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158 posts categorized "Human/Civil Rights"

Does the DeVos Education Budget Promote "Choice" or Segregation?

May 24, 2017

Public-privateThe American public education system should provide all students with the opportunity to receive a rigorous, quality education — regardless of class, race, or ethnicity. In direct opposition to this goal, the FY2018 budget recommendations issued by the Trump administration would limit and even reduce opportunities, support, and civil rights protections for students across the country.

The proposed Furthering Options for Children to Unlock Success (FOCUS), a new Title I program, is a thinly veiled attempt to open the door for the voucherization of all federal, state, and local public schools funding. As such, the push to funnel public money to private schools with the aim of "improving student academic performance" ignores the lessons of the past.

Attempts at voucherization by school districts across the country have resulted in overwhelmingly negative academic outcomes for students and the promotion of segregation. In the District of Columbia and Louisiana, both of which implemented district-wide voucher programs in an effort to "rescue" poorly performing school districts, evaluations of student performance showed a negative impact on student achievement, with students who participated in the Louisiana voucher experiment exhibiting steep declines in math performance — 13 percent lower, on average, after two years — compared to students who attended traditional public schools.

Why would we voluntarily expand a program that has proven to have the opposite effect of what we all hope to achieve?

The Poverty & Race Research Action Council, like other members of the National Coalition on School Diversity, is not opposed to expanding the range of opportunities available to students and their families. In fact, our research advocacy efforts are centered around the thoughtful, responsible expansion of public school choice approaches that bring children together in racial and economically integrated schools.

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5 Questions for...Donna McKay, Executive Director, Physicians for Human Rights

May 12, 2017

Donna McKay is executive director of Physicians for Human Rights, a nonprofit organization dedicated to using science and medicine to prevent and investigate human rights abuses around the world — with a focus on torture, mass atrocities, rape in war, and the persecution of health workers. A joint recipient of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize, PHR has unearthed forensic evidence from mass graves that helped convict former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic for war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity; mapped attacks on healthcare workers in Syria; and led a campaign against the complicity of health professionals in the United States' post-9/11 torture program.

PND asked McKay about PHR's work, in the U.S. and elsewhere, to end human rights abuses as well as the role of physicians and science, medicine, and technology in advancing those efforts.

Donna_mckayPhilanthropy News Digest: Since you joined PHR as executive director in 2012, conflict and humanitarian crises have dominated the headlines — including the rise of Boko Haram and ISIS, violence against civilians in Burma, and the ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan, Syria, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, and Ukraine. Is conflict, and its attendant human rights abuses, on the rise globally?

Donna McKay: What's striking to me is how many of these crises actually began as human rights crises. In Burma, what started as the marginalizing of a minority group has ballooned into a humanitarian disaster. In Syria, after President Bashar al-Assad mercilessly suppressed an anti-government uprising, those who criticized his government were arrested, tortured, disappeared, and murdered — resulting in a massive refugee crisis. In South Sudan, fighting and forced displacement have caused the world's youngest nation to basically unravel. The list goes on. And each time, the international community has stood by while those human rights violations piled up and became some of the most vexing conflicts facing our generation. If you want to talk about conflict prevention, you have to talk about ending human rights violations and snuffing out larger crises before they begin.

What's heartening, though, is that while crises are on the rise, so too is the notion of human rights more generally. In a number of our trainings, health professionals from other parts of the world have told me that a generation ago, they didn't even have the language of human rights. Indeed, conflict is on the rise, but so is community activism. People are pouring into the streets, demanding their rights. I will never forget the joy I saw on the face of a friend and fellow activist from Egypt describing the first time he voted in an election. There's a thirst out there. And once people are exposed to human rights, you can't put the genie back in the bottle. They're just not going to give up.

PND: You have said that physicians in conflict zones bear witness to atrocities, that they believe in the power of evidence, and that medicine and science are about truth. PHR has documented nearly 800 attacks on medical workers and more than 450 attacks on medical facilities in Syria since 2011. Why are medical workers and facilities targeted in civil wars? And what should the international community be doing that it is not doing to better protect them?

