The following questions are meant to help spark the conversation:
- Do human rights defenders think their security is important?
- What are the barriers to integrating well-being into security for an organization? How do we integrate well-being into security on an organizational level? What are the structures that we know exist? What works and what does not work? Share your examples.
- Where and when is well-being and security addressed in an organizational context?
- What are the barriers to integrating well-being into security for individuals? What support is available?
- From a community perspective, what are the barriers to integrating well-being into security for human rights practitioners?
Share your thoughts, ideas and stories to this discussion thread by adding your comments below, or responding to existing comments.
I believe that one of the very first challenges we face, as practitioners and human rights defenders, in working successfully and sustainably on developing integrated security protection mechanisms is this: to challenge an underlying belief that individual security is not as important as the work.
To put it another way, that it is worth dying for the cause.
I recognize that this is not the attitude of all defenders, and much is being done to challenge this, but I want to spark a debate early on in our conversation to explore this and other elements that create a 'culture' of human rights defense and activism.
Thanks all for developing this thread. I find Jane's point very interesting. It does seem that many hrds do really face risking their lives for their work. But I don't think the decision to risk death for a cause has to be a decision made in opposition to a decision to try to be well.
It seems to me that it's possible to both accept this risk and to address the implications of accepting the risk in order to be well.
This reflection is not necessarily aimed at social organizations like political parties and social committees which Human Rights Defenders (HRD) are also part of, but aims basically at the civil society organizations that exercise democratic control in favor of the common good and are guided by values, political principles and the mission to build a sustainable world, with social justice, solidarity and respect for human rights, cultural, environmental, social etc. – in other words the Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) field.
So, let me start with a quite familiar description that I have heard recently:
This enthusiastic narrative describes relatively well what we sometimes find working with HRD, some kind of identity, mission and values. For them, the work must give meaning, sense and identity to the collective. But then sometimes this narrative does not have a happy end:
Maybe this is something we don’t hear often if we don’t get close to HRD. Of course this is originated by complex reasons, however, part of this may be originated by what I call here as “shock of ideology” present inside of some NGOs ways of working and their organizational culture. This challenges the integration of well-being in all levels, individual, organizational and communal.
In the past, terms such as “organizational management” were repudiated by their association with the market business culture and its economic logic, identified as incompatible with a non-profit organization. However, for several reasons, it is notable that nonprofit organizations started to absorb practices and models from the business sector and try to adapt them to the logic of the civil society – and here is where the shock of ideologies resides – as an absorption of new Ethos.
The market language (and ideology) started to occupy the NGO way of work. Pragmatic words like strategic planning, objectives, indicators, goals, results, performance review, competences panel, human resources, etc, became prerequisite. The vocabulary banned in the past has become a slogan.
The consequences of this shock of ideology are many and far beyond what is possible to be explored here, but I can say they are often present in every step of the program cycle and office management. For example, some recruitment processes find people with technical expertise that can be discovered through a competence panel, but it does not really take into account their inspiration for work, what they really believe, what motivates them. Some Human Resources managers even say they are looking for someone that can get the job done, not caring what they believe or who they are – this is clearly a business model.
The implication of this modern NGO methodology, effective, relevant, creative and “exemplary” performance by their standards, has invaded the entire structure, is actually, a world of misery.
The consequences are many and my provocation is that humanitarian work cannot be seen as work that can be done in the same way as the business sector. I’m not saying it is better or not, but just saying it has to be different. The Civil Societies institutions have a unique nature. They are oriented by values and not for profit and its technology of control and power. To not lose consistency with its identity and mission, the Civil Societies depend on the development of their own logic.
How is this related to wellbeing and security? The short answer is that the ways organizations operate do affect what individuals believe, and what they believe is often the cornerstone of their well being.
I would have many more thoughts to continue in this direction, but I think it is enough for an initial provocation. I know this can be very controversial, but it is at least good to have this as a consideration in our debate here.
Oh, I hope I’m not giving an impression of being too critical. I do acknowledge that there are many important aspects we can and have to learn and absorb from the business sector, however, not without any reflection.
I have been pondering Jane's comment Is security important? today. She wrote:
Then I read Marcio's post about conversations that he has had with human rights defenders. One of the quotes really struck me:
In response to the challenge that Jane and others face, I suppose that some human rights defenders see the possibility of having a meaningful and fruitful profession as requiring one to give up on concepts such as security and self-care. For some, it looks like a choice - "I would rather do something rewarding and connected to my identity then feel safe and well."
