In this discussion topic, we're documenting examples of successful (or unsuccessful) partnerships or coalition. We'd like you to reflect on your experiences and share your examples below. Consider these questions below when sharing your comments in this discussion topic:
- How did a partnership or coalition fit into your strategy? And how did you know when it did?
- What information is important to know before entering a partnership or coalition?
- What kind of partnership or coalition did you build? How was it built? Was it formalized? (If so, what did that look like? A memorandum of understanding?)
- Where were the dynamics of the inspiration for the partnership or coalition? What was the motivation?
- How do you know when it has worked? How do you measure the impact of a partnership or coalition? What are the indicators you have used? And how do you know when to end the partnership or coalition?
- What challenges did you face? How were you able to overcome these challenges and the common barriers to collaboration? When do events, statement, etc represent the coalition versus an individual member?
- Have you engaged nontraditional allies, such as police, businesses, government, etc? Please share examples of how unusual/nontraditional allies have helped move your human rights work forward.
Share your thoughts, experiences, questions, challenges and ideas by replying to the comments below.
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I would like to share a terrific example of a coalition that has stood the test of time. The Peru’s Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos (National Coordinating Coalition on Human Rights). Erika Bocanegra wrote a case study for New Tactics, “Together We Are Stronger” to share the lessons the Coordinadora has learned since it formed in 1985 and in order to stay a vibrant coalition for almost 3 decades.
I’ve taken excerpts from page 12 of the case study – it’s a terrific read for those who want to download it here: https://www.newtactics.org/sites/default/files/resources/Together-Stronger-EN.pdf (also in Spanish)
In order to support and strengthen unity over time it is important to emphasize the following points:
[Note - I left the last point aboive as written in full to help address an issue that Jesse raised yesterday regarding groups who do not want to be “officially” recognized members of the coalition. Perhaps this point can also speak to that question.]l
...although unity is protected, the coalition still has the obligation to be effective and have an impact which makes it worthwhile to continue to be a part of it. With respect to this matter the following is suggested:
I look forward to hearing about the successful coalition experiences of others.
Thanks Nancy for that great example!
Another example from a regional traditionally beset with violence shows the barriers human rights organizations overcome to work together. Central African countries, Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo share a troubled history. The Ligues des Droits de la Personne dans la Region des Grands Lacs (Human Rights League of the Greak Lakes Region, or LDGL) maintains an alliance of 27 organizations in the Great Lakes region despite persistent violence and differences between the countries and the organizations.
In order to overcome these differences, the League stresses careful and systematic dialgoue that relies on the principles of ubuntu (humanness). Using ubuntu, the League interacts with people from diverse backgrounds and cultures, successfully building dialogue and sharing information. When problems occur within the alliance, the League proceeds carefully. They adopt a multi-faceted strategy to encourage productive dialogue and problem-solving.
The Leauge identitifies passive, potential and active allies to engage in dialogue that is positive and constructive. This example shows how human rights organizations often have to bridge barriers of mistrust and differences to successfully monitor human rights abuses. Creating mechanisms to map-out allies is important for coalitions to be succesful and overcome divisions.
Read more about this tactic in our New Tactic's post.
Thanks Brittany and Nancy for these great examples of successful human rights coalitions. I have a few more to add to the list.
The Kansas University Community Tool Box offers two examples of successful community coalitions, both from the United States:
The first example is of the North Quabbin Community Coalition in central Massachusetts. In this example, a community psychologist helps to build a coalition of community groups and leaders to tackle issues of hunger, homelessness and job loss. The psychologist had many challenges to overcome (turf issues, defensiveness), but within the first year, they had substantial accomplishments to boast:
By the end of the first year, the Coalition could point to funding for an Information & Referral service, awarded, after some fairly nasty infighting among agencies, to a grassroots organization that had already been doing it on a small scale. More state money had been directed to the area, and local agencies were beginning not only to deliver more services, but to reach out to the community more. Agencies were collaborating on programs, and there was talk of case coordination for individuals involved with several different organizations.