DM: The numbers take your breath away. Doctors not only save lives — they are often on the front lines of human rights violations. Medical professionals adhere to some of the most robust ethical standards and treat those on all sides of a conflict, regardless of their identity, affiliations, or beliefs. They are also poised to speak credibly about the atrocities they see first-hand. Until fairly recently, the world had agreed that health professionals in conflict must be shielded. But we've allowed those longstanding norms to crumble. In Syria, we feared that attacks on hospitals and doctors would become the new normal — and sadly, they have. The conflict has been raging for over six years, and it's really only in the past year that the world has woken up to these atrocities. I think our work has played a part in that awakening.

Now that the awareness is growing, the international community must demand adherence to international law and must not let politics interfere with century-old norms that protect health professionals. At this point, no one can turn a blind eye and say this isn't happening. And yet so far, there has been no justice, no accountability. That must change. And that's why we at PHR are meticulously documenting these crimes. We're hopeful that our work can contribute to future prosecutions for attacks against medical personnel and facilities. It may seem impossible right now — but that's what naysayers said when we were gathering international support for a global landmine ban, an effort that led to the international landmine treaty and recognition by the Nobel Committee. We wouldn't do this work if we didn't have hope.

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The Brave New World of Open Source

May 09, 2017

The following post is part of a year-long series here on PhilanTopic that addresses major themes related to the center’s work: the use of data to understand and address important issues and challenges; the benefits of foundation transparency for donors, nonprofits/NGOs, and the broader public; the emergence of private philanthropy globally; the role of storytelling in conveying the critical work of philanthropy; and what it means, and looks like, to be an effective, high-functioning foundation, nonprofit, or changemaker in the twenty-first century; As always, we welcome your thoughts and feedback.

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OpensourceAllow me to introduce myself. My name is Dave Hollander, and I'm a data scientist here at Foundation Center. The role of a data scientist is to use techniques from statistics and computer science to make sense of and draw insights from large amounts of data. I work on the Application Development team, which engineers the code in Foundation Center products you use, including Foundation Maps and the new search tool that was launched as part of the redesign of foundationcenter.org.

Like nearly every software development team, the members of the center's Application Development team share code among ourselves as we work on new projects. This allows us to work on smaller parts of a larger machine while simultaneously ensuring that all the parts fit together. The individual parts are assembled during the development phase and eventually comprise the code base that powers the final product. When finished, that code lives internally on our servers and in our code repositories, which, in order to protect the intellectual property contained within, are not visible to the outside world. The downside to keeping our code private is that it does not allow for talented programmers outside Foundation Center to review the code, suggest improvements, and/or add their own entirely new twists to it.

We plan to change that this year.

Open-source software (OSS) is a term for any piece of code that is entirely visible and freely available to the public. Anyone can pull open-source code into their computer and either use it for a personal project or change it and "contribute" those changes back to the original project. Open source is not strictly related to code, however. Wikipedia, which allows anyone to create an account for free and edit articles and entries, is also an example of an open-source project. To ensure a high-level of quality throughout, submissions to Wikipedia are evaluated by volunteer editors, and while a bad entry may sneak through on occasion, the Wikipedia community eventually will find it, review it, and amend it.

Open-source code projects work in much the same way as Wikipedia, but rather than editing text, users edit code and then submit their changes back to the project. The process can be a challenge to monitor, but today there are tools available that make it relatively easy to manage the edits of multiple users and prevent source-code conflicts. The most popular is GitHub, a free service that serves as a repository for code projects and allows any user to make copies of any other project hosted on the platform. Once a project on GitHub is copied, the user can make changes to the original code, or use the code for his or her own purposes.