My head knows that this is a false choice - that you don't have to choose one over the other, and that this work will no longer be rewarding when you are hurt. But I come back to Jane's point that this is a belief that is hard to shake - as we see in Marcio's conversations.
Thank you so much Edna for sharing this link of a good example of applying wellbeing in the work culture. When I saw the title "Creating organization with a Soul", I confess that for one second I had many insights, and maybe, this would be even an expanded definition of my previous post, or an ideal title for the next one. Also, it is a very good response to my previous discussion and, at the same time, a recognition of the need to have this discussion on the table. This reality is so present, that there is a need to create another world where there is no fear of be regarded as "unprofessional".
It is not possible to know the specific context of that workshop, but we can feel the words - The care in creating an open, inclusive and welcoming space - It is interesting to see the word accuracy in describing the space with no hierarchy, no speeches, no "queen mothers" or any other way of Reification.
A special invitation for horizontal relation where everyone can contribute, no one is the absolute owner or responsible, but a space where we share. And the sharing as a key transformation and the real producer of creativity engineered by the dialogue. As Paulo Freire, a Brazilian social educator said, knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.
The experience also gives us a possible direction "the process helped many of us realize that it is legitimate to bring who we are into the work we do. What we need is to create organizations with a soul."
But why give permission for only a specific time limit (two days), or over the so called "retreats", to be with "who we are", why not integrating identity and work culture as the rule and not the exception? What if we challenge organizational practices responsible for producing environments of not real, but cynical, identities?
I am joining this dialogue rather late ... but have been following the conversations - so rich, and I am learning so much. I agree with all that has been said, my aspirations- and fears resonate with all that have been expressed. I am struck by the 2 questions Marcios posed, quoted above:
1. Why do we permit ourslves to "be with who we are" only during the couple of days of a "retreat"... why not do this as the rule and not the exception?
2. What if we challenge organisational practices responsible for producing environments of not real, but cynical identities?
Why? and what if.... ? and how to do it in a positive and creative way? We know that organisations are made by people, but then they begin to have a life of their own, and begin to affect the lives and of those very people who created them. I have worked with a number of organisations, and very few, if any, offer the environment to "integrate identity and work culture", and certainly not as the rule....
So this is my quest.,, my project: how to create an organisation / work culture that nurtures, inspires and sustains .... that has a soul?
I know that there are a myriad literature on organisational development but what we are concerned with here goes beyond the concepts of efficient and effective functioning. I would appreciate tips on resources on this.
You have completed your thoughts and question already with a great indication for an answer. Indeed, awareness is a crucial agent for change. I see this as the first and crucial step that may initiate a series of changes. A possible direction would be helping organizations to have this kind of discussion on the table and see how much of their internal reality is related to what we appointed here as a place "with or without soul". Some of the jobs I have had in other places encouraged reflection in realizing that organizations are made by and for people, and not by and for numbers, results or titles.
I know... this kind of reflection faces lots of resistance, especially by the ones that are already immersed and have internalized this kind of dynamic, and feel threatened by a horizontal conversation. The idea is not to confront the resistance, it does not work, the resistance is built to resist, to protect the structure, and if we confront the resistance we will only make it even stronger and justify its existence. So actually, it shows that the structure is no longer needed if we give conditions of less competitiveness, less power dynamics and more commitment and acknowledgement to the absolute human weakness - that is an inevitable portion of the human being. This acknowledgement is what may make us stronger and closer to who we are. Maybe with this, we can "disarm" the structure and open up the possibility of a place with a soul. It is very beautiful to see when people are able to share not only how good, bright, competent, fantastic they are, but also, their fears and weaknesses. It is just too beautiful!
Oh and by the way - while asserting that feminist critique of public/ private divide signifies an important turning point in the human rights discourse which resonates in how we , as human rights defenders, should critically examine at our own public/ private sheres of existence; I would like to challenge the notion that only WRHDs are mindful about 'well-being'. There are serious limitations in this binary gender construction especially in this topic of well-being.
Thank you all for opening up this important area of discussion - the importance of choice, along with the intersection of our personal, organizational and societal aspects and demands we face in our lives.
