What is the Advancing Human Rights initiative?

With limited resources and immense challenges, now more than ever human rights grantmakers and advocates are asking critical questions about the human rights funding landscape: Where is the funding going? What are the gaps? Who is doing what?

The Advancing Human Rights  initiative was borne out of these questions. The initiative is led by Human Rights Funders Network and Foundation Center, in collaboration with Ariadne and Prospera, and is an effort to track the evolving state of global human rights grantmaking by collecting and analyzing grants data. The goal is to help human rights funders and advocates make more informed decisions, discover opportunities for collaboration, and be more effective in their work.

Since launching this initiative in 2010, we have developed a variety of tools to make the research findings accessible, including:

  • This website where visitors can deepen their understanding about the field of human rights philanthropy
  • A range of reports including annual analyses of the state of global funding and a look at funding trends over time
  • A funders-only map that lets donors view grants-level details and search at the intersection of issues they prioritize
  • A blog that brings the research to life by connecting the numbers to context

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 composed 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. Our research taxonomy includes 30 unique human rights categories grouped into 13 overarching issues, from "access to justice" to "social and cultural rights."

Because these rights apply to all populations, regardless of individual characteristics such as gender or ethnicity, particular identity groups are not mentioned in our definition. However, human rights grantmaking has a special focus on - even duty to support - disadvantaged or marginalized groups. In recognition of this, our research explicitly tracks human rights funding for eight populations to offer insights on funding trends related to those communities.

How do we track human rights funding from foundations?

We track human rights funding from foundations by collecting and analyzing their grants data. Each year we ask the foundations in the HRFN, Ariadne, and Prospera networks to share their grants lists with us using this template as a guide, especially these details:

• grantee name and location
• grant total and time frame
• geographic area served (including countries and cities where possible)
• grant description (including issues addressed, populations served, and funding strategies used)

Using coding and key words, we map the grants data that meet our definition of human rights grantmaking to the human rights issues, populations, and funding strategies we track. Much of the coding is done through an automated process, which we then review for accuracy. Some funders prefer to code their grants data themselves based on our research taxonomy - which we always appreciate!

Beyond our networks, our search strategies also capture grants in Foundation Center's broader data set from foundations that may not identify as human rights funders but are doing rights-related work. This provides a more robust picture of the funding landscape for human rights.

What foundations submitted grants data for our most recent analysis?

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

We began analyzing funding from bilateral and multilateral donors in 2014 to provide a more comprehensive picture of the human rights funding landscape. We worked with a committee of advisors to consider options for securing this data, and decided to use the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Creditor Reporting System (OECD-CRS).

The OECD-CRS is one of the most comprehensive data sets on aid flows available and contains information about tens of thousands of disbursements annually. The data set is limited to the 30 countries that make up the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC), along with almost 40 non-DAC countries and multilateral organizations that choose to report their giving. The data set only includes aid to countries that qualify for Official Development Assistance (ODA).

Bilateral and multilateral institutions that report their giving to the OECD-CRS can choose to assign a “human rights” code, but they can only assign one issue code for each disbursement. This means that disbursements that more closely match a different category (such as “women’s equality organizations and institutions” or “democratic participation”) won't receive a human rights code, even though that funding would meet our definition of human rights grantmaking. With this in mind, we use a combination of OECD-CRS codes and key words to capture rights-related funding. We then map that funding to the regions, populations, and human rights issues we track.

How does the trends methodology differ from our annual analyses?

We have analyzed what foundations have funded each year for 2010 to 2015. Having multiple years of data under our belt has allowed us to produce our first analysis of human rights funding trends over time to gain insights into shifts in the field. Our methodology for the trends analysis differs from our annual analyses in important ways.

Our annual analyses of funding for 2011 through 2015 included data from 1,193 funders. However, many of these funders did not participate in the research for each individual year. Consequently, the figures in our 2011-2015 trends analysis represent funding from a subset of funders: the 561 foundations that reported at least one human rights grant each year. The funding totals for the trends analysis are therefore less than the total you'd get if you add all five years of human rights funding together, since the figures for each individual year reflect the data from all funders for that year.

We have also tweaked our 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 the trends analysis, to ensure consistency, we applied the most current criteria to each year of data from 2011 to 2015.

What challenges do we face in conducting this research?

We are 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 for sharing data about human rights funding, we’ve grappled with exactly how much detail to make available. One step we’ve taken for sensitive grants is that we ask funders to list those grantees as “anonymous” and only provide information about the grant that would not compromise the safety of those grantees. There are also several funders who choose to submit their grants data anonymously. In addition, we do not provide any country-level information on this website and all sample grants are approved prior to posting. For more information on our approach to data security, please visit our guidelines on data sharing.

A second challenge is the varying levels of detail funders provide about their grants. Grant records that have only minimal information about the grantee, purpose of the grant, population served, and region of benefit 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 grant programs. To avoid double-counting, grants from private foundations to public foundations are excluded in our analysis.

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 funders outside the U.S. is a priority for this initiative. Since we began this research, the number of funders based outside North America who are sharing their grants with us has continued to grow.

Who serves on our advisory committee?

Current Members

Julie , Ariadne
Lesley , Wellspring Advisors
Augusta , Prospera
Carla , Fondo Centroamericano de Mujeres
David , Baring Foundation
Jesenia , NoVo Foundation
Ndana , Urgent Action Fund Africa
Mandy , Foundation for a Just Society

Who should you contact with questions or comments?

We welcome your input! Let us know how we can improve these resources to better support your work. To submit data or to share feedback, please contact Rachel Thomas, Director of Research Initiatives at the Human Rights Funders Network, at rthomas@hrfn.org.