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Statement Supporting NGOs in Hungary

May 03, 2017

Hands-upThose of you who check in with PND on a regular basis know (here, here, and here) that Viktor Orbán, the illiberal and increasingly authoritarian prime minister of Hungary, and lawmakers from the country's governing Fidesz party have launched a campaign to rid Hungary of liberal (and dissenting) voices. In addition to attacks on the press and political activists, the campaign has targeted nongovernmental organizations operating in the country with the help of foreign funding — with a particular focus on groups backed by the Open Society Foundations and its founder, Hungarian-born U.S. financier George Soros.

Last week, a group of funders led by the European Foundation Centre, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and the Stefan Batory Foundation issued a statement in support of Hungarian NGOs and the broader values of "transparency in the public, private, and social sectors and the reasonable regulation of civil society organizations." We are pleased to share that statement, which has been signed by a coalition of more than eighty philanthropic and civil society leaders from Europe and the United States, below.

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Statement Supporting NGOs in Hungary

As the leaders of private philanthropies in the United States and Europe, we are greatly concerned by the repeated efforts of the Hungarian government to restrict and stigmatize nongovernmental organizations operating in the public interest. This includes actions in recent years that have threatened the existence of organizations supported by Norwegian civil society grants and, more recently, steps that may force the closure of the Central European University. We are especially concerned with efforts to require entities that receive even modest international financial support to register as foreign-funded organizations and list this designation on their website and all publications, or face fines and potential closure.

We support transparency in the public, private, and social sectors and the reasonable regulation of civil society organizations, but some of the proposals currently under consideration go well beyond what is reasonable and would have the effect of discriminating against certain organizations and stigmatizing those that operate at world-class levels and are able to attract financial support from private foundations in Europe and globally. Hungarian law already requires all civil society organizations to report their sources of income and other support to the National Office for the Judiciary. We oppose public communications campaigns that undermine public trust in civil society organizations, falsely implying that such organizations in general, and those receiving foreign funding in particular, may be more prone to engaging in illegitimate activities than others. We are especially concerned that listing NGOs in a special registry of foreign-funded organizations may open the door to further, discriminatory treatment of these NGOs.

The ability to source funding from international donors is an important signal of the international quality and competitiveness of Hungarian NGOs, and it reflects Hungary’s solidarity with the European commitment to civil society. We hope the Hungarian government will honor the country’s and Europe’s commitment to the freedom of its citizens to form organizations, debate the issues of the day, and seek financial support from all legitimate sources.

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Changing the Political Climate

April 06, 2017

Us-politics_climateThe election of Donald Trump, together with Republican control of the U.S. Senate, the House of Representatives and most statehouses, is both a reflection of and serves to underscore the dramatically altered political climate in America. Many nonprofit and philanthropic leaders are scrambling to figure out how they can best operate in this new environment. Too few of them are thinking about how they might work to change it.

A lot of people would like to see it change. We know that a significant majority of Americans are stressed by the outcome of the election and that fully two-thirds are deeply concerned about what it will mean for the nonprofit sector and the nation. That presents an opportunity for charities and foundations. Instead of trying to make do, nonprofit leaders should try to make change.

Make no mistake: efforts designed to alter the context for the administration's policy agenda will find a sizeable and receptive audience. Sixty percent of Americans are embarrassed by the past actions and rhetoric of the president and do not feel he shares their values; similar percentages feel he is neither temperamentally suited for the job nor honest and that his actions are dividing the country. Given these concerns, an outpouring of donations and willing volunteers are finding their way to charities either directly affected by the Trump agenda or working to resist it.

The question now for many nonprofits is how will they deploy the new support they are receiving. Will it be used to ramp up frontline services made necessary by cutbacks in government funding and regulations? Will they allocate it to policy advocacy and organizing aimed at directly contesting the Trump and Republican agendas? Will they also use it help fuel initiatives aimed at changing the political climate in ways that renders these other activities less necessary?

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Time for Philanthropy to Take Bold Action: Invest in Policy Change

March 10, 2017

Change_buttonOver the past few weeks, we've witnessed a new administration work daily to roll back rights our communities have fought hard to win, putting in jeopardy everything from immigrants' rights and economic security to educational equity and women's health.

