What lessons have you learned? Share advice and resources.

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What lessons have you learned? Share advice and resources.

In this discussion topic, we're exploring the lessons we can learn from past experiences. Consider these questions below when sharing your comments in this discussion topic:

  • From your experience, or from your reflection in this online discussion, what advice or ideas could you share for human rights practitioners who are interested in engaging allies that can be perceived as non traditional?
  • What lessons have you learned from successful or unsuccessful partnerships of this kind?
  • What resources exist to support the human rights community in engaging a wide range of allies? Share any guides, websites, videos here!

Share your thoughts, experiences, questions, challenges and ideas by replying to the comments below.

For help on how to participate in this conversation, please visit these online instructions.

Authentic relationships are key

Hey everyone,

I look forward to hearing the lessons from everyone in this discussion!

The first one I'd like to share is about the importance of authenticity. People know when they are being used or tokenized. Even calling people "non-traditional allies" can be tokenizing, in that it assumes there is an "us" and a "them" and "we" need to recruit "them" to help "us." True partnership  across constituencies understands that we are all stakeholders who stand to gain from the outcomes around which we are collaborating.

In our work to end the death penalty, for example, I have worked with a number of family members of murder victims with varying views on the death penalty. In talking, and especially listening, I've learned about the trauma of murder and the impact that has on the surviving families. They have an endless array of needs, mostly unmet, from traumatic grief counseling to financial assistance, help with funeral experenses, time off from work, someone to help them navigate the legal system, crime scene cleanup, and so much more. There are very few resources available to help with any of this. Instead, the entire justice system is focused on what to do to the offender, and the surviving families' needs are not a part of the equation.

As we deepened our collaborations with victims' families, we realized we needed to expand our agenda to address this critical problem. In other words, we did not recruit "non-traditional" allies to help "us," but we learned from a collaborative relationship that shaped and changed the future of our entire organization. Now, expanding services for crime survivors is a priority part of our criminal justice reform agenda.

Last year, EJUSA helped run a campaign in Maryland to repeal the death penalty and use the savings from repeal to increase services for family members of murder victims. The death penalty repeal part of the campaign passed last year, but the funding for victims' families did not. The movement to end the death penalty could have walked away at this point, having gotten its primary goal of death penalty repeal. But this was more than a talking point for us. EJUSA is now back in Maryland putting the full force of our efforts into securing this funding. Importantly, we are working with both families who support and oppose the death penalty, because even though the funding came from death penalty repeal, there is much common ground among all of us about how it should be used.

Authentic relationships and common ground

Hi everyone,

I am so excited to be part of this discussion this week. I wanted to jump off Shari's last sentence about common ground.

In our work in Maryland and in other death penalty repeal campaigns, exploring common groupd with constituencies assumed to be in opposition, has revealed some surprising allies and been a great learning experience for campaign organizers. For example, reaching out to law enforcement reveals that not all police think the death penalty helps create a stronger criminal justice system, some prosecutors recognize that the broad discretion given to them can and has led to error or even wrongful convictions.

In our campaigns taking time to explore common ground accomplishes a few things:

  1. We are able to break assumptions that communities are a monolith (i.e. all police want x policy) and that policy makers can assume one belief over another to justify or feel pressure on a position.
  2. allows an opportunity for campaign staff to also break assumptions about their perceptions of the opposition which helps them begin to build authentic relationships.
  3. over time, the foundation of common groupd builds a stronger camapaign team that can shift its experience, expertise, & goals across campaigns where each org/individual is confortable stepping forward or back depending on the issue at hand. The work in MD is a great example: our coalition of 25+ organizations, that grew out of our repeal work, has shifted to working on the victims funding and we have seen almost a complete flip flop of what orgs are spending a lot of time vs a little time but we are finding that those groups that have stepped back are still able to support the campaign with specific asks.
How do you explore the common ground?

This is awesome, Mona! Thanks for sharing. I'm very curious to learn how you have explored this common ground. How to gain initial trust? What do those conversations look like? How long does this process take? Have you ever gone down this road of exploring common ground, and then you realize that a partnership on a particular issue or outcome is just not feasible? Would love to learn more about how others could implement this kind of exploration. Any advice or tips would be great. Thanks!

- Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

exploring common ground

I think exploring common ground is key part of relationship building and as you build relationships it becomes easier to find common ground. As an organizer I believe that relationships are one of the primary mechanisms for creating and implementing successful campaigns that are both authentic and achieve real change, even if that change is small.

Exploring common ground can, and should happen, both in and out of the campaign. Here are a few examples:

1. in a team setting: be intentional about providing opportunities for your campaign team to get to know eachother: share a meal or beverage together, carve out time in campaign meetings for folks to share a little about themselves.

2. one on one relationship building: one thing we say as organizers a lot is to meet people where they are at - I think this means that it is important to interface with each person we come into contact with and not make assumptions about their beliefs, what they might be willing to do (or not do), and be authentic with how we engage with them. You don't have to be best friends, but knowing and caring about a human takes you a long way down the road to authentic engagement and finding common ground.

3. starting outreach to new stakeholders: Start slow, be transparent about who you are, and use your networks. In our organization we have some done work with law enforcement. Part of our early work was to explore our networks for individuals we already know who are or have connections to law enforcement and asked for an introduction. The first phase of our work was designed not to move any law enforcement to do anything public or take any position on the repeal of the death penalty but to ask questions about their work and start to understand their experiences. Through these one-one discussions you can start to identify common ground and move the discussion to explore this. Be transparent about who you are/what your org or campaign is doing up front so there is no awkwardness if the time comes that this person is willing to participate in your campaign.


Authentic & strategic partnerships, & how to find them

Shari, thanks for this great example of balanced and mutually-beneficial partnerships between groups that might be perceived as unlikely, or non traditional. Your point about people being used or tokenized really resonated with me, and I think it connects really well to Jan's comment: In Europe the involvement of asylumseekers, undocumented migrants in the struggle for human rights and for international solidarity is often seen as non-traditional, especially when it is an empowering and not a parenting approach.

And related to this, is the language we use (and are using in this dialogue) to discuss these partnerships. For New Tactics, it is very natural for us to talk about different kinds of allies within the context of strategic thinking (i.e. non traditional allies). So it is very much about exploring who you could work with on a particular issue or campaign to help you reach your goals. We have found that many human rights groups limit their potential allies to only the groups that agree with them all the time. But as you mentioned above: "we are all stakeholders who stand to gain from the outcomes around which we are collaborating." Depending on what the issue is that you're working on, or the specific outcome you are trying to reach, it's important to reach beyond the usual suspects and find those unlikely or those allies generally perceived as "non traditional" for which a partnership could be incredibly rewarding for all involved - most importantly for those you're working to support!

We have developed a tool called Tactical Mapping to encourage practitioners to consider a wide range of potential allies (a video about that tool is below).

While I hadn't expected to include discimination and patronization within the human rights community as part of this dialogue, it is an important topic and I hope that this can be a space to explore that.

And now I'm wishing that we used different wording for the title of this conversation! :) Thanks for sharing these important insights. Let's keep the conversation going.

- Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

To your comment about

To your comment about survivors of human rights abuses sometimes being considered non-traditional allies, that's something a lot of folks in the human trafficking field are working on. Everyone from law enforcement to service providers are transitioning to more survivor-centric language and behaviors. The struggle goes past my issue, as others have pointed out. I was at the Nonprofit Technology Conference a few weeks ago and one of the speakers challenged those in the audience to consider how the people they serve might benefit from knowing the metrics that staff used to track their progress. We spend a lot of time considering how to protect client data, and setting up systems for asking permission to use those stories, but I'm still struggling to get my head around what it would mean to share our data with our clients.

I think the entire human rights space is engaging in these questions that come from putting the people we serve not only in the center of our hearts, but our workflows as well.

Survivors of trafficking directly involved in prevention work

Hi Jessica and others,

New Tactics has documented a few tactics related to human trafficking in which survivors are directly involved in the human rights work. It might not be exactly what you had in mind, but they are really interesting examples of keeping survivors at the heart of the work:

  1. Maiti Nepal works to stop trafficking of women and girls across the Nepal-India border by interviewing those who appear vulnerable. The Maiti interviewers are more likely to recognize others in dangerous situations because many of them, too, are survivors of trafficking. More info here.
  2. The Ekota Sex Workers Association in Bangladesh uses surveillance teams made up of older prostitutes to rescue girls who are being kept against their will in brothels. More info here.