The Coalition is still strong after 17 years. This example has some good information about how to develop a way of working together, as a coalition.
The second example is of the East Quabbin Alliance (EQUAL). This is a great example of:
"EQUAL's primary achievement has been to get a lot of the organizations in town to collaborate, cooperate, and share resources," says Stenger. "The organization has become a venue where people can come talk about what their groups are doing."
How do these examples relate to your work building partnerships and coalitions for human rights work? Share your experiences!
Thanks for sharing this example on building allies. I also wanted to respond to a comment that Kristin made in the other discussion thread - "Team up with experts (but don't become "the expert").
I would like to share the example from The Royal Marine Conservation Society of Jordan (JREDS), Building a coalition to preserve the right to public access that engaged 136 organizations and included critical assistance of experts as they built their organizing committee structures.
In order for the coalition to act effectively on many fronts, eight committees within the coalition were formed to address specific needs for the “Our Beaches Are NOT FOR SALE” campaign. The areas where experts were especially important were the committees bolded below:
Experts are able to provide a helpful role in providing effective information for leverage to organizations and communities to advocate for concrete changes.
This video features interviews with human rights advocates who partnered with volunteers through the On-call Scientists project. The human rights advocates in the video talk about how building partnerships with specialists has helped advance their work.
Thanks for sharing this resource, Theresa. I really appreciate your framing of this as one of what specialists or specialized knowledge can contribute to advancing human rights advocacy. The use of the term specialists vs experts helps to address the issue I raised in commnet #14 from our earlier conversation, namely that we should not use the term expert to refer to only those with specialist knowledge or formal training, as that can undermine the trust needed to build effective partnerships with peoples and communities who are experts in other ways.
What I also like about this piece is that it acknowledges that these specialists are also doing human rights work and so calls on us not to see the two as mutually exclusive. Thanks, again, for sharing!
One of the keys to building a strong, effective partnership is to clarify expectations at the outset of the relationship. Human Rights Projects: Guidelines for Scientists and Human Rights Organizations was created to help human rights advocates and scientists build strong partnerships, so some of the sections in this document are very specific to that type of relationship, but I think it is very useful for anyone building a new relationship with someone who doesn't share the same background or area of expertise.
This is a really valuable resource, thanks for sharing it Theresa. The discussion about the difference between legal reasoning (more deductive) and scientific reasoning (inductive) is particularly helpful for overcoming some of the challenges in working across these two disciplines. Picking up on the point you raised on Monday about the challenge of effective communication across disciplines, I wondered you knew of any resources designed to “introduce” human rights to practitioners from other disciplines? There seems to be a real need for this!
For example, during 2008 and 2009 CESR conducted an interdisciplinary research and advocacy project on the right to health, food and education in partnership with with Instituto Centroamericano de Estudios Fiscales (ICEFI), an organization which undertakes research, analysis, training and advocacy on fiscal policy in Central America. I understand from my colleagues involved in the project that skills-sharing and capacity-building was built into the project design phase – which was essential, but also a big investment of time and energy.
That said, framing health as a human rights issue in the final report (English executive summary available here), and linking it explicitly to fiscal policy, gave renewed force to ICEFI’s demands for both health and fiscal reform. The comprehensive fiscal reforms are still needed and ICEFI has continued its advocacy efforts to this end. But the transformative effect of the partnership with CESR can be seen in their uptake of human rights arguments in their work (prior to the project ICEFI didn’t identify itself as a human rights organization and now it very much does). So, relating to Kristin’s question on indicators of a successful partnership, this would be a big one in the context of interdisciplinary collaborations, I think.
Thank you for all your examples and resources. It's been really helpful for me to see that many of you are experiencing the same things as i am. I'm also seeing that there really arn't any easy answers, that partnerships take time but if they're the right kind they can be worth the work.