At the same time, and despite the increasingly politicized climate in the country, we are heartened to see people stepping up and taking action in the streets, online, and in the corridors of power. In record numbers, more and more of us are becoming engaged in the political process, participating in protests, organizing our communities, and communicating with our elected officials.

Philanthropy, too, must answer the urgent calls to take action and support programs, initiatives, and tools that can help protect communities from draconian changes in policy while advancing the values we hold dear. By tools I mean policy advocacy and organizing. If we truly hope to create a just and equitable society for all Americans, we need more funders in California and around the country to invest in advocacy and organizing efforts that help vulnerable groups and communities withstand the attacks directed against them while taking proven solutions to scale. We need community leaders who know how to work with legislatures at the state and local level to shape more just policies. And those leaders need the knowledgeable and strategic support of philanthropists willing to be partners in their work.

At the Women's Foundation of California, we know we can't create opportunities for our communities without an explicit focus on policy change aimed at both dismantling barriers and expanding rights. As the only statewide foundation in California focused on gender equity, we work every day to advance the leadership of women in public policy. Over the past fourteen years, our Women's Policy Institute has worked with more than four hundred women leaders to advance gender equity through policy change. And those women, in turn, have helped pass twenty-nine laws that have improved the health, safety, and economic well-being of millions of people living in California.

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Marc Morial, President/CEO, National Urban League: Inner Cities and Advocacy in Trump-Era America

February 22, 2017

Marc Morial was raised in a family that understands the importance of education and public service. His father, Ernest “Dutch” Morial, was the first African-American mayor of New Orleans and served two four-year terms; his mother was a teacher. After an unsuccessful run for Congress in 1990, Morial was elected to the Louisiana state senate in 1992 and, two years later, was elected mayor of the Crescent City. In 2003, he was named president and CEO of the National Urban League, one of the oldest civil rights organizations in the country. Under his leadership, the organization has worked to to provide economic empowerment, educational opportunities, and the guarantee of civil rights for the underserved in America. In 2010, to mark its centennial anniversary, the organization launched a call to action focused on achieving aspirational goals in education ("Every American child is ready for college, work and life”), employment ( "Every American has access to jobs with a living wage and good benefits”), housing ("Every American lives in safe, decent, affordable and energy efficient housing on fair terms”), and healthcare ("Every American has access to quality and affordable health care solutions”).

A week or so after the inauguration of Donald Trump as forty-fifth president of the United States, PND spoke with Morial about Trump’s frequent characterization of the nation’s inner cities as urban wastelands and how the new administration might partner with African Americans, the majority of whom did not vote for the president. Morial also addressed the importance of improving educational opportunities for people of color and what it will take to help minority-owned businesses thrive in the Trump era. .

Philanthropy News Digest: Both during his campaign and now as president, Donald Trump has characterized inner cities as urban wastelands plagued by drugs, crime, and social dysfunction. What do you think the president is trying to accomplish when he uses rhetoric like that?

Mark_morial_for_PhilanTopicMarc Morial: Well, when he said those things in the campaign, he was appealing to his base. But his characterization of inner cities was narrow, stereotypic, and disparaging. Urban communities are not wastelands, and they're not plagued by drugs, crime, and social dysfunction. They are places with the challenges of drugs, and crime, and other issues, but those challenges are also prevalent in suburban and rural communities. Cities are also places of tremendous human energy, creativity, and assets. They are the economic nerve centers of America. So I found his language to be pejorative, jarring, and I suspect, indicative of his not having spent a lot of time in urban communities. His perspective is probably pretty much informed by stereotypes he sees in the media.

PND: The president has proven adept at using Twitter as a bully pulpit. Is the Urban League doing anything to counter the messages the president puts out via Twitter?

