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18 posts from January 2011

This Week in PubHub: Civil and Human Rights

January 06, 2011

(Kyoko Uchida manages PubHub, the Foundation Center's online catalog of foundation-sponsored publications. In her last post, she looked at four reports that explore the landscape of impact investing.)

Every January, in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, PubHub features reports on the topic of civil and human rights. This week's focus is on the protection and promotion of international human rights, whether through regional courts or development agencies.

The Open Society Foundations' study From Judgment to Justice: Implementing International and Regional Human Rights Decisions suggests that multilateral human rights mechanisms -- including the European Court of Human Rights and the Committee of Ministers, the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights and the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and the United Nations Human Rights Committee -- are struggling to implement their decisions on the ground. If the judgments are not effectively enforced, the report's authors argue, the very legitimacy of the courts could be undermined. The report calls for strengthening the procedures for monitoring and promoting implementation by, for example, developing national legal regimes governing implementation and reporting mechanisms, allocating greater resources to follow-up efforts, and fostering cross-system dialogue among human rights systems.

Report on Citizen Security and Human Rights, issued in December 2009 by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, finds that in Organization of American States member countries, many factors -- including the history and structure of the state and society, government policies and programs, the relevance of economic, social and cultural rights, and international and regional conditions -- are undermining the protection of citizens from crime and violence perpetrated by state and non-state actors. The report outlines governments' international obligations and urges states to adopt a human rights perspective on citizen security -- bolstering democratic participation, implementing comprehensive public policies to ensure that human rights are respected, and strengthening institutions, laws, programs, and practices.

Not only are governments obligated to protect their own citizens' rights, they should also be held accountable for promoting human rights as an integral part of international development efforts, a new report from the World Resources Institute argues. The report, A Roadmap for Integrating Human Rights Into the World Bank Group, suggests, for example, that political repression, discrimination, and poor health conditions for local workers are likely to prevent outside investment from generating poverty reduction and net development benefits. In part because the economic benefits of human rights protections are not easily quantified, however, open dialogue about a human rights approach to development is not yet the norm within the World Bank Group. The report recommends short- and medium-term strategic goals for human rights integration, including improving assessments of risks and empowering communities to use the World Bank's grievance mechanisms to address rights violations.

However flawed or limited, some of these multilateral efforts are actually advancing the protection of human rights around the world. Which makes Experiments in Torture: Evidence of Human Subject Research and Experimentation in the "Enhanced" Interrogation Program, a report from Physicians for Human Rights, all the more difficult to read. The report examines the evidence in three cases in which the United States involved medical professionals in monitoring detainee interrogations, analyzing the results, and drawing inferences applicable to subsequent interrogations. Highlighting the implications for public trust in the healing profession, the authors recommend a federal investigation as well as legal, executive, congressional, and other actions.

What role should philanthropy play in protecting and promoting human and civil rights around the globe? Is the presence of a robust civil society a precursor for the protection of rights? And is a human rights-first approach more likely to lead to sustainable economic development? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

And don’t forget to visit PubHub, where you can browse over a hundred reports on civil and human rights.

-- Kyoko Uchida

Foreign Assistance: 'You Can't Throw Money at It'

January 05, 2011

(David Holdridge is president and founder of Bridging the Divide, which provides an Internet-based platform designed to connect American citizens with grassroots organizations in the Middle East working for peace and justice in their communities. Holdridge has thirty years of experience in nonprofit and humanitarian leadership roles in the Middle East, Africa, Central and Eastern Europe, Asia, and the United States and most recently served as Mercy Corps' regional director for Middle East programs. This is his first post for PhilanTopic.)

Unclesam_throwing_money In light of the recent announcement by a number of high-profile billionaires to pledge half their net worth to charitable investments -- broadly defined -- I urge some second thoughts.

I've spent a lifetime watching the deleterious effects associated with throwing too much money at tragic and complex issues overseas. Instead of resolving the humanitarian challenge in question, it more often has created a legacy of corruption and dependency.

There are two conditions underlying all successful (i.e., sustainable) charitable investments overseas:

1. The design and intent of the investment must include local ownership (i.e., decisions are made collectively by the local populace rather than an autocrat).

2. Donors cannot push "largesse" into a local system beyond the system's capacity to absorb it.

As to the first, it means that donors must invest in home-grown solutions as opposed to what they think will or should work best. Concerning the second, it means that donor transfers cannot outpace an often-limited local capacity to absorb them. From Live Aid for Ethiopia in the '80s to Tweeting for Haiti in 2010, we in the field have witnessed the terrible waste associated with too much foreign-designated generosity blowing the circuits of local capacity and soon after leaking into the wrong hands or serving to create an unsustainable dole.

So, while the early numbers for the Buffett-Gates initiative are impressive, Giving Pledgers would be advised to spend "smart" -- and "smart" does not necessarily mean "big."

There is another caveat which should be added to the two above: The effort to provide hundreds of millions of desperately poor people overseas with a better life must be supported at home by actively engaging our friends, neighbors, and fellow Americans to do more than just send a check to a mega-charity at year's end. Instead, by virtue of all sorts of new technologies, we have it in our power to deal directly with individual activists and young civil society organizations in poor countries. And, in the end, it is they, not us, who must "own" their development.

We can and should support those efforts -- citizen to citizen, with individual advocacy and "consumer-sized" relief -- without overwhelming them. Indeed, citizen-to-citizen, or "new giving," as some are calling it, already accounts for 7 percent of American charitable giving overseas, and experts expect that to rise to 15 percent over the next few years. Internet-based platforms like Kiva, Global Giving, and Jumo are betting on it. In the process, their efforts as well as those of others will help broaden the base of globally engaged Americans -- one of the surest antidotes for what ails too much of the world.

In short, expanding the base of engaged citizens who want to help those less fortunate is what global philanthropy should be about. After all, money doesn't solve problems; people do.

-- David Holdridge

Social Change Work on Campus vs. the 'Real World'

January 03, 2011

(Reilly Kiernan is midway through a year-long Project 55 Fellowship at the Foundation Center. In her last post, she wrote about the growing popularity of running for charity.)

Ivory_tower_small After four years at Princeton, I knew the community service and public interest scene on campus like the back of my hand. I knew which forms to fill out if I wanted to host an event, where to find funding, and the best way to promote initiatives so as to attract participants. But in the "real world" of nonprofit work, I'm just beginning to find my way.

On a college campus, students are embedded in an infrastructure designed to support their interest in doing good. And that has its pros and cons. On the one hand, students tend to be well supported with funds and organizational structure. On the other, their freedom is limited by certain institutional parameters. I remember, for example, a friend being frustrated by the fact that, because of a prohibition against support for lobbying activities, the university would not provide funds for his group to travel to Washington to attend events in support of passage of the DREAM Act. Still, Princeton did a good job of providing students with opportunities to innovate within such constraints.

There are many similarities between public interest work on a campus and in the "real world," but in my first five months at the Foundation Center I've been more impressed by the differences.

Here are three things I've noticed about the real world of nonprofit work:

1. It’s about what you accomplish, not what you've learned. In retrospect, I can see that many of the volunteer activities on college campuses served two equal purposes: To benefit the local community, and to teach students about a specific issue. This dynamic changes in the real world, where the focus largely shifts to serving a target constituency. (I would love to see a grant proposal that asks for a portion of the grant to be used to provide employees of a nonprofit with a deeper understanding of the issue they are working to address.)

2. Giving back requires more personal initiative. At school, I received weekly e-mails alerting me to on-campus events, the campus was plastered with calls to action, and I was never more than a few hundred yards from a physical office and an actual staff that could provide me with all the service-learning opportunities I desired. Instead of feeling isolated in an ivory tower, I often felt like I was bombarded with too many opportunities to do good. Since leaving school, however, I've noticed that if I want to volunteer or get involved in a cause, it requires a lot more effort on my part. No one is asking me out of the blue to help with something he/she is putting together. That's not to say that meaningful volunteer opportunities are hard to come by; you just need to be more proactive about identifying them. (Which is one reason I've come to love sites like Idealist.org, VolunteerMatch, and NYC Serv.)

3. It's about the money. I realize now how lucky we were at Princeton. Even when the downturn forced the university to scale back its support for service-learning activities, there was still enough money to fund a wide range of service events, on and off campus. In fact, thanks to a special referendum in my senior year, the student body reassigned their social fees to promote service on campus. In contrast, I've met a lot of nonprofit employees since I started working at the Foundation Center, and the need to raise funds is never far from their minds. Large or small, old or new, nonprofits are always in need of funding. And that's a huge difference.

Obviously, there are other differences between working for social change on campus and in the real world. These are just a few that have jumped out at me over the last five months or so. What about you? Any recent graduates out there with a different experience and/or take on the "real world" of nonprofits? We'd love to hear from you.... 

-- Reilly Kiernan

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    — Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd president of the United States

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