What is the Advancing Human Rights initiative?

With limited resources and immense challenges, human rights funders and advocates increasingly recognize the importance of understanding the existing landscape to inform their grantmaking decisions: Where is the funding? Where are the gaps? Who is doing what, where?

Advancing Human Rights: Knowledge Tools for Funders was born out of these questions. The initiative is an ongoing effort to track the evolving state of global human rights funding and to create a set of dynamic, interactive data and research tools to help human rights funders and advocates increase their effectiveness. This work is led by the Human Rights Funders Network and Foundation Center, in collaboration with Ariadne – European Funders for Social Change and Human Rights and Prospera – the International Network of Women’s Funds.

Since this initiative launched in early 2010, we have released several tools, including:

  • The first-ever quantitative and qualitative analysis of the state of global human rights grantmaking;
  • Annual follow-up analyses of the state of global human rights funding; and
  • This research hub, which enables grantmakers, NGO staff, activists, researchers, and academics to deepen their learning about the field of human rights philanthropy.

How is human rights grantmaking defined?

The first step in analyzing the state of human rights funding was adopting a shared definition of human rights grantmaking. Under the guidance of an advisory committee of nine human rights funders, and in consultation with other human rights grantmakers and leading human rights activists, we adopted a definition that emphasizes funding in pursuit of structural change to ensure the protection and enjoyment of rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and subsequent human rights treaties.

The final definition encompasses 30 unique issue areas grouped into 13 overarching areas of activity, from access to justice to environmental and resource rights. Because these rights apply to all populations, regardless of individual characteristics such as ethnicity or gender, particular identity groups are not explicitly referenced within these issue definitions. The research instead pulls out key population groups to allow for examinations of human rights grantmaking through an identity-based lens. Starting with 2013 data, we have also begun analyzing the strategies supported by human rights funding. These analyses are included both on this website and in our Key Findings reports.

How do we track human rights funding by foundations?

Based on the working definition of human rights grantmaking adopted for this research initiative, Foundation Center, HRFN, and advisors developed strategies for “mapping” actual grants data to each of the issue areas created for the project. This process used existing issue and population coding, along with keywords, to classify human rights grants data. To ensure that human rights grantmaking is captured even more precisely going forward, Foundation Center also added five new issue codes (labor rights, cultural rights, environmental and resource rights, freedom from violence/torture, marriage rights) and one new population code (sex workers) to its standard taxonomy.

Data sets used for this analysis include grants data submitted by members of the Human Rights Funders Network, Ariadne – European Funders for Social Change and Human Rights, and Prospera – the International Network of Women’s Funds, as well as Foundation Center’s annual FC 1000 research set of comprehensive grants information from 1,000 of the largest U.S. foundations.

The research captures all grants that were assigned human rights coding through the search strategies developed for this initiative. As a result, all grantmaking that falls within the working definition of human rights grantmaking has been included, even funding by grantmakers who do not consider themselves “human rights funders.”

How do we track human rights funding by bilateral and multilateral donors?

Recognizing that foundation support for human rights provides an incomplete picture of available funding, in late 2014 HRFN and Foundation Center began researching financial support from bilateral and multilateral donors.

After consulting with an advisory committee of human rights funders and considering various routes for securing data on government giving, we decided to access data through the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Creditor Reporting System (OECD-CRS). This system is one of the most comprehensive data sets on aid flows, containing publicly available information about tens of thousands of disbursements annually. This data set is limited to the 29 donor members of the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC) as of 2014, as well as a select number of non-DAC countries and multilateral organizations who choose to report (in 2014, 34 non-member donors reported) and only includes aid to countries qualifying for Official Development Assistance (ODA).

Donors submitting data to the OECD-CRS can choose to assign a “human rights” code. However, disbursements are only able to receive one issue code. Any disbursement for which the focus more closely matched a different category (such as “women’s equality organizations and institutions” or “democratic participation”) would not receive a human rights code, even though the funding would meet our definition of human rights. To ensure our research didn’t miss this funding, we utilized a combination of OECD-CRS codes and key words to capture rights-related support coded under a different category. We then mapped the human rights disbursements to the same 13 major-level human rights categories, as well as the regional designations and population groups used in our research on foundation giving.

How are grants in support of multiple areas captured?