MM: We're very active on social media, and when we encounter messages of public policy we disagree with, we use our social media platform to promote our own message. Of course, the Office of the President is a bully pulpit as well, and this president has chosen to use Twitter versus making frequent public statements or having frequent press conferences, which I think is a new normal. And, of course, his Twitter messages are amplified because they're covered so avidly by the mainstream media. So anything the president puts out there via Twitter is going to be on NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox News, and in newspapers around the country. By the same token, if the president decided to release a handwritten letter on a daily basis, that would be covered by every media outlet. Given that reality, what I would like to see is the mainstream media provide a platform for those whose messages might be in opposition to the president's stated public policy positions.

PND: What do you think a Justice Department led by Jeff Sessions will mean for the work of your organization and other advocacy organizations?

MM: I think all of us are concerned about what a Jeff Sessions-led Justice Department will mean. It's important to recognize that Loretta Lynch — and Eric Holder before her — were very assertive in enforcing civil rights law. That is exactly what we expect any and every attorney general to do. And we're going to hold Jeff Sessions accountable to the kind of enforcement of civil rights laws that Loretta Lynch and Eric Holder championed.

It's important to recognize that the Justice Department not only pursues terrorists and has a role in pursuing "violent crime," it is also is the chief civil rights enforcer in the country and has been that since the 1950s. Jeff Sessions' record in that area concerns us, some of his statements concern us, and so we're going to hold him and his team accountable when it comes to enforcing civil rights law. It is our responsibility to do that.

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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...

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A National Day of Racial Healing on January 17 Will Help Americans Overcome Racial Divisions

January 06, 2017

Share1112-crayonsJust five days before the inauguration of Donald Trump as the country's 45th president, millions of Americans on January 16 will celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. For many, memories of the civil rights icon revolve around his momentous "I Have a Dream" speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, in which Dr. King called for an end to racism and for the expansion of economic opportunities for all Americans.

Dr. King's brilliance — his strategic leadership of the civil rights movement and unparalleled courage and integrity — is often overshadowed by the speech that many scholars hail as the most important public address by an American in the twentieth century. Unfortunately, the dream of equality King articulated in 1963 remains unfulfilled in many communities today — a reality that underscores the persistent structural inequities and racial bias at the root of the widespread disparities in social conditions and opportunities for people of color.

Dr. King said, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." That's the America many of us have long been working to create but, despite progress in some areas, are still seeking to realize.

The divisive rhetoric and raw emotions that raged across the country over the past year pulled the scab off a persistent wound in the American psyche, bringing the issue of race front and center and exposing the divides in our society. What can we do about it? How do we move forward on a path toward racial equity that facilitates racial healing, dismantles structural racism, and lifts vulnerable children onto the path to success?

To be sure, America has made progress over the decades. Government and the courts have enacted statutes and rulings, from Brown v. Board of Education to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to the Fair Housing Act of 1968, that outlawed public discrimination while purportedly guaranteeing equal opportunity for all Americans. Yet, in too many cases, these rulings only addressed the effects of racism, not its foundations. The passage of time has made clear that government and courts can enact and uphold laws, but they can't change hearts, minds, and souls.

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To Truly Reform Criminal Justice, Policy Makers Must Listen to Crime Survivors

August 31, 2016

The 2016 election campaign season has exposed the deep and bitter divides in our political system. Candidates have put forth vastly different views, and the list of what they agree on seems to be getting shorter by the day. Yet criminal justice reform has become that rare thing — an issue on which many Democrats and Republicans can agree.

Criminal_justice_for_PhilanTopicState and federal policy makers are in the midst of an important conversation about how to reform the criminal justice system. After decades of growth in prison populations and prison spending, it is a conversation that is long overdue. Notably absent from this dialogue, however, are data or research on crime victims' experiences with the criminal justice system or their views on safety and justice policy. Given that politicized perceptions of the best way to protect victims has, in part, driven prison expansion, this absence is glaring. Now is the time to correct the misperceptions that drove the failed policies of the past in order to truly reform the system.