Here's a resource that has been adapted from Traversal power in coalition, it’s a quick guide to identifying types of partnerships, their benefits and pitfalls. You can find out more from the org that developed the original here: www.powerincoalition.com
I find it most useful for training grassroots groups with little activism or campaign experience. It provides an easy guide to identify if developing a relationship / partnership with another group will be a benefit and what needs to be considered before reaching out. Hope it's helpful!
Thanks for sharing this, Anouska! It's great to have different ways to analyze and frame our partnerships. I can appreciate their categories of:
It really makes you realize that one type of partnerships isn't better than the other - they all have their strengths and weaknesses.
How do these categories resonate with others?
- Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder
Having worked on police and human rights, we have been exploring for a long time the options for working together with police (as a human rghts group). In practice, it turns out to be more difficult than often thought. This is so for various reasons: working closely with police can lead to critique from other (more critical) NGOs claiming you're 'in bed with the police'. Hence the importance to continue communicating with other more crirical groups about the differences in strategy. Also, it turns out to be difficult, in practice, to continue being confrontational, while at the same time adopting an engagement approach that is more focused on cooperation. This again requires joint strategizing with other groups, where one is more confrontational, while another can be more cooperative.
In general, what is improtant when working with the police is to be very clear on your mandate, and ensure that you're not tempted into doing things you shouldn't be doing! For example, the police can request you to carry out part of their training, which is really their own responsibility (which doesn't mean you cannot be a guest speaker at police colleges, or do an audit of the training curricula etc). As long as you stay away from police operations, that is their domain, and can be easily used against you (with police claiming "we were taught to do it like this by this human rights group").
This having said, the Dutch section of Amnesty International established a Professional Group of Police officers, in the 90s, consisting of police officers who, in their own time, volunteered for AI. They would for example engage in letter writing, but would also more actively be involved in AI's work, as experts, as 'friends', as door openers, as 'cultural interpreters' explaining police culture etc. The group started off really actively and with great enthousiasm, but had difficulty maintaining this energy, especially as over the years some people retired. When later there were attempts to have it revived, mainly at the initiative of the police, this was also in order to serve the police's interests, working on various projects to enhance integrity. This does not have to be a problem, as of course the police are allowed to benefit from the engagement just as the human rights group does, but it may lead to watering down the original objectives on which the engagement was built.
There is a lot more to be said about police/human rights engagement - am keen to hear other examples of engagement with non-human rights groups and actors that might be more likely associated as potential human rights abusers. Of course the police are quite a specific actor, but I noticed that engaging businesses in fact faces similar dynamics, where -of course- the business often wants to benefit from their engagement, and will want to use it in their reputation management and image building.
Thanks for raising this, Anneke! Partnering with allies that you usually wouldn't consider human rights allies can be very powerful, and as you pointed out, can be full of challenges. New Tactics has documented three in-depth case studies related to partnering with police:
Police Training: Opening the door for professional and community-oriented policing
Forum Asia worked with the Royal Thai Police to promote community-oriented and human rights friendly policing in Thailand and other countries in Asia. They utilized the introduction of a unique, computer based police training education program to engage and enlist the support of key leadership of the Royal Thai Police to champion the training tool. The computer-based police training program was a valuable tactic within their strategy serving to build mutual trust, acknowledgement and support while also helping police to more effectively address their immediate day-to-day policing challenges making the police better aware of human rights as well as more professional.
Tandem©: Cross-cultural exchange between police and migrants
The International Centre for Cultures and Languages (ICCL) in Vienna adapted the “TANDEM®” program—originally created for language learning— to human rights education with police and migrant populations in a unique and profound way called “Intercultural-TANDEM®” to provide a unique and applicable model to improve intercultural understanding. The program currently operates as part of a larger police training course. Although the Austrian program benefits from its affiliation with the police training course, this model could be adapted, implemented and succeed independently.