Link to all of our tactics related to the issue of human trafficking.

- Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community  Builder

Open attitude, incorporating feedback & ownership

One of the four core values that inspire the work of the Women Peacemakers Program is community building, building upon nonviolent change that draws on the power of people coming together, and standing united for one goal. As such, we find it important to invest in building bridges between people, groups and stakeholders. When strategizing to address a certain local, national or international injustice, we extensively consult with our network to see what the problem is and what potential allies are. These consultations have resulted in bridge building activities with certain allies that at first glance could be considered as 'non tradtional' in the field of supporting women's leadership in peacebuilding processes, namely with men and faith-based women's groups. 

The idea of men as allies of women for gender-sensitive peace resulted in 2009-2010 in the organization of an all-male Training of Trainers (ToT) Cycle focusing on masculinities, violence and peace. With this, WPP was the first to bridge the field of masculinities and gender-sensitive peacebuilding, translating this into a programmatic approach.

Since the inclusion of a masculinities perspective in the women, peace & security agenda was a new and potentially sensitive subject, WPP made sure to report very openly about the lessons learned in relation to this approach, regularly touching base with the women's groups in our network to reflect on needs and challenges. This open attitude in terms of sharing information, but also in terms of incorporating feedback in the work, and ensuring active involvement of women's groups throughout the process, resulted in a community of men and women working together for gender-sensitive peacebuilding. As a result, WPP has firmly integrated this approach in its training programs, and has integrated the masculinities perspective in its organizational strategy. You can read about the results of our work in the 2013 version of the May 24 pack. We will also be publishing a brief soon about longer-term impact of the partnership approach.

The second track was to engage with faith-based women's groups in gender-sensitive peacebuilding. Recent years have shown that the rise of religious fundamentalisms poses a major challenge for advancing gender equality and gender-sensitive peace. However, while taking this reality into account, WPP’s work with women activists and faith-based women's groups on the ground revealed that at times religion and religious leaders have been powerful allies in terms of promoting women’s participation in (post-conflict) community processes and advancing women’s rights. WPP has organized two consultation meetings in 2010 and 2013 on gender, religion and peace, where women working for peace from a faith-based background could share the challenges they face in terms of religious opposition, as well as opportunities for involving progressive religious leaders in their work.

Based on the insights generated during these consultations, WPP organized a panel discussion at the 58th Commission of the Status of Women (CSW) this March, where representatives of the City College of New York (USA), ABAAD (Lebanon), Ecumenical Women's Initiative (Croatia) and Cordaid (the Netherlands) shared how religion can play a role in promoting peace and women’s rights; thereby referring to successful strategies they have used in their work for gender equality. Several of the speakers underlined the need of supporting the women’s rights constituency by reaching out to progressive voices inside religious circles, including progressive religious leaders; women theologians, and faith-based women activists. The panel discussion resulted in several recommendations, which can be found here.

Reaching out to non traditional allies and building bridges is important to advance, in our case, gender-sensitive peace. The philosophy of active nonviolence, which guides our work, builds on the notion of creating social change through "people power", which means reaching out to an ever-expanding circle of like-minded - including in those areas where are first glance allies might not be expected!

However, any alliance building must be done in openness and in close cooperation with the initial stakeholders. It is a long process to build trust, create common values and find issues of common understanding and interests to build upon. Thus, as our experience showed, organizations need to take time to flesh out cooperation and partnerships with non traditional allies. 

Do human rights orgs face a risk of being used?

Many of you have pointed out key principles of building successful relationships with allies that are often perceived as 'non traditional' (for many reasons): authenticity, transparency, open communication, mutual respect, etc.

And many of you have pointed out some great examples of working with allies within police, political parties often perceived as adversarial, prison administrators, etc.

I'm curious to learn from you all what lessons you've learned along the way from unsuccessful partnerships with 'non traditional' allies? From a past conversation, a participant pointed out that when working with individuals within institutions often perceived as your opponent, you need to be careful that you aren't simply being used as way to make it seem that this institution is supporting human rights (when in fact, they are not). Do you think this is a valid concern? Are you familiar with any examples like this? How can a human rights group avoid this situation, which would certainly hurt the group's reputation and credibility.