A primary goal of the justice system is to protect and help victims, so any reform effort must incorporate the voices of the victims themselves. That's why the Alliance for Safety and Justice decided to conduct a national survey of crime victims, including those who have suffered extreme violence such as rape or the murder of a family member.

While one might expect victims to overwhelmingly support the "lock 'em up and throw away the key" approach, we found something different. Victims were clear that rehabilitation and crime prevention, not more incarceration, is needed to ensure that fewer people become victims of crime.

Nearly three out of four victims we surveyed told us they believe that time in prison makes people more rather than less likely to commit another crime. Two out of three victims support shorter prison sentences and increased spending on prevention and rehabilitation over long sentences. And by a two-to-one margin, a majority of those surveyed were in favor of policies that emphasize rehabilitation over punishment. Crime survivors also overwhelmingly support investments in new safety priorities that can stop the cycle of crime, such as programs for at-risk youth, mental health treatment, drug treatment, and job training. These views cut across demographic groups, with wide support across race, age, gender, and political party affiliation.

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Funding the Frontlines: The Value of Supporting Grassroots Organizing

August 02, 2016

Frontlines_disk spaceOver the last decade or so, human rights organizations, democracy activists, journalists, and civil society groups around the world have faced increasing constraints on their work. Legal and administrative barriers imposed by governments have made it more difficult to operate in civic space. Activists have been subjected to intimidation when they gather in public, voice their views, or set up new organizations. In some countries, foreign and local funding for NGOs has been scrutinized, restricted, and even banned. These factors have combined to negatively affect the human rights agenda and have resulted in a phenomenon known as "shrinking civic space" around the globe.

Against that backdrop, human rights funders are doing their best to keep open and, where possible, expand civic space. The International Human Rights Funders Group (IHRFG) and Foundation Center's new report Advancing Human Rights: The State of Global Foundation Grantmaking showcases that work in numbers: In 2013, 803 funders worldwide allocated $2.3 billion in support of human rights. The report identifies these funders, the regions and the issues they support, and the populations they target. This year's research also examines the strategies supported by human rights funding. Ranging from policy advocacy to grassroots organizing, the report defines eleven approaches and finds that:

  • Activities related to advocacy — to ensure that states and non-state actors recognize, conform to, and implement international human rights standards — receive the largest share of funding dollars (27 percent).
  • Capacity-building and technical assistance for civil society organizations receives the second largest share of human rights funding (15 percent).
  • Research and documentation — to expose human rights violations and their perpetrators — is the third largest category of funding (13 percent).

Frontline_trickle-downWhat I find most interesting in this research is the amount of funding allocated to grassroots organizing — a mere 2 percent. This statistic aligns with the findings of the Civicus study The State of Civil Society, 2015, which notes that NGOs receive only 1 percent of official development assistance. For local civil society organizations, the picture is even bleaker: their share is just 0.2 percent. So the funding, if available, primarily supports large, high-profile NGOs, whereas those organizing at the community level do not have nearly enough access to resources. In other words, we are not close to "funding the frontline."

Why are funders failing at the local level? Do they assume that if the big groups are supported, change will eventually trickle down to those most in need? One possibility is that human rights funders may not fully appreciate the potential of funding grassroots organizing.

Before I get to that, let's make sure we're on the same page when we talk about the "grassroots." Grassroots organizations consist of rights-holders — people who are directly affected by a problem or whose rights have been infringed or violated. These groups use collective action to address obstacles to the full realization of their constituents' rights, not only locally but also at the national and international levels. They are associated with bottom-up decision making and are seen as being more spontaneous than groups plugged into more traditional power structures. They seek to challenge and change the status quo.

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Defending Environmental Rights: Funding Priorities in the Global South and East

July 21, 2016

In December, the United Nations awarded its Equator Prize 2015 to two Munduruku leaders from the Brazilian Amazon in recognition of their struggle to protect ancestral territory and sacred rivers from a mega-dam. What caught my attention about the prize was the way it acknowledged a struggle that is ongoing, not a battle won. What inspired the UN to do that? And what message is it sending to the world as it recognizes the need to preserve the last intact forests in the Amazon basin and the knowledge possessed by their ancestral caretakers?