Promoting Human Rights Professionalism in the Liberian Police Force
The Liberian National Law Enforcement Association (LINLEA) was established by law enforcement personnel to address issues of poor leadership, blind loyalty, and lack of professional training, each of which have contributed to a poor quality of services and a high incidence of human rights abuses. LINLEA has worked to promote professionalism as a way to enhance human rights standards and reduce incidences of abuse.
This tactics provides insights into how the law enforcement profession itself can understand the connection between professionalism and human rights—exposing abuses when they occur—to send signals to government and civil society that action can and must be taken to address abuses.
These case studies address what are probably common concerns regarding partnering with police (and other allies traditionally considered the human rights prepetrator). Here is an excerpt from the Police Training case study (linked-to above) on the balance between ‘constructive cooperation’ and ‘criticism’ (I put what I thought was particularly valuable in bold):
Working with police in a constructive partnership can cause problems of credibility for the NGO. This is particularly the case when police get involved in serious abuses of power or other serious violations of human rights. Traditionally, human rights NGOs have the task of monitoring state structures, including the police. NGOs usually air their criticism in public. However, this raises serious problems for an NGO engaged in a partnership with the police. It is obviously quite hard to work constructively with police on the one hand while criticizing them publicly on the other. In our experience, this problem can be overcome. There are other NGOs that can express public criticism, and the added value of one more NGO joining the ‘chorus’ is limited. In this case, the NGO engaging with the police can remain silent, at least in public. This in no way precludes the potential for confidential discussions with police that could then offer effective channels to transmit ‘messages’ to them. The problem becomes more serious, however, in cases where the police with whom one is actually partnering get involved in very serious violations of human rights. In such cases, the NGO itself may be in danger of losing credibility and legitimacy if it continues working with that police organization as if nothing has happened. Circumstances may force an NGO to discontinue partnerships with police in order not to undermine its own credibility. It is extremely difficult to anticipate such circumstances in advance. For example, in Thailand we were facing such a situation in October 2004 when the Tak Bai incident happened with more than 85 Muslim young men dying under army hands. The fact that this operation was mainly handled by the military and not by the police actually saved our partnership. I hope it is clear from the above observations, that FAF does not believe that ‘constructive co-operation’ with the police equals ‘selling out to the other side’.
FAF’s strategy has been based on the conviction that the most effective changes in police behavior must be realized within the police organization itself. In practice, when NGOs use only the tactic of criticizing police from the outside they are engaging only part of the total picture and having a mixed impact. NGOs can work together to engage in tactics that push on unacceptable behaviour from the outside while pulling for positive behaviour from the inside.
What nontraditional allies are others working with? What challenges do you face? What impact have you seen?
- Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder
I just had one more reply to your comment on working with police, Anneke. New Tactics has a great case study from Russia called Making Allies: Engaging Government Officials to Advance Human Rights. This case study describes how Citizens’ Watch, a Russian nongovernmental organization, uses a collaborative tactic to engage governmental officials, who in many cases are seen as the adversary and not considered as partners. Citizens’ Watch recognized the potential for engaging bureaucrats who illustrated a level of interest in significantly advancing human rights. The author describes the unique uses of this tactic and highlights examples of cross-sectoral cooperation between a nongovernmental organization and the Russian government to advance human rights.
In the conclusion section of this case study, I think the author does a good job of articulating why it's so important to work with nontraditional allies:
Even the most difficult and ugly political situations in the world cannot be simply divided into good guys and bad guys. Bad situations are often only transformed into better ones step by step. One of the most crucial and difficult steps for a budding civil society in a post-repressive state is to make the leap of investing some hope and faith in the future of the state, and consequently to begin the arduous task of building alliances with the state administration.
What are your thoughts on this? Have you had experiences in which a partnership with a nontraditional ally, backfired? Please share your thoughts and experiences by clicking on 'Reply' at the bottom of this comment.
- Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder
We have another great example of a human rights organization partnering with government agencies in Turkey:
Women for Women’s Human Rights (WWHR)-New Ways in Turkey gained the support and use of government resources for furthering human rights education of women at the local level. WWHR-New Ways developed a highly successful human rights education curriculum for women. They developed a partnership with government run, local level community centers, these community centers offered not only professional social workers who could be trained by WWHR-New Ways in facilitating the human rights education curriculum, but also a safe and accessible place for women to learn about their rights. You can download this case study here.
One of the challenges highlighted in this case study is of developing strong relationships with individuals, and then they leave:
Despite the overall success of HREP and positive feedback from trainers and participants, maintaining the sustainability and momentum of such an extensive program over a decade has been challenging. We have, for instance, faced a change in the administration of Social Services, with new government staff and new social workers appointed to key posts.
I wonder if others have had to face a similar challenge. In situations where partnerships are being led or championed by one or a few individuals, how to sustain strong partnerships if that individual leaves that position?
- Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder
A year or so ago the Center for Reproductive Rights joined with the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, a group with a national presence and an active local chapter in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, to do a story collection and human rights advocacy project about women's access to reproductive healthcare. The report started as a way to reframe the debate around women's access to reproductive health care from a purely economic analysis to a rights-based one. We started off thinking this would be a rather small scale human rights documentation project -- little did we know it would turn into a multi-media advocacy campaign spearheaded by the women we had interviewed. (Of course, this should have been our goal from the beginning, but we did not anticipate how much ownership the women would take of this project and did not have the resources initially to think quite so big).
This is one of the few human rights projects I've been involved with where those experiencing human rights violations are the ones directing the strategy, and the organizations are following. For the most part, except for places where this population of largely undocumented immigrants is unable to travel, our role is to provide the opportunity for them to speak, then get out of the way... it's early in the campaign, but to date the women have used the report locally to draw sizeable media attention to the Valley and these often ignored issues, and to secure meetings with local and state officials about changing the policy landscape.
The report and more information about the campaign and partnership can be found here: www.NuestroTexas.org.
I'm also sharing a brief video about the campaign.
This is such a great example of successful partnership. Thanks for sharing, Katrina!
Can you say more about how the partnership was initially identified and how it developed? For example, whose idea was it to create this partnership? How does it fit into CRR's strategy? How was the partnerships formalized (that is, if it was)? I guess I'm looking for information on the rationale and planning behind the partnerships, and the steps that were taken to make it successful.
Did you learn any important lessons?
- Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder
thanks for the questions. We developed the partnership because the women involved with the Latina Institute's network of activists in the Rio Grande Valley were meeting dozens of women with powerful stories, and they had no way of capturing them. They wanted to use them in advocacy but didn't have a methodology for story collection. We learned about this at an activists' meeting on the issue of storytelling. In subsequent conversations with the Latina Institute, we proposed doing a joint project that would allow us to bring our expertise in human rights documentation with the understanding that the activists would identify the women whose stories they thought were important to tell. The result isn't a traditional human rights documentation project by any means (one example is we don't talk to a variety of actors like gov't officials or healthcare providers, it's just interviews with women); it's more like narrative story-tellling through a human rights frame.
We did develop an MOU specifying roles and financials, but like many partnerships the terms changed pretty significantly over the course of it. We agreed to cover the bulk of the costs because our budget is significantly larger, and we provided a lot of in kind support that a smaller organization just doesn't have (communications support, admin, etc.). However, we were very clear in the agreement that all key decisions would be made jointly, so that even when the activities and strategies evolved from the original terms of the agreement, that principle did not change. This meant giving up some power and control over the outcomes, which is hard for a big international NGO to do. We had to adjust to that dynamic through a lot of internal advocacy and building extra time into deadlines to ensure that all parties agreed on a particular decision or product. As we went along, we realized the benefits of this time and time again -- the stories were better, the women more engaged, the reaction more enthusiastic -- when we took the time to make sure it was done right.
