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The World Is Upside Down: What Are Human Rights Funders Doing About It?

February 10, 2017

On January 21, a day after the inauguration of U.S. President Donald Trump, an estimated four million people participated in the Women's March on Washington and in sister marches worldwide. The feelings among the participants — strength, sorority, solidarity, anger, rebellion, humor, hope — were mixed. The marchers had many demands, including sexual and reproductive rights and action on climate change. Even more than a protest of the new president's policies, the march spoke to the power of intersectional social justice movements. Days later, President Trump revived a ban prohibiting federal resources from supporting international groups that perform or provide information on abortion as a family-planning option. A day after that, the president signed executive orders reactivating the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, despite resistance and protest from local, indigenous, and global communities.

Trump's first week in office was devastating for the human rights community. But it is a problem that is not unique to the U.S. In Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and many other countries in Latin America and around the world, we see similar threats. The human rights community is facing a global crisis that requires a global response.

IHRFG_Highlights_2017_coverIt was against this backdrop that I started reading the new edition of the International Human Rights Funders Group (IHRFG) and Foundation Center's Advancing Human Rights: Update on Global Foundation Grantmaking report. As I was reading, I came across many interesting takeaways — areas for which funding had increased or decreased, for example, as well as some new findings, including the growing visibility and critical role of Global South and East funders in advancing human rights — and the importance of collaboration.

According to the report, Global South and East funders provided $63.5 million through 2,259 grants to 1,837 recipients working to protect and promote human rights in 2014. Many of these donors are women’s funds that have taken the lead in mobilizing local and international resources that wouldn't otherwise get to grassroots groups in their countries and regions. It is not surprising. therefore, that Fondo Centroamericano de Mujeres (FCAM) and the African Women's Development Fund made the list of Global South and East funders who delivered the most grants, with 155 and 153, respectively. What can these funders teach the field of philanthropy? Here are a few thoughts:

Funders cannot address today's global challenges in isolation; we need to understand and build on the linkages among those challenges.

According to the report, 37 percent of the financial support provided by human rights funders was allocated to advocacy, systems reform, and implementation, while only 7 percent and 3 percent supported public engagement and grassroots organizing. What does this tell me? We have to do more to ensure that the voices of the most marginalized populations and communities are heard in the rooms where decisions are made. And we need to come up with more resources to make this a reality, to strengthen dialogue across movements, and to establish open spaces and platforms where funders can engage with each other.

Across movements for social justice, there is more that binds us than divides us. Whether we call ourselves human rights funders or not, to make the greatest impact, we have to pay attention to the commonalities and links that exist between our fields. We see, for example, an increase in the criminalization of social mobilization across movements; of indigenous peoples facing threats for defending their land and traditional practices; of restrictions on abortion, creating higher risks for pregnant women affected by health epidemics such as Zika. Tackling these problems in isolation only reduces our impact and increases the chances of duplicated effort. Therefore...

It is essential that foundations collaborate to realize shared goals and break down silos.

We need to learn from our peers about different approaches and experiences, create horizontal relations in which foundations in the South and North can collaborate as equals, and come together with key stakeholders beyond our usual circles to strengthen our grantmaking strategies and leverage more resources for human rights.

The Global Alliance for Green and Gender Action (GAGGA) is an example. FCAM, in collaboration with Mama Cash and Both ENDS, launched the alliance in April 2016. A five-year partnership with the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, GAGGA aims to strengthen the capabilities of grassroots groups and leverage the momentum generated by collective action to lobby and advocate for women's rights and environmental justice around the world. The financial support it provides is flexible and multiyear.

A key component of the initiative, which includes eleven women's funds and four environmental funds as well as NGOs and grassroots organizations in thirty countries, is bringing together diverse stakeholders to connect different social justice movements at the national and international levels. The Global Greengrants Fund and Prospera — International Network of Women's Funds, both strategic partners in GAGGA, have already done important work to facilitate learning among environmental donors and women's rights funders. Going forward, these efforts will be more streamlined and less duplicative.

The Advancing Human Rights report confirms what we see in practice: funders are eager to strengthen the effectiveness of their human rights grantmaking, and they want to involve key stakeholders in their efforts and have the flexibility to incorporate innovative approaches. That's why it is exciting to see new alliances being formed among funders in the Global North and in the Global South and East, allowing us to share knowledge around common challenges, opportunities, and intersections in our work.

We are working with movements confronting myriad threats — movements on the frontlines of the struggle — and as foundations we must maintain our commitment and obligation to support them effectively. Though at times the challenges may overwhelm us, we must have confidence in the strength and resilience of social movements, and in our own. Most importantly, we must demonstrate and act on our shared commitment to social justice.

Breathe deeply and remember the words of Arundhati Roy: "Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing."

Headshot_carlo-lopez-cCarla López C. is executive director of Fondo Centroamericano de Mujeres (FCAM) and co-chair of Prospera – International Network of Women’'s Funds. She recently joined the advisory committee for the Advancing Human Rights: Knowledge Tools for Funders initiative. A version of this post originally appeared on the GrantCraft blog.

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