As we look at the recent and on-going events in the Middle East being termed the "Arab Spring," we see the incredible passion, energy, commitment and significant RISK (including many deaths, injuries and imprisonments) that people from all walks of life have decided to take in order to reach for POTENTIAL changes in their societies. Major shifts and upheavals in governments have taken place in Tunisia and Egypt, with on-going demands for changes still under contention in many other countries in the Middle East. Alix, from Egypt, shared about the great mutual support examples in her post Group-supported self-care and now the day-to-day work for civil society organizations and HRDs is critical.
In that regard, I want to highlight three points about organizations, organizational culture and choice made by Marcio in his post Shock of ideologies and in addition to Edna's post above, a quote from an external blog post she recommended. I think these are incredibly important aspects to address when we speak of self care and security - and how we make our choices as individuals and organizations.
This leads to the blog post Edna shared (an excellent read) - here's a just a quick quote:
The notion that our own exhaustion contributes to organizational failure was revelatory to many of us who survive in a work culture where the soul is often disconnected from the work that we do as individuals. This inevitably creates a toxic atmosphere, increased frustration and a sense of ‘I am doing this because I need money but this is not where I should be’ in our approach to work.
It’s easy to put work at the centre of our lives. But along the way we can lose sight of the whole system, of ourselves, of sisterhood [and brotherhood] and of the essence of that which connects us as human beings. In the name of professionalism we become isolated; we lose our creativity, audacity, energy and love of our work. The work itself loses meaning and we end up feeling perpetually angry, anxious over deadlines, fatigued and lonely. The process helped many of us realize that it is legitimate to bring who we are into the work we do. What we need is to create organizations with a soul.
What examples can people share regarding the intersection between organizational structures - that not only open the space but support individuals in their choices for well-being and security? AND
What examples do people have where individuals are making those choices on well-being and security for themselves and pushing their organizations on that front?
I am so impressed by how quickly this dialogue has progressed and the array of ideas and suggestions that are emerging. On one end of the dialogue spectrum, we are discussing structural issues, on the other end, we are beginning to list different practical resources around communications, security and well-being.
The first two questions in the dialogue have sparked discussions that are identifying some of the structural/societal constructs that pose some barriers to defender's ability ensure their own security and well-being, including:
Intersectionality/Identity: the ways in which who we are as hrds and the issues we work on affect both the risks we face and the support systems we can count on when we are dealing with a security/wellness challenge.
Gendered expectations that affect hrds of all genders (I particularly appreciated both Nancy and Michael's reflections on how expectations of 'toughness' underpins some of the human rights defense world).
The corporatization of human rights work -- the ‘shock of ideology’ that Marcio raises, which is a fascinating and important structural issue around how we construct our activist world and implement our actions. The increasing tendency to believe that ‘business models are best’, or at least accept that we have to frame our work in these models, is a real challenge to our ability to focus attention on healthy and secure systems, organizations and ways of defending human rights. Perhaps a much longer conversation, but one of the driving forces behind this, I feel, is also the rise of ‘philanthrocapitalist’ models in the grantmaking world (which demand ‘bang for the buck’, constant measurable outputs and systems that don’t fit).
Resilience and Power of Activism
Which brings us to another, critical thread that is emerging in our discussion -- which, for me, is around identity, choice, resilience, power... and soul.
At its core is something very important and powerful -- what drives human beings to become human rights defenders? To make that choice? What draws us to the work?
I believe that human rights defenders choose this work because they are driven by real passion, commitment and an overriding belief that they can do something to change the world, to shift power -- to change the power constructs that oppress.
This is the heart and the soul of the choice to step up and act.
And this is what sustains human rights defenders, in spite of the challenges, the security risks and the health threats they face. The elements that continue to sustain them over the journey include the support and solidarity they have from friends, family, community, other human rights defenders. The acknowledgement, respect, value and love that they feel from others -- the sense that their efforts are valuable.
And absolutely, every minute of every day, human rights defenders are making choices. They are making choices that are rooted in their belief and love for the work. But I think what we are bringing out here is how some of these choices are also influenced by so many other external factors, social constructs and pressures, ideas that we internalized about our own sense of individual value.
We are not talking about judging those choices, or suggesting that the choices are mindless in any way.
Instead, we are talking about creating more possibilities -- building on the resilience, the passion and the potential of the movement to create a culture of activism where we support each other, where we increase the choices, where we model ways of being active that celebrates the human rights work -- and equally, the human beings who are human rights defenders.
I was so struck by Alix’s comment about how activists supported each other in Tahir Square and I echo Nancy’s question, wanting to know more -- why did they make this choice to create both a powerful and sustainable response? What was it that helped them make this choice, to support each other in this way?
