Building strong human rights partnerships and coalitions

The Human Rights Education Program for Women in Turkey

Conversation Details

Dates of conversation: 
Monday, January 13, 2014 to Friday, January 17, 2014
Conversation type: 
Type of tactical goal: 

Thank you for  joining the Anouska Teunen of Amnesty International Australia and the New Tactics online community for a discussion on Building strong partnerships and coalitions from January 13 to 17, 2014.

In human rights work, collaboration is crucial. One organization will not have all the resources and skills to support a human rights movement. So it is necessary to build partnerships and  coalitions in order to achieve your goals and build solidarity. However, there are many barriers to collaboration. Many human rights organizations have overarching common aims and visions, but when it comes to working together on campaigns, agreeing on the specific campaign outcomes can be difficult and ineffective. This often leads to fewer opportunities for partnerships and more competition among these groups for campaigning space. Furthermore, finding partners who have the expertise and skills that you need can be challenging (especially when you're not sure what you need!).

We're fortunate that there are so many organizations who have nurtured the kinds of partnership and coalitions that create the impact we seek. What tactics are these groups using to break down these common barriers in order to build strong, successful partnerships and coalitions?

This online discussion is an opportunity for human rights defenders to share their experiences, challenges, ideas and advice with one another on breaking these barriers to collaboration. This conversation topic is part of our series on Mobilizing Allies.

Tactical Examples Shared in the Conversation:

What are the benefits and barriers to partnerships and coalitions in human rights work?

Partnerships and coalitions are integral to effective human rights advocacy and implementation.  They  can be more than relationships and dialogue--creating and implementing strategic goals.  Coalitions differ from partnerships, tending to be formally structured and publicly oriented whereas partnerships do not need to be formal or public knowledge. One definition of a coalition describes it as a “group of diverse organizations and individuals working together to pursue a single goal.”  

Successful coalitions follow several principles, including:

  • Building an open and trusting relationship
  • Mutual respect is vital
  • Cooperatively working together as a unified front toward the identified and agreed upon goals
  • Regular information sharing mechanisms to maintain communication channels
  • Selecting those best suited to provide leadership in specific activities
  • Designated staff that monitor the effective use and impact of funds

Participants agree that clarifying the goals and added value of alliances at the outset and establishing trust and open communication enriches partnerships.  

Creating these relationships helps further human rights goals, bringing a diverse array of actors to the table.  Often, organizations will partner with experts to enrich their understanding of an issue such as climate change.  Using interdisciplinary allies (government agencies, community organizations, businesses, etc)  facilitates a broader audience and is important when creating a campaigns like ‘End FGM Now’ or ‘Divest from Israel.’

Several challenges face partnerships and alliances, such as working with non traditional partners (police, business organizations), coordinating international and national human rights organizations, framing issues and language barriers.  Funding can also be a contentious issue, leading to difficulties in project implementation.  

These challenges can be overcome by establishing regular meeting times to keep members in the coalition abreast of future plans, communicating clearly and openly, and setting a framework guiding dialogue.  In addition, clearly defining strategic objectives and defining the coalition’s limits and scope of action in accordance with strategic objectives of your alliance, coalition or partnership will enhance its success.

What do successful partnerships and coalitions look like? Share examples!

Conversations participants shared various examples of successful coalitions and partnerships (see the list of tactic examples above for specific examples).  Here are some of the tools these partnerships found helpful.  

Create a strong yet flexible structure:

  • The structure has to create appropriate opportunities for the group members to participate.
  • The process of decision making has to indicate solutions to controversies and avoid divisions and ruptures.
  • Clarity in the conditions or criteria of membership in the coalition is necessary.
  • Leadership and internal mechanisms must be agile and allow the confrontation of controversial topics with a capacity for negotiation.
  • The coalition’s limits and scope of action must be defined, in accordance with the mandates agreed upon by the members.

When dealing with conflict within the coalition:

  • Identify the problem
  • Map-out potential allies
  • Ask: What is the end-goal?
  • Select individuals to participate in discussion based on their trust and cooperation

When engaging experts as allies, employ them in key positions such as researching legislation or providing expert research information on environmental issues.  

Partner with non traditional allies and create a spectrum of allies to target future partners.  

What lessons have you learned? Share advice and resources.

Forging partnerships and coalitions is the core of human rights work.   With partnerships, human rights organizations expand their capacity, developing a stronger, more effective movement and moving closer towards deep, systematic changes.  Although challenges exist, transparent goals, open communication and productive dialogue can work through these problems, leading to a stronger coalition.    

Shared Resources

Articles and websites:



New Tactics Case Studies:

The image above comes from our case study titled The Human Rights Education Program for Women in Turkey that describes how the Women for Women’s Human Rights (WWHR)-New Ways  gained the support and use of government resources for furthering human rights education of women at the local level.

Conversation Leaders

Anouska's picture
Anouska Teunen
Amnesty International Australia
Theresa.Harris's picture
Theresa Harris
American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
madeline.koch's picture
Madeline Koch
International Civil Society Action Network
Anneke Osse's picture
Anneke Osse
independent consultant working on police and human rights/police reform/ police accountability
Katrina_NYC's picture
Katrina Anderson
Center for Reproductive Rights
allison.cesr's picture
Allison Corkery
Center for Economic and Social Rights