IHRFG Events

IHRFG’s 2015 San Francisco Conference: Nothing About Us Without Us

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!

This article originally appeared on One World Children’s Fund’s ‘Featured Stories’ section of their website on Monday, February 2, 2015.

In January 2015, Steph Allie Heckman, Executive Director of One World Children’s Fund presented at the International Human Rights Funders Group Conference with One World Champion of Crea+ in Brazil, and Director of Liibook.comRegina Ponce, and Founder and Executive Director of African Diaspora NetworkAlmaz Negash. They recently took some time to sit down and reflect on the key points from the two days in San Francisco, California.


Steph: Thank you. It was wonderful to be a part of the International Human Rights Funders Group Conference and convene with progressive funders who are working to promote and protect human rights.  Over the last two days, I found myself reflecting on one issue in particular. In working to protect human rights we must ensure we respect human rights. This is especially pertinent when we are discussing actions from a funders’ perspective.

With money, there is always an agenda and a power dynamic, combine this with activism and you could easily become a voice of disempowerment in the human rights environment.

If funders have a vision to empower communities and individuals then we must look at who is making the decisions around funding.  As Diana Samarasan from Disability Rights Fund clearly stated, “Nothing about us, without us.” 

I especially appreciated the discussion around participatory grantmaking. Human rights grantmakers are at the forefront of inclusive, peer-to-peer decision-making, and I think the philanthropic sector can learn much from their example.

The session highlighted participatory decision-making processes, such as including Board and Advisory Council members from the grantee community, peer-to-peer review structures, grantee recommendations for new grantees, and building long-term partnerships with grantees. Change takes time and there need to be respectful relationships that are built on trust between all stakeholders.

Over the coming months, the leadership team at One World will look at how we make decisions. Is there something we can learn to help us grow and build a stronger global community? Actions that will help grassroots leaders better serve the children in their communities? Are there actions that will help us leverage more revenue for our partners?  This is, after all, why One World Children’s Fund exists.

The topic that Almaz, Regina, and I presented on builds on this idea of participatory grantmaking. Together we highlighted the role and potential role of the diaspora. I am very fortunate to work with two incredibly thoughtful and intelligent women who represent the diaspora communities of Latin America and Africa. Almaz, Regina – I would love to hear your thoughts on our session, “Redefining Philanthropy to Include the Diaspora”.

Regina: Brazilian Diaspora communities around the globe have been some of the most committed philanthropists in the world. In 2004, the Inter-American Bank of Development (BID) revealed that the Brazilian Global Diaspora (US/Europe/Japan) sent US$5.6 billion back to the country, which represented 1% of Brazil Gross Domestic Product (PIB/GDP). Overall, these funds affect the local society as they decrease poverty, help families acquire homes and, very importantly, contribute to non-profit organizations.

I believe when grantmakers support members of the diaspora, who are already engaged with   social change makers in the country, they are supporting philanthropists who are in a perfect position to develop grassroots organizations.

When I look at my work with Crea+, I see the fundraising success (increased by 150% annually), but I also see the opportunities to leverage first world resources (marketing, new technologies and philanthropy trends) and localize them to Brazil. Furthermore, as a Champion, I can compensate for fluctuating in-country donations, usually the downside of a local cultural bias that says, “Brazilians already pay high taxes; thus, it’s the job of the government to take care of the poor.” With the help of grantmakers, we can solidify even further the role that NGO’s can play in expanding Brazil’s civil society.

I think that for some strange reason the diaspora’s social leaders are invisible to grantmakers and have not been perceived as philanthropists. Many perceive diaspora communities as comprised of people who left their country and want nothing to do with it. Obviously, plenty of available data shows the opposite.

Ultimately, I feel the diaspora should be part of the decision-making process that determines where funds go. I believe it is imperative we capitalize on the power of community leaders from the diaspora as they develop philanthropy in their country of origin.

Almaz: As my colleague Regina expresses, the diaspora is already emotionally and financially connected to their home countries.  Hence, they bring a very unique perspective on what to give, for what, to whom, and why.  We must unite grantmakers and diaspora priorities and shed light on the kinds of organizations on which to focus grants. The diaspora can also provide critical help in keeping grantees accountable and ensuring that funds are appropriately used.

We need to align the two efforts – grantmaking and diaspora giving.  Currently, the diaspora is not involved in the grantmakers work. We are not part of the discussion and a lot of opportunity is missed because of this. As we move forward, I would like to identify three areas which could unite efforts across the diaspora and grantmakers:

1)       Outcome-Based Funding – The diaspora can work with foundations to provide guidance and support to fund projects that are based on outcomes rather than simple, numerical outputs.

2)       Measuring Impact – Diaspora can help (in-country and/or outside country) in providing guidance to ensure that funds are used for what they are intended and that there is measured outcome.

3)       Participatory Grantmaking – Establish diverse teams of decision makers, which includes the diaspora.

Finally, we must see this as a long term partnership across all sectors. It is more than recruiting an individual from the diaspora to sit on your board of directors or staff, or approaching the diaspora communities and asking for funding for your agenda. We must be in this for the long term, build partnerships based on trust, and engage with stakeholders at all levels. After all, we are united in our vision to get people out of poverty and to empower communities and individuals to promote and protect their rights.


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