I would love to hear more examples of how defenders around the world have created models of working that are safe and sustainable (Jesse mentioned Udefegua in Guatemala in another thread, great example).
As a final thought, reflecting back on Marcio’s thoughts on business models, I wanted to share a conversation I had yesterday with my sister. During a discussion of the work of children’s rights activists in her area, I asked her ‘Why do you all continue doing such heartbreaking work? What is it that keeps everyone going’?
And she replied: ‘It’s simple. It’s the business of love.’
Yes it's a flow of love from within that inspires us to act on behalf of others. When we are able to stay connected to that flow of love, the flow of life, rising up from within, this will go a long way to protecting us from harm. However it is a challenge for many organisations to openly acknowledge the role that love plays in motivating people to become involved in this work and to nuture and support a connection to heart. Organisations are more often comfortable ignoring these qualities and focussing on ‘bang for the buck’ and surface value 'business models'. To be effective in life we need both the head and the heart engaged, and organisations need to reflect both those qualities as well.
The work of Human Rights Defenders is essentially dealing with organisations where the hearts of the people within them have closed down. When our heart is closed down we can do the most damage. This applies equally to both tjose outside and within the HRD organisation. So for HRDs to be safe it is important that in becoming busy with the many tasks in hand, that HRD organisations do not lose the connection to heart in what they do and how they treat the people involved.
Thank you Mike, for talking about the core of our work (and what keeps us going) -- love. It is hard to talk about sometimes, but its the reason for everything we do -- love for others. And that is why, as you rightly point out, we need to always keep our connection to this core, and to our hearts.
I appreciate that other participants in the dialogue have also brought in the element of the soul. I remember Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi talking about bringing the soul back into our movements many years ago, and her words always stayed with me.
In another thread of the discussion, we've started talking about forming a security and well-being network of practitioners, defenders and grantmakers. Part of that discussion has included discussing some of the core values and principles of this type of network -- and I think keeping love -- the heart and soul of our work -- central to everything we do should be included.
What gets in the way? where and when is well-being and security addressed in an organizational context? Do HRD their security is important?
A. What gets in the way of integrating well-being into security from teh individual, organisational, community perspectives?
Many variables overlap the ‘limit’ between individual, organisational and community levels simply because they have an impact on each of them. Here is just a short brainstorming:
A HRD is an ordinary person,activist, resourceful etc and with family and friends. How can one tell family and friends that they too are exposed to risk ‘because’ of one’s activities?
The fear of the fear, the impression that one can’t do much about it, nor the organisation, the feeling of guilt for not doing enough or not being able to protect oneself and others.
The perception of the risk by the HRD itself at individual and organisational level, at community level also. Perception of risk is conditioned by so many factors, culture inclusive.
Expectations that HRD ‘feel’ others put on them or viceversa...
Very complex. yet all that + work overload (often as a way to sublimate feelings) contibute to increasing teh level of stress which has an impact on the behaviour and thus on security.
That and more can contribute to the refusal of talking about the risk, the danger, the fear and explore the possibility to share the load of the risk among many, as a protection and security strategy.
B. Where and when is well-being and security addressed in an organisational context?
From my experience, if the risk analysis is conducted in an organisation, and tne 'psychological' variable is taken into account, there is 'hope' that well-being will be included in the security plan. It is not easy to achieve yet it is possible to start talking about it, calling things by their names, recognising that it is not an individual matter but collective as it has an impact on one's own security and consequently, also of everyone.
It helps if the organisation makes a point in 'talking' about well-being as essential and not as a luxury given the context of conflict in which the organisation is.
C. Do HRD think their security is important? .
Yes, I think they do beyond what they then do with it. They might have difficulties with giving space to feelings, emotions as part of the security process. It also depends on the role they have in teh organisation, the culture, personal education etc. If well-being mainstreaming was promoted as part of protection/security strategy then, it might be possible to demystify feelings such as fear and give it a role. Get familiar to fear, in the sense of getting to know it and how the individual recats to it/does with it. Fear is neither a vulnerability or capacity It exist. it's human, asexual, transborder/culture etc. It's what the HRD will do with it that will make it a vulnerability or capacity.
Have a nice saturday.
Thanks so much for your thoughts on all of the questions, and I was particularly struck by your answer to whether or not human rights defenders think security is important:
I agree completely. And I think that we are all working to create that space to, as you say, 'demystify fear' and mainstream well-being into security.
Thanks for your thoughts!