Report_ihrfg2016This year's edition of Advancing Human Rights: Update on Global Foundation Grantmaking offers an interesting in-depth look at the priorities of funders based in the Global South and East. The key findings shows that environmental and resource rights rank as the second-most funded issue area by Global South and East funders, compared to ninth for all funders. Another interesting — and, in my opinion, directly related — finding is that Global South and East funders dedicate a larger proportion of their support to capacity building, coalition building, and collaboration, compared to human rights funders overall.

Because my organization, CASA, is what we call a "socio-environmental" funder, the report really speaks to us. And as we've reviewed the findings in it, a few things have suggested themselves. We operate within a fragile global system held together by increasingly frayed  threads, and what seems to keep it from collapsing altogether is a clever subterfuge in which:

  • Capital flows continue funding the cheapest raw materials that can be found (often in the Global South and East), with a premium on minimal extraction costs (i.e., unregulated and exploited labor) and easy-to-access lands (territories that can be clear-cut, mined, or drilled no matter their environmental importance or who lives there).
  • Capital develops infrastructure to enable the extraction and export of those materials — including mega-dams, pipelines, roads, rail- and waterways, and ports.
  • Pliant local political structures facilitate the removal and transport of these materials as quickly as possible to global markets, regardless of who or what might object (i.e., poor countries with weak institutions, a history of corruption, and leaders whose territories hold the great majority of what is left to extract on the planet).

Add to this the insecurity that climate change is producing around food supplies and access to fresh water, and you have an ugly, and increasingly unsustainable, picture.

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The Legacy of Berta Cáceres: What Environmentalists Can Learn From Human Rights Groups

July 19, 2016

Photo_bertacaceresThe murder of the environmental activist and indigenous leader Berta Cáceres in Honduras in March came as a shock. Shortly after, I was asked to address the question of security for environmentalists at the annual meeting of the Waterkeeper Alliance, a U.S.-based conservation group started in New York's Hudson River Valley that today includes members from Colombia to Bangladesh.

Waterkeepers asked me to address the meeting because of my experience in advising journalists, human rights defenders, and activists on security matters. And the more I've thought about it, the more I've come to realize how much the environmental community can learn from press freedom and human rights groups.

Cáceres was shot dead in her own home and a fellow activist was wounded in the same attack. Less than a year before, she had been honored in San Francisco and Washington with the prestigious Goldman Prize, giving her a measure of international recognition and, one might have hoped, a measure of protection from such a brazen attack.

Alas, no form of protection or deterrence has worked. In fact, no fewer than a hundred and eighty-five environmental activists around the world were murdered last year — more than three a week — according to a report issued last month by the group Global Witness. That's more than double the number of journalists killed worldwide over the same period of time. Nearly two-thirds of the murdered environmentalists were indigenous activists like Cáceres. Brazil, host of the Summer Olympic Games, the Philippines, and Colombia topped the list of countries with the most environmentalists killed, followed by Peru, Nicaragua, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Last year's death toll represents an increase of 59 percent from the year before, and the trend has been moving in the wrong direction. Indeed, Global Witness reports that no fewer than 1,176 environmental activists worldwide have been killed since 2002. Even the conservative figure is more than the number of journalists documented to have been murdered over the same period. Mining, logging, and other extractive industries were the focus of many of the murdered activists, along with government-backed development projects like the proposed dam in Cáceres' case that would have destroyed a pristine river and the indigenous lands through which it flows.

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5 Questions for...Matt Foreman, Senior Program Director, Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund

July 14, 2016

A year after the U.S. Supreme Court made marriage equality the law of the land, the LGBT community witnessed a day of unspeakable horror, as a gunman massacred forty-nine people and injured dozens at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. As terrible as it was, the shooting was followed by proud displays of collective resilience and celebration. On June 24, President Obama designated the Stonewall Inn — a New York City gay bar that is widely considered to be the birthplace of the modern gay rights movement — as the first-ever national monument honoring LGBT rights.

