Investing in a New Era of Global Human Rights Leadership

Louis Bickford and Matt Easton, Ford Foundation

The human rights field faces new opportunities and complex challenges. Geopolitical power is decentralizing, shifting the focus of human rights advocacy away from traditional state champions toward emerging powers in the Global South. Building on the standard-setting successes of recent decades, human rights organizations are finding new ways to implement and enforce rights, especially for the poorest and most marginalized people. Technology is leading to new forms of oppression while opening up frontiers for civic action, human rights monitoring, and advocacy.

These realities call for a new and diverse generation of human rights leaders. To seize this moment, in 2012 the Ford Foundation invited a first round of organizations in the Global South to build on their successful national, and often international, work by submitting proposals to forge expanded, more prominent roles at the regional and international level. In October 2012 the Ford Foundation disbursed major new grants to seven human rights organizations in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, based on the recommendations of an expert selection panel.

While the Foundation will continue to fund established global human rights organizations, this initiative will provide significant support to advocates in the Global South in order to:

  • Strengthen the global human rights field by bringing in new voices and perspectives;
  • Move the concerns and perspectives of Global South communities to the center of the human rights agenda; and
  • Increase the capacity of civil society to influence governments, particularly emerging powers, to develop sound international human rights policy.

The initiative is also investing in strengthening the organizational capacity of grantees. Funded groups will be provided with funding and technical assistance to strengthen their internal capacities and to address the challenges that accompany growth, in areas such as leadership development and succession planning, identification of sustainable sources of revenue, and strengthening their organizational systems.

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