How have you engaged allies perceived as non traditional? Share your examples!

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How have you engaged allies perceived as non traditional? Share your examples!

We'll use this discussion topic to explore how allies perceived as non traditional are successfully engaged in human rights work. Consider these questions below when sharing your comments in this discussion topic:

  • Share examples of times that you’ve engaged allies perceived as non traditional. How were these allies identified? How were they approached? What did the partnership look like?
  • What challenges did you face? How were you able to overcome these challenges and barriers?
  • What was the impact?

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.


Engaging governmental allies in Jordan

Hello everyone!

I wanted to start this conversation by providing an example of coalition building with non-traditional actors in Jordan.

In South Jordan, Change Academy for Democratic Studies and Development and the Arab Network for Civic Education (ANHRE) forged relationships with allies in national government agencies and community organizations to advance the right to early childhood education in poverty pockets.  A New Tactics tactical summary provides a description of how the Change Academy and ANHRE built a coalition of non-traditional allies to address a common obstacle--the lack of resources needed by government ministries to implement national plans.  The campaign succeeded in engaging with the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education, and Ministry of Planning and Development to address the poverty pockets in South Jordan.  Some of the goals they accomplished include: launching an “open day” for kindergarten which was attended by 2,000 children, expanding the coalition of the early childhood care and education campaign, establishing four new kindergartens in the community and helping to advance the government’s Early Childhood National Strategy and Childhood National Plan.  

The case study highlights several lessons learned for engaging non-traditional allies in coalition building:

  • Implementing a Strategic Effectiveness methodology provides a framework for capacity building and action development.
  • Build from existing coalitions in the government and civil society
  • Make connections with all of the stakeholders affected by the project or coalition’s goal
  • Create practical and achievable goals, such as implementing the already existing Early Childhood National Strategy and Childhood National Plan.  
  • Address the needs of non-traditional allies, in this case the coalition also worked with private kindergarten schools who would’ve been opposed to free kindergarten programs in Jordan. 

As we reflect on this example and other examples of engaging non-traditional allies in human rights, some questions we can consider include: how do we identify and approach non-traditional allies or encourage non-traditional stakeholders to participate in coalitions for human rights?  How have other coalitions incoroporated non-traditional allies into their framework for capacity building and action development?

I'm looking forward to reading more examples on how to build successful relationships with a diverse array of allies!

Brittany Landorf, New Tactics in Human Rights Project Intern

Engaging government allies in Russia

Thanks for sharing this example from Jordan, Brittany! I wanted to add a similar example from Russia.

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 allies who are often perceived as opposition:

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.

Have you taken a leap of faith in developing partnerships with allies perceived as opposition? Did it pay off? Please share your examples and experiences here!

- Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

Science and Technology for Human Rights

Scientists, engineers and health professionals are vital allies in our efforts to promote and protect human rights. At the Scientific Responsibility, Human Rights and Law Program of AAAS ( the ways in which we work with these communities of experts include:

  • partnering volunteers with human rights organizations: through On-call Scientists we partner volunteer scientists, engineers and health professionals with human rights organizations requiring technical expertise, whether to design a survey to measure the scale and impact of human rights violations, build the capacity of local communities to monitor environmental impacts of mining, provide the tools, procedures and technical expertise to human rights organizations needing to address trauma experienced by staff, interpret an environmental impact statement or more (;
  • analyzing satellite images to document mass human rights violations: with in-house expertise, we apply geosaptial image analysis to the monitoring and documentation of large-scale human rights violations (e.g., village destruction, housing demolitions, environmental disasters, mass displacement, mass grave identification) - (
  • bringing their voice to human rights questions: for example, publicly supporting adoption and implementation of human rights standards. Another way our colleagues support human rights is to submit an amicus brief in support of a human rights case for which scientific evidence supports the human rights claim (e.g., the psychological development of children as relevant to criminal sentencing);
  • informing international policy discussions regarding science and human rights: for example, informing the process to define the right to science (;
  • promoting respect for human rights in scientific practice: for example, incorporation of human rights standards into ethics codes addressing standards of research;
  • defending the right to free and responsible scientific inquiry and practice: for example, with regard to politically-unpopular areas of research.

