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Mapping Funding for Racial Justice: A Political Imperative

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By Ana María Enríquez, HRFN Executive Director, and Kellea Miller, PhD, HRFN Deputy Director

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Since 2010, Human Rights Funders Network (HRFN) and Candid have partnered on research that maps funding for human rights globally. Our analysis provides an evidence base to understand and strengthen resourcing for social change.

Over this time, we have had a glaring omission: our research has not captured funding related to race or ethnicity, despite significant and global human rights work in this area.

Though we will explain in greater detail below what this has meant and how we are addressing it, we first must acknowledge and own the impact. We have not lived up to HRFN’s potential to contribute to a more coordinated philanthropic response to systemic racism and inequality. And we have compounded the invisibility of those working for racial justice, Black liberation, and equity based on ethnic or racial identity. We are changing our analysis and shifting our practices to be fully accountable to racial justice movements.

Understanding “population” categories

For over a decade, our annual Advancing Human Rights research has mapped trends in funding for human rights, breaking down funding into three major categories: issues, strategies, and populations. These categories build off of the extensive taxonomy Candid has developed over years — based on data from over 17 million grants — which we have jointly adapted to capture work related to human rights.

We use a population lens to ask whose rights a given grant aims to protect or advance. In our past annual research, we have tracked eight population categories: 1) children and youth; 2) human rights defenders; 3) Indigenous peoples; 4) LGBTQI; 5) migrants and refugees; 6) people with disabilities; 7) sex workers; and 8) women and girls. Several of these, such as human rights defenders and sex workers, have been added over the years to be responsive to the human rights field.1

Our “population” categorization does not reflect complex lived identities. It also does not tell us who is leading the work. These are limitations of the data, self-reported from funders or gathered through tax reporting, and methodological trade-offs to take a global, cross-issue approach.2

That said, our research has long provided one of the most comprehensive snapshots of human rights funding. Looking across years and areas illuminates trends, uncovers gaps, and provides comparisons within the field. For instance, our findings have been useful tools to advocate for more funding for disability rights3 and to highlight the ways in which feminist movements could be more effectively resourced.

Tracking race and ethnicity

Our research aims to show the big picture of funding within the human rights field. Without race and ethnicity, this picture is incomplete. Though not justifiable, this omission has stemmed, in part, from genuine concern about what we can accurately measure. As we center racial justice and a decolonizing approach to all of our work at HRFN, we know we must do better — both in our own analysis and in what we demand of the field at large.

The limitations of data related to racial or ethnic groups are even greater than in other areas. As Candid’s Director of Research Standards, Anna Koob, writes, “There are many different methodological approaches to take in analyzing grants data for racial equity and communities of color, but it’s fair to say that they lead to the same conclusion: a colorblind approach to funding predominates in philanthropy.” Even in the U.S., where Candid has tracked the boom of racial justice funding commitments over the past year, the data is inconclusive and difficult to parse. There are two driving factors. First, funders report less specificity about funding for ethnic and racial groups than they do for other populations like Indigenous peoples or women and girls4. Second, funders aren’t reporting on this area because their grants are made without taking race or ethnicity into consideration explicitly. For human rights, such a “colorblind” approach is deeply troubling and reflective of the histories of power and race that have been roundly critiqued, both within philanthropy and beyond.

Our human rights research also faces the complication of internationalizing a category that is varied across global contexts. For instance, how do we code for Black communities in majority-Black countries or continents? What is considered a grant to address racial justice in Latin America versus in Eastern Europe and Central Asia? And to what extent can we develop a consistent taxonomy out of the data available to accurately reflect what we know: that distinct and powerful movements are fighting for rights related to race and ethnicity around the world?

In discussing how to include race and ethnicity in our research, we have been deeply concerned about using too broad a brush or presenting analysis that is too context-specific to represent global work.

Yet, these are challenges we must address. For us, including this category is a political imperative. Though it comes far later than we wish, we hope the data we gather can contribute to a more robust and responsive funding ecosystem, particularly as funders make unprecedented commitments to racial justice.

A new approach

As HRFN works toward a vision of just and open philanthropy, we have spent significant time with peers and our research partners to creatively track giving related to race and ethnicity. What is presented in our current Advancing Human Rights analysis is a first pass, and one on which we welcome input and commentary.

Starting with this year’s research, Candid and HRFN have introduced the population “racial and ethnic groups” to our analysis to help us better understand the scope of these important resources. We have constructed a new taxonomy to identify people of African, Asian, Latin American, and Middle Eastern descent outside of majority contexts and have gone to great lengths to refine our coding to accurately capture grants for racial or ethnic groups.

For example, while the majority of grants meant to benefit Sub-Saharan Africa would benefit people of African descent, we do not include all of them as supporting “racial and ethnic groups.” Rather, we include grants where race or ethnicity, or racial or ethnic identity, are an explicit focus of the funding – for instance, a grant to provide legal services for migrant Maasai women in Tanzania. Funding for Afro-descendent communities in Latin America would also be considered in this category, as would organizing in support of Black lives in the United States.5

Of note, Indigenous rights are represented in a separate category in which funders identify the population as Indigenous, or the funders or recipients have a specific focus on Indigenous communities. We found remarkably little overlap in these categories: only three grants were identified as benefitting Indigenous groups and other racial and ethnic communities. This suggests that there is a need for both more accurate tracking by funders and strengthened grant coding by us.

The results of introducing this population category are illuminating: In 2018, at $893 million and 4,911 grants, racial and ethnic groups were named as beneficiaries of more human rights grants and grant dollars than any other population category we track.

Of grants that specified a population (two-thirds of the data set), 39% fall into this category, followed by 33% of grants that named women and girls. Of total grant dollars, 24% included an explicit focus on racial and ethnic groups, again followed by women and girls at 20%.

This data tells us what funding looked like in 2018. With it, we have an invaluable baseline to watch shifts over the past two years of mobilization for racial justice. Without it, we would not have been able to contribute to this critical conversation in human rights.

Moving forward

At HRFN, we see data not only as information, but as power. We will continue to reflect on how our own politics can and should align with the politics and praxis of human rights — and genuinely welcome feedback and insight on this learning journey. We are doing internal anti-racism work within our organization and with peer networks. We are partnering with racial justice funders and organizers to bring an anti-racist and decolonizing lens to all of our programming and building shared definitions in a global context. And we are developing new content, such as our Global Solidarity Series, with peers.

We are also taking action in how we track and share data. We don’t only want to stay in the category of “race and ethnicity,” but to dig deeper into what the data can (and can’t) tell us. For instance, we are currently collaborating with the Black Feminist Fund to analyze funding for Black feminist organizing — finding both underreporting and dire underresourcing at the intersections of racial and gender justice.

In addition, we are attentive to ways our research can help push the field toward greater accountability. The data on racial and ethnic groups will be available online starting next year and will be a part of all future reports. We are using our findings to highlight the lack of detailed reporting and to encourage funders to provide more robust data as a matter of transparency and accountability. Showing that with data is a start; organizing for change is an imperative. In this area, we have only just begun and invite partners on this journey.

Finally, we want to state definitively: HRFN affirms movements for Black lives, stands for racial justice in all the forms it takes around the world, and knows that Black, Indigenous, oppressed caste, religious minority, and people of color communities are on the forefront of human rights movements on every continent. We are in a process of learning and unlearning, along with the larger field of funding for human rights. We hope our findings can be in service of these movements now and into the future.

If you would like to be involved in future conversations related to HRFN’s research or the politics and practice of funding for racial justice, please subscribe to our newsletter. If you have questions about the research, write to us at

[1] In our 2010 Benchmark Report, we included a more expansive number of populations, including “ethnic or racial minorities,” “crime and abuse victims,” and “economically disadvantaged.” These were not included in our regular, ongoing analysis.

[2] For more on our methodology, see Advancing Human Rights: Annual Global Review of Global Foundation Grantmaking, page 21.

[3] See The Advancing Human Rights Research: What Have We Learned?, pages 10 and 12.

[4] We see similar challenges disaggregating funding among LGBTQI communities. Here, we recognize the importance of deeper, population-specific analysis, such as the annual Global Resources Report: Government & Philanthropic Support for LGBTI Communities by Global Philanthropy Project and Funders for LGBTQ Issues, who undertake significant outreach with LGBTQI funders to unpack giving trends. Using extensive, field-wide data allows us to have a view across human rights issues, but also underscores the challenge of broad analyses and areas where funders’ reporting could be much stronger.

[5] In separate articles later this year, we are also conducting deeper analysis to look at funding for Black-led feminist organizing around the world and intersectional resourcing, including with attention to racial justice.

[6] See Advancing Human Rights: Annual Global Review of Global Foundation Grantmaking, page 15.

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