PND recently spoke with Matt Foreman, senior program director at the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, about the significance of these events. Foreman joined the fund in 2008, after serving as executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the Empire State Pride Agenda, and the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project. At the Haas, Jr. Fund, he played a key role in the Civil Marriage Collaborative, a consortium of foundations that helped push marriage equality over the finish line.

Matt_foreman_for_PhilanTopicPND: You have written about how the Civil Marriage Collaborative helped boost marriage equality by funding public education efforts "to change hearts and minds" and by supporting the movement's efforts to develop a shared strategy. What were the advantages of using a funder collaborative? And were there any downsides?

Matt Foreman: The primary advantage of the CMC was that it enabled — and in some ways compelled — the marriage movement's primary foundation funders to consistently align and focus their investments, both through and outside the CMC. The field and the funders jointly identified their priorities, which encouraged the LGBT movement to come together in supporting a bold, long-term vision for marriage equality.  

As for downsides, there were some challenges, yes. At the highest level, creating strong funder collaboratives requires a lot of time and a willingness to compromise, more than it takes to go it alone. Although it sometimes makes the job harder, it also can lead to different, and better, outcomes. Another challenge was that the CMC served as a gatekeeper for how foundation dollars flowed to the field. While that allowed for more efficiency and consistency in supporting these efforts, it also frustrated some organizations that fell outside the CMC's strategic priorities and thus didn't get funding.

PND: What lessons learned from the campaign for marriage equality might be applied to grantmaking in support of other social justice causes?

MF: For me, the most important lesson was that foundations have a unique ability to get organizations to come together, develop plans to win, and then work together at multiple levels — from research to field work to litigation — to get over the finish line. Of course, that also requires foundations to be willing to take the risk of funding the game plan and playing hardball when groups deviate from it. Setbacks are inevitable when you're working on making big, societal change, so it's critical to learn from mistakes and be able to move forward.

After the historic marriage equality decision, we identified eleven lessons that we learned along the way and might be worth consideration among funders of other social justice movements. We've put together a report and a video about those lessons, which include the need to hire staff with social movement experience and to invest early in high-impact, multi-dimensional public education efforts that are data driven, thoroughly tested, and tailored to targeted communities and sectors.  

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Winning Marriage Equality

June 24, 2016

Marriage_equality_for_PhilanTopicOn June 26, 2015, history was made when the U.S. Supreme Court made marriage equality the law of the land. This victory for social justice would not have been achieved without the efforts of tenacious leaders and litigators, diverse LGBT organizations, straight allies, elected officials, celebrities, and, most importantly, hundreds of thousands of people toiling at the grassroots level. But a crucial, and largely unknown, force was also at work: the Civil Marriage Collaborative, a consortium of foundations that helped change hearts and minds — and moved the country toward marriage equality.

The Civil Marriage Collaborative (CMC) was created in 2004 at a time when there was strong backlash against the idea of gay marriage. Less than a year earlier, the Massachusetts high court had ruled that the state's ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, a decision that prompted a media and political firestorm. President George W. Bush called for amending the U.S. Constitution to ban same-sex marriage, and similar measures started making their way to the ballots in more than a dozen states. The LGBT movement was overwhelmed: it did not have the financial or operational capacity to mount the larger public education, policy advocacy, and litigation effort needed to deal with the onslaught.

A Vision to Win

That;s when a handful of foundations came together to create the CMC, which would work in tandem with Freedom to Marry, an organization founded in 2003 that would eventually become the engine of the marriage equality movement. Launched with a grant from the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, and led by Evan Wolfson, Freedom to Marry was based on a simple premise: Civil unions and domestic partnerships did not go far enough in removing obstacles for gays and lesbians in virtually every area of mainstream life. And by securing marriage equality, the LGBT community would gain rights in many other areas, such as in health care and the right to adoption.

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