policy literacy issues among grantees so that they can take a more active role in bringing about a more just financial system that supports human rights. Our San Francisco 2015 conference will feature three sessions that will deepen the conversation on corporate accountability and the global economy by approaching it from a number of different angles: “Real-Life Wheel of Fortune: The Way Our Economic System Defies Human Rights,” “Using Free, Prior, and Informed Consent to Broaden Human Rights Horizons,” and “Adjusting the Flow of Philanthropy to Better Address Root Causes: Lessons from the Global Water Crisis.”
The year 2014 also saw many members and their grantees being impacted by a global trend toward restrictive funding laws and closing space for civil society. According to an International Center for Not-for-Profit Law report, “Since January 2012, more than 50 countries have introduced or enacted legislation constraining civil society. An increasingly common constraint relates to the ability of civil society organizations to access international assistance.” In order to confront this challenge, a new working group has formed in partnership with Ariadne and the European Foundation Center. This group, among other activities, has started a dialogue with Ambassador Samantha Power, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, and is organizing a June 2015 meeting in Berlin to explore funder responses. In addition to coordinating responses to this trend, working group members are increasingly sharing information to assess where restrictive laws might emerge, with the goal of preventing – rather than reacting to – restrictions.
The year closed with a North Korean cyber-attack on Sony Pictures and with a UN General Assembly resolution on the right to privacy. Our members are keenly aware that while the internet and web-based tools have the potential to promote rights, lax security practices can also put funders and grantees at risk. With Ariadne, IHRFG organized a telebriefing on human rights in the online environment to study how human rights and online and mobile technology work and clash with each other. This conversation will continue in 2015: The IHRFG Human Rights Defenders Working Group is sponsoring the San Francisco institute to explore practical ways for funders to strengthen their own and their grantees’ digital security practices; and a telebriefing this month will explore ways in which funders can support online and mobile technology in service of human rights. Our programming will continue to address this issue and the tension lines between the ideals of security and transparency as they relate to the digital landscape and human rights.
We feel inspired by the innovative strategies IHRFG members applied in response to these and many other human rights issues this past year, and look forward to supporting them as they tackle 2015.