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:
- The Center for Reproductive Rights partnered with the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, to do a story collection and human rights advocacy project about women's access to reproductive healthcare. This partnership illustrates how those experiencing human rights violations can be the ones directing the strategy.
- 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, demonstrating partnerships between international and national human rights organizations.
- Peru’s Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos implemented a clear structure, clarified their goals and scope, and created a space for productive dialogue, creating a successful coalition of human rights organizations in Peru.
- Ligue des Droits de la Personne dans la Region des Grands Lacs (Human Rights League of the Greak Lakes Region, or LDGL) adopted a multi-faceted strategy to encourage productive dialogue and problem-solving in their coalition, taking into account language barriers that created divisions.
- North Quabbin Community Coalition worked with a community psychologist who helped to build a coalition of community groups and leaders to tackle issues of hunger, homelessness and job loss. This example shows the benefits of overcoming difficulties and working together with a diverse group of organizations.
- East Quabbin Alliance (EQUAL) exemplifies a coalition built to make long-term improvements in a local community. EQUAL demonstrates how to build leadership, create an agenda and keep to that agenda in times of crisis.
- The Royal Marine Conservation Society of Jordan (JREDS) worked successfully with experts to preserve the right of the Jordanian people to access public beaches. They were able to work with a coalition of experts and not “be the expert.”
- The Center for Economic and Social Rights conducted an interdisciplinary research and advocacy project on the right to health, food and education in partnership with Instituto Centroamericano de Estudios Fiscales (ICEFI) in 2008 and 2009, demonstrating partnerships between human rights organizations and non-traditional organizations.
- Citizens’ Watch, a Russian nongovernmental organization, used a collaborative tactic to engage governmental officials who are traditionally viewed as adversaries.
- Women for Women’s Human Rights (WWHR) developed a partnership with government run, local level community centers, to implement a human rights education curriculum for women in Turkey.
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.
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.
Articles and websites:
- GSDRC: Applied Knowledge Services This report lists and describes tools used by NGOs to monitor the quality of their relationships with partner organisations.
- Beautiful Trouble: Team up with expert (but don’t “become” the expert)
- Beyond Intractability:
- The ABC’s of Advocacy by Lina Alameddine and Cristina Mansfield
- Community Toolbox: Starting a Coalition Examples
- The Prevention Institute: Developing Effective Coalitions
- Public Interest Projects: Alliance Building
- Community Unionism
- Movement Strategy Center: Various resources
- Healthy Alliance Assessment Tool
- Let’s Talk Movement Building
- Plan to Win: Social Movement Learning resources
- Police and NGOs: Why and how human rights NGOs and police services can and should work together
- Why Coalition Building is Necessary: A message from the Human Rights Campaign
- Coalition Building for Activists: Effective coalition building for social change
- Learning in Partnerships: from a development/business perspective by Bruce Britton and Olivier Serrat
- SciTech Partnerships for Human Rights: The human rights advocates in the video talk about how building partnerships with specialists has helped advance their work.
- Leading from the ground up: The fight for access to reproductive health care in the Rio Grande valley
- New Organizing Institute: Building Relationships for campaigns with materials you could use for a training on this topic.
- Amanda Tattersall talking about the power of coalitions:
- Training for Change: Create your own Spectrum of Allies
- New Tactics: Adapted spectrum of allies worksheet
- Power in Coalition: Expression of Solidarity
New Tactics Case Studies:
- The Peru’s Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos (National Coordinating Coalition on Human Rights)
- Ligue des Droits de la Personne dans la Region des Grands Lacs (Human Rights League of the Great Lakes Region, or LDGL): Identifying allies to hold constructive dialogue and maintain cooperative relationships
- Royal Marine Conservation Society of Jordan (JREDS): Building a coalition to preserve the right to public access
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.