Please share any examples along these lines and any lessons-learned - or examples of other challenges and mistakes you've faced in your work with allies.


- Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

Re: Do human rights orgs face a risk of being used?

That is certainly the suspicion that creeps into the back of my mind when I'm approached by some kinds of non-traditional allies. For me, the vetting process is vital, as are clear expectations and a strong internal understanding of what that partnership would mean. Partnering with an organization who has itself or has spokespeople who have commited the human rights abuse you are combatting is morally questionable, and a communications nightmare. Setting clear expectations for what a "partnership" means both internally and with the potential partner can help--making clear what your org will or will not endorse, what the end of the partnership would look like if one of those lines are cross, etc. And finally, keeping tabs on those partners. Following their public statements, their media pitches, and doing regular internal checks to make sure the relationship is both going the way it was intended to and nipping any emerging problems in the bud.

Resources: Videos, Podcasts and Guidelines

In our experience, partnering scientists, engineers and human rights organizations often isn't the tough part. Clearly identifying how such 'non-traditional allies' can most effectively work together in a given project is sometimes the greater challenge. To assist human rights practitioners think expansively about how science and technology can contribute to their work, we have developed a couple of resources:

In addition, colleagues in our AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition have developed guidelines to factilitate partnerships between scientists and engineers, and human rights practitioners. The Guidelines address some of the key assumptions and differences between the two communities that should be addressed in advance of any collaborative project to make sure the partnership is a positive and productive experience for all involved. The Guidelines are available here: http://www.aaas.org/report/human-rights-projects-guidelines-scientists-a....

Finally, the greatest resource we have to offer are human resources. On our staff, we have geospatial image analysts who partner with human rights organizations to support their human rights documentation and monitoring efforts: http://www.aaas.org/program/geospatial-technologies-and-human-rights-pro... . We also have a network of over 800 volunteers from over 43 countries available to be matched with a human rights organization requiring their skills. You can learn more about this project and request a volunteer here: http://www.aaas.org/oncallscientists


--AAAS Scientific Responsibility, Human Rights and Law Program

Thank you for participating in this conversation!

This has been such an interesting conversation on how human rights groups are engaging allies often perceived as 'non traditional.'  I can't thank you enough for creating such a great resource!  I especially want to thank Mona, Shari, Jessica, Jessica, Tracy, Edna and Ajong for leading this discussion.

I hope you found it helpful to: reflect on who are considered 'non traditional' allies, to whom, and in what contexts; exchange stories and examples; and to share your challenges, lessons-learned and advice. It was a thought-provoking exchange and I greatly appreciate your honesty and authenticity. I hope you all are taking away new ideas, resources, reflections and allies!

We will begin the process of writing a summary of the comments posted here. It will most likely take a few weeks and once we're finished, we'll post the summary on the front page of this dialogue. For those of you that added comments, I'll notify you by email when the summary is posted.

The conversation leaders committed to participate in this dialogue for these past 5 days. Although that commitment has come to end, you can still add comments until the summary is posted. So please feel free to continue to add your thoughts, reflections, resources and stories!

And finally, we'd appreciate your feedback on whether or not this experience has been helpful to you! Please take a moment to fill out this short survey to help us better understand the impact of these conversations. Stay tuned for our next conversation series on Seeking Justice starting in April!

Thank you!

Kristin Antin - New Tactics Online Community Builder

thank you , too and a post-script

Thank you Kristin for taking the lead and for your excellent facilitation and thanks to everyone, too. It has been a very fruitful conversation. I just want to add as a postscript that engaging with the business sector - and the potentials of corporate actors as non-traditional allies can be quite powerful. This past decade in fact had seen a robust growth in initiatives in this arena to the extent that there is now a UN Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on business & human rights. I would encourage looking at the work of groups like the Institute of Human Rights and Business http://www.ihrb.org/commentary/2014/index.html for their excellent documentation and standard-setting work. Also the Business and Human Rights http://business-humanrights.org/ . for their excellent resources and tools. Till the next conversation!

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