IHRFG recently held its semi-annual conference in San Francisco. Following the event, we will share reflections from the grantmakers who came together to explore timely issues in human rights grantmaking.Click here to read more lessons and join the conversation!
Contributed by Clare Winterton, Vice President of Advocacy and Innovation, Global Fund for Women-
As the VP for Advocacy and Innovation at Global Fund for Women, I attended my first IHRFG conference with one key question on my mind: “How can we turn up the volume on human rights issues through more innovative advocacy and communication?”
A commitment to advocacy (both funding it and doing it) builds from understanding that cultural change is key to achieving lasting gains in human rights. Tuesday morning’s excellent panel conversation on Culture, Tradition, Community and Family highlighted this critical dynamic with Layli Miller-Muro, Executive Director of the Tahirih Justice Center, emphasizing that “human rights is, by definition, about changing culture.” The panel discussed how advocacy on critical issues through community-led art, campaigning and policy work could create what moderator Andrea Lynch of Foundation for a Just Society called “the transformative power of alternative cultural capital.” At its core, that is what effective human rights advocacy is all about.
Culture shift and advocacy were recurring themes throughout the conference – from discussions of youth leadership to grantmaking measurement. Innovative advocacy was also the subject of a lively Tuesday night dinner conversation that I moderated. There were many great perspectives, but five issues emerged as key topics for funders to consider:
- Invest in, empower and equip new voices who are closest to the issues
Grantmakers and grassroots leaders emphasized the need for advocacy activities to elevate voices of people and communities who are most impacted by human rights issues. Will Buford from the Funder’s Collaborative on Youth Organizing highlighted the need for young people to “re-tell narratives” using their own media tools. Both Eveline Shen and Layli Miller-Muro emphasized the need to get new voices heard in a media landscape that is becoming increasingly silo-ed and fragmented. Disability activists and funders shared their success in partnering with grantees to voice key concerns to policy and decision makers.
- Focus on infusing culture into the work – and fund it!
Eveline Shen of Forward Together shared how her coalition has used art to change perceptions, shift culture and fuel ambitious policy change campaigns. Yet she shared that it was almost impossible to get funding for this work, despite the number of influential artists and musicians in the field. Changing culture is too often “split apart” from other key elements of social change, and is ignored and un-resourced. If we believe this work is necessary to achieve lasting human rights, we need to get behind it and fund it.
- Grapple with issues of measurement
Part of the reticence of engaging in advocacy, communications and outreach activities comes from a concern that it’s hard to measure. We need to be ready to test, pilot and experiment with different evaluation methodologies that can capture how advocacy contributes to social change.
- Co-create content messages and campaigns
Strength in advocacy comes from combining voices. Yvette Kathurima, Head of Advocacy at FEMNET, encouraged all of us to embrace the idea of ‘co-creation’ in our advocacy activities – working together in partnerships and coalitions to increase visibility and influence on critical issues of human rights.
- Be ready to popularize the message
During our dinner dialogue we talked energetically about our fears around popularizing our message. But our fear of over-simplification can hold us back and prevent us from reaching new audiences. The issues we work on demand a new approach. As a colleague summarized, “We’ve got to get down from our pedestal and engage.” Social media campaigns, simpler messaging and celebrity engagement were all tools the group were ready to explore to give human rights issues greater prominence with a broader public audience.
We agreed it’s time to “turn up the volume for human rights” and see that advocacy work is a core part of our mandate as funders. It is the beginning of an exciting conversation.