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IHRFG’s 2014 New York Conference: Funding for the Long- and the Short-Term

IHRFG recently held its semi-annual conference and pre-conference institute in New York. Over the coming weeks, 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!

NYHQ2009-2313You can’t deal with long-term challenges with short term measures.”  This quote by a human rights defender from Africa, contained in the excellent report Keeping Defenders Safe: A Call to Donor Action, succinctly summarises for me one of the biggest challenges we face as funders of human rights, irrespective of where and on what issues we might focus.  How do we effectively manage the tensions that exist between the need to demonstrate impact in order to secure the necessary resources within our own organisations (not to mention attracting other funders into the area) and the incremental nature of social change, especially in the case of unpopular, marginalised and minority issues?  While this difference in timeframes arose in a number of sessions, we seem to skirt the issue, never really engaging with it in meaningful way, seeming rather to accept it as a given about which there is not much we can do.   I wonder if this is the case and whether there is value in engaging in a frank and fuller discussion to explore different approaches used to address the security of resources available to advocates over time to achieve impact, and the possibility of harnessing the diversity of operating styles and imperatives across foundations, to address this challenge more effectively.  It would seem that the ever-increasing influence of corporations on the Human Rights agenda would necessitate such a conversation.

This takes me to my second reflection.  After three days of informative presentations and intense conversations, we return to our separate corners of the globe and slices of the human rights agenda. The importance of opportunities to come together to share knowledge and contacts, to discuss common challenges, build new relationships and networks, challenge our own thinking are all too infrequent in all of our busy schedules.  We leave with a heightened sense of the inter-related nature of human rights and the size of the challenge that confronts us, individually and collectively.  We leave somewhat tired but also re-energised with new ideas and approaches that we might usefully explore and implement.  In hearing about the work of others we become acutely aware of the difficult choice we have made in focusing down on our own specific issues and geographies in order to achieve impact.  We desire to do more but know that our own resources are limited.  But are there ways to do more that do not require additional resources?

In both this meeting and that of Ariadne, the network of European Funders for Social Change and Human Rights, in Barcelona earlier this year, when panellists were asked what more funders could do, one of the first points made was to do no harm.   A similar point was made when discussing how to engage with corporations and make them more accountable.  Are we aware of the potential unintended consequences of what and how we fund?  How much time do we spend during our due diligence and approval process to consider issues of intersectionality? Are we aware of how the grantees and activities we support might include or exclude those that are not our specific focus?  For example, are people with disabilities included and, if not, what harm might this further exclusion cause them?   Is it possible that, by adding this extra step to our decision-making processes, we could not only encourage greater collaboration between organisations across different issues but strengthen advocacy without significantly increasing costs or diluting our focus?

A final thought: Talking Truth to Power took on a whole new meaning at this meeting!

Thanks to everyone for their willingness to listen, share and engage – we are stronger for it.


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