I would be particularly interested to hear from anyone who has benefitted from working with a scientist or engineer in their work to learn about their experience or to chat about any project you have for which a scientist or engineer might be able to assist and the questions you have about how to set up such a partnership.

Re: Science and Technology for Human Rights

I can chime in here about engaging technologists and technical companies in our work. My organization has partnerships with Salesforce, Palantir, and Google, as well as with individual engineers, designers, and programmers that work in those spaces. We engage employees at these businesses through their pro bono programs to help us support our use of their technologies, as well as adapt and in some cases export those technologies for our work. I do a lot of work on the technical side of Polaris Project's work, with data visualization, online organizing and analysis of online communities of some of the people whose actions contribute to human trafficking. This makes engineers more my people than other non-traditional allies might be.

For me, and I believe for my organization as well, the key to engaging engineers in human rights work has been listening to what brings them to the issue, identifying gaps--they may not have discussed "agency" or "intersectionality" in college like many of us liberal arts folks did or they may have knock-down, drag-out fights defending feminism on Reddit every lunch-break--and then filling them. Then opening up the space and letting them teach us, about technology, about their communication styles, or about new ways of thinking about the problems we face every day.

In terms of practical ways Polaris Project has benefitted from engineers, our entire human trafficking hotline runs on a system envisioned by and built by engineers. When we report out a year of texting data early next week, it's because of a system built by a mobile texting company, integrating with Salesforce, and analyzed through Palantir. All of our data-driven work is informed both by the sensibilities of our engineer partners and the technologies they built.

Re: Science and Technology for Human Rights


Thanks so much for sharing this example. It's great to learn of ways that engineers have supported human rights, examples that I'd like to be able to share with my engineering colleagues. Is there a link somewhere to information about this collaboration? Or specific links to the products they developed?

An additional question - to what extent did you find that, while you were relying on the engineers and others to bring the technical expertise necessary to establish the system, that you needed also to explain to them some of the human rights sensitivities (e.g., security, confidentiality etc) that impacted how the system was created? It's that two-way learning that I think makes such collaborations so valuable and a great learning experience for both partners.


Engaging Men & Faith-based groups in Women's Rights Work

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.

Faith-based or religious groups: allies or adversaries?

My early years of activism took place in the context of social justice campaigning in a predominantly Catholic country - the Philippines- and during the time when liberation theology was very popular and inspired progressive social movements in many parts of the world. Innumerable priests, nuns and lay persons had taken risks for having taken part in social justice causes. There are parallel cases of involvement in social change by religious individuals and groups in other faiths and such are the contexts that merit considering them as allies in human rights advocacy. In the case of the Vatican, as a religious institution, the leadership and its doctrinal interpretation changed over time and reversed the progressive trends in Catholicism. I and so many other activists who 'grew up' in the context of a people-centred Church have evolved too in our perspectives about human rights. We've become more discerning , sharper and all-encompassing in our understanding and praxis - which inevitably clashed with the fundamentalist positioning by the Church in certain areas such as women's reproductive and sexual rights and on sexual orientation and gender identity. We have also become more demanding about accountability by the State and non-State institutions including religious bodies for their human rights responsibilities and obligations; and have become relentless for these institution to be legally answerable if they have become complicit or have acquiesced for human rights abuses committed by their authorised personnel e.g. the clergy.

What insights could I draw from this as regard the question of engaging with faith-based groups?

1. a distinction has to be made between a) engagement and forging alliance with faith-based institutions or religious bodies and b) whether we are engaging with individuals within OR the institutions.
2. There are fundamental aspects in religious doctrines that are presently irreconcilable with key human rights principles of universality, non-discrimination and equality. Regarding religious bodies or institutions as 'allies' inevitably entails mindfulness about these differences; and be able to discern whether and how to draw parameters in forging such alliances.

Engaging Youth and Diaspora

Having worked on human rights issues in Sri Lanka, I’ve had the pleasure of working with youth and Diaspora organizations from all over the world. They have not only been a great resource, but their resilience, drive, and energy have made them amazing non-traditional allies in the fight for equality and human rights. Below, I’ve provