By Sue Gunawardena-Vaughn at Open Society Foundations
IHRFG recently held its semi-annual conference and institute in New York, where participants debated, critiqued, re-framed and re-claimed the rights-based approach and the human rights brand. Following the event, we will share reflections from the funders who joined the conversation. Click here to read more.
In reflecting on my first IHRFG meeting, I would like to invoke something that Reverend Desmond Tutu said: “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” Last week, I attended the group’s meeting in New York City where a rich diversity of funders convened to share ideas on how they do their “little bit of good” through their support of human rights activism. As a former human rights practitioner and relative newcomer to the funding community, I found the meeting invaluable in affording me a wealth of opportunities to network with my peers and enhance my own grantmaking skills. The energy, expertise, and camaraderie in the room were palpable and deeply inspiring, and it was wonderful to see old friends and forge new connections, especially with funders from the Global South. Given that I have been charged with overseeing a fairly new portfolio, which focuses on forging resilience in the human rights movement, it was immensely useful to discuss strategy, tap into the expertise of seasoned professionals, and explore potential avenues for collaboration with other like-minded funders. Throughout the conference, I was struck both by the collegial tenor of the sessions even when issues that might otherwise have been somewhat polarizing were under discussion and by the candor of all participants in exchanging best practices and lessons learned. Of particular resonance and relevance to me were sessions on the opportunities and challenges at the intersection of faith and human rights, undercover human rights funding, and the opening plenary, which raised the provocative question of whether the rights-based approach is, in fact, the right approach. The space that it provided to reflect more intentionally on our tactics and underlying principles was both timely and useful. I also enjoyed the “Intelligence Squared” format of the plenary debate focused on whether human rights advocates should ally with large corporations and the spirited, thought-provoking discussions that followed. Additionally, the pre-conference institute on “Detoxifying the Human Rights Brand’ was one of the best workshops on framing and strategic communications that I have attended, and I will apply much of that learning to my ongoing grantmaking and strategy development. Meetings of this caliber do not happen without the vision, dedication, and sheer hard work of countless, committed individuals. I would like to conclude by acknowledging the tireless efforts of the entire IHRFG team and say hearty kudos to you all for conceptualizing and pulling together a stellar, inspiring event. As a newcomer to this meeting and to the field, I felt so warmly welcomed that I fully intend to become even more actively engaged with IHRFG and its initiatives well into the future. Thank you all again for a fantastic meeting!