Human rights grants often focus on multiple population groups, regions, strategies, or issues — e.g., migrant women and their children or Latin America and the Caribbean. Because grants focusing on multiple populations, regions, or strategies do not specify the exact amount that targets each area, the full value of these grants is counted in the totals for each specified population or region. In order to provide unique totals and avoid double-counting of dollars by issue area, each grant has been assigned to exactly one issue category within the human rights taxonomy. The search strategies have been devised to assign grants focusing on multiple areas to the most appropriate issue category, and manual review of select grants supplements this approach.

The overall total for human rights grantmaking ($2.4 billion in 2015) excludes double-counting of grants that focus on more than one population group, region, or strategy.

How does the trends methodology differ from previous years?

The Advancing Human Rights research has grown each year. The research has included 1,193 funders over the past five analyses. However, many of these funders did not provide grants data for each year of the research. To account for these variables, the figures presented in our trends data represent funding from the “matched subset” – 561 foundations who made at least one human rights grant in each year, 2011-2015. These figures are therefore smaller than those listed on an individual year’s page, where figures reflect all data available for that year, regardless of whether each funder’s data was available for other years.

We have also tweaked our methodology and search criteria over the course of the project, in an ongoing effort to improve accuracy and reflect learning in the field. The criteria used to identify human rights grants has therefore varied slightly from year to year. In these trends data, to ensure consistency, we applied the most current criteria to each year of data, 2011-2015.

What challenges did we encounter?

This initiative is committed to providing information to human rights grantmakers and advocates about the state of human rights funding, while ensuring that this information does not put grantees at risk. As we’ve developed tools through which to share data about human rights funding, we’ve grappled with exactly how much detail to make available.

One key step we’ve taken for sensitive grants is that we ask funders to list the grantee as “anonymous” when submitting their data and to provide only the information about the grant that would not compromise the safety of that grantee. There are also several funders who choose to submit their grants data anonymously. We chose not to provide any information at the country-level on this website, and all sample grants have received prior approval from the funder. For more information about how we balance these concerns with transparency, please see our project security plan.

A second challenge relates to the varying levels of detail provided in the grants data submitted by funders. Grant records with minimal information about the grantee, purpose of the grant, and population and geography supported can make it difficult to accurately capture the nuances of human rights funding.

Re-granting poses another challenge in accurately capturing human rights grantmaking. In some cases, private foundations make grants to support the work of public foundations, which operate their own grants programs. To avoid double-counting this funding, grants from private foundations to public foundations were excluded from the research data set.

Another challenge has been capturing the full global landscape of human rights funding. Grants for North America account for a large proportion of the funding we track, due to the relative accessibility of data from the U.S., where funders are legally required to make this information publicly available. Collecting data from more international funders is a key priority for this initiative. Since we began this research, the number of funders based outside North America sharing grants data has increased from 49 to 114.

How can you help to improve this research?

We encourage you to use this site to better understand the funding landscape for the issues, populations, strategies, and regions of interest to you. Read the case studies and blog posts to learn more about grantmaking strategies and recent successes within the human rights field. We welcome your feedback! Let us know how we can improve these resources to better support your work.

We thank all of the funders who have shared their grants data with us. Detailed grants data is essential to capturing an accurate picture of human rights philanthropy - this research has been made possible because of you. If you have not yet submitted data on your human rights funding, please contact us. We would love to include your grantmaking.

To submit data or to share feedback, please contact Rachel Thomas, Director of Research Initiatives, at Human Rights Funders Network, at rthomas@hrfn.org.

We also thank all of the funders who provided critical guidance and insight, as well as funding, in support of this initiative. The Advancing Human Rights: Knowledge Tools for Funders initiative has received funding from the Ford Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Oak Foundation, and Open Society Foundations.

Project Advisory Committee

Current Members

Julie Broome, Ariadne - European Funders for Social Change and Human Rights
Lesley Carson, Wellspring Advisors
Carla López, Fondo Centroamericano de Mujeres
Regan Ralph, Fund For Global Human Rights
David Sampson, The Baring Foundation
Jesenia Santana, NoVo Foundation
Lucía Carrasco Scherer, Prospera – the International Network of Women's Funds
Ndana Tawamba, Urgent Action Fund - Africa
Mandy Van Deven, Foundation for a Just Society

Former Members

Jo Andrews, formerly with Ariadne – European Funders for Social Change and Human Rights
Nikhil Aziz, formerly with Grassroots International
Jenna Capeci, formerly with American Jewish World Service
Quinn Hanzel, formerly with The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
LaShawn Jefferson, formerly with Ford Foundation
Mary Page, formerly with The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
Anasuya Sengupta, formerly with Wikimedia Foundation
Shari Turitz, formerly with Open Society Foundations

Foundations who Submitted Grants Data