Early on, we did feel mismatched on capacity and had to adjust to a slower pace for a while until our partner secured additional funding and could staff up. What kept us going was the fact that we had a long history of working with this organization and had built trust around this particular project -- so we knew that all the problems we were encountering were due to their lack of resources rather than a lack of commitment to the project or an inability to deliver. That's why I said yesterday that trust is the most essential ingredient to a partnership -- it can help you weather the storms.
To sum up, lessons learned include: build trust early on by being clear about power dynamics (namely resources and desicion-making ability), and also prepare as much as you can at the outset while allowing for creativity and flexibility when the terms change.
Thanks for sharing this information, Katrina! It's really helpful. I admire both parties' commitment to decision-making even though it takes more time and effort.
You mention, "Early on, we did feel mismatched on capacity and had to adjust to a slower pace for a while until our partner secured additional funding and could staff up." And I'm curious to know if you think that this partnership contributed to new (or more) funding opportunities for either party.
It would be great to hear from others, too - have collaborations and partnerships helped you to secure new funding streams? (Let's face it, fundraising in human rights work is really challenging, and so is the work - seems like collaborating with other groups could potentially help alleviate some of this hardship.)
- Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder
This example actually involves a partnership and a coalition. And, reflecting on it for this conversation, I think it actually shows some of the interesting similarities and differences between the two.
Last year, CESR partnered with the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR) to prepare a shadow report for Egypt’s review by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. ECESR, in turn, brought together a number of Egyptian NGOs who also contributed to the report. Six organizations convened working groups, to prepare different sections of the report. In the end the report was endorsed by a total of 57 civil society organizations. The coalition also engaged in joint advocacy in conjunction with the Committee’s review in November 2013. This included: preparing a fact-sheet and a short documentary; issuing a number of joint press releases before and after the review; and sending a delegation of representatives to Geneva to meet with and brief the Committee members on the shadow report.
The partnership came about after ECESR had read some of our research on Spain, which used statistical data to visualize evidence about the country’s compliance with its international human rights commitments in the context of austerity. Given that Egypt was adopting similarly austere economic policies in the wake of the 2011 Revolution, ECESR was interested in working together to produce an equivalent analysis (in this way, the partnership is an example of the complementary way a national and international NGO can work together, as I mentioned in comment #12 on Monday). The motivation for the coalition stemmed from a high level of interest among Egyptian civil society to engage with the Committee. Building on the particular expertise of different groups meant that we were able to more comprehensively cover a broader range of issues than we could have done with just a couple of organizations; this is the type of submission the Committee prefers.
The partnership between us and ECESR was formalized through a memorandum of understanding that set out the partnership’s objectives, activities and outputs, division of responsibilities, timeframe, and resource commitments. This phase of the partnership, focused on the Committee’s review, has now ended. However, we will develop a second phase to monitor the implementation of the Committee’s recommendations. The coalition, on the other hand, was more informal; it evolved through a series of meetings with NGOs based in Cairo, with interested organizations volunteering to take the lead on different activities (e.g. drafting, media etc.).
We knew the partnership and coalition had worked well when we had a high quality output that enjoyed such broad endorsement among Egyptian civil society organizations. Feedback from the Committee members was resoundingly positive and they made recommendations on the issues that we had raised in the joint report, other indicators that the project had been a success.
In terms of challenges, from our perspective the physical distance (we’re a New York-based organization) and language barrier made lines of communication difficult. We only had limited direct contact with the other Egyptian NGOs involved in drafting the report and the burden of coordinating the coalition largely fell to ECESR as a result. This added a layer of complexity in terms of handling expectations among the members of the coalition. We were fortunate that ECESR managed this dynamic very capably! Another general challenge that arises in the context of joint reports to UN treaty bodies is that you have to trade off depth for breadth (i.e. because you’re trying to cover a range of issues, you can’t provide a lot of detail on each one). When you have a coalition made up of organizations that are specialists in their particular areas, this can sometimes be delicate to negotiate. Again, this wasn’t impossible to manage in our case. But I think because most people agree on most things most of the time, it’s easy to forget the importance of articulating a clear decision-making process for a coalition up front.