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The Principles Project: Human Rights Principles for Human Rights Grantmaking

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In addition to what foundations fund, an important consideration in human rights philanthropy is also how they fund. Do they recognize the power dynamics at play? Are they funding the communities most affected by injustice and inequality? Are they transparent and accountable in their decision making? In short, do they adhere to the human rights principles their grantmaking seeks to uphold?

In early 2019, Human Rights Funders Network joined forces with sister networks Ariadne – European Funders for Social Change and Human Rights, and Philanthropy Advancing Women’s Human Rights (PAWHR) to launch the Principles Project. Through this project, we seek to harness the rich experiences of our collective memberships and build shared understanding about what constitutes a human rights approach to grantmaking.

As an early step in the project, we formed an Advisory Team comprised of eight funders who are members of HRFN, Ariadne, and PAWHR. With their guidance, we developed a survey to better understand our members’ views on and experience using principles in grantmaking. Over 130 funders from 21 countries responded, sharing a wealth of feedback about what it means to be a human rights funder and how human rights principles are guiding their work. They overwhelming agreed that values or principles should guide grantmaking, but their confidence declined when they reflected on whether their foundations have guiding principles, and the extent to which their staff are using those principles in practice.

Informed by these responses, we worked closely with the Advisory Team to draft a set of aspirational human rights grantmaking principles* to support and challenge our networks to live up to a higher standard. We collected feedback on the draft from January to March 2020 through various mechanisms, including a series of virtual town halls and in-person events, a funder survey for our members, and a civil society survey for organizations that receive human rights grants. We are presently incorporating the recommendations and finalizing the principles. The next step for the Principles Project will be to jointly explore how funders can apply these principles in practice.

For questions about the project, please contact us at

We appreciate the contributions of our Advisory Team:

Monica Aleman, Ford Foundation
Julie Broome, Ariadne
Lesley Carson, Wellspring Philanthropic Fund
Juliette Decoster, Charles Léopold Mayer Foundation
Tracey Gurd, American Jewish World Service
Annie Hillar, PAWHR
Rebecca Landy, HRFN
Valeria Scorza, Avina Fundación
Yervand Shirinyan, Open Society Foundations
Tulika Srivastava, Women’s Fund Asia
Olivia Tchamba, TrustAfrica
Rachel Thomas, HRFN

Thanks also to Jenna Capeci for her consulting support.

* The materials produced through the Principles Project are open source and free for anyone to use and incorporate in their work. Please reference “The Principles Project, a collaboration of Human Rights Funders Network (HRFN), Ariadne – European Funders for Social Change and Human Rights, and Philanthropy Advancing Women’s Human Rights (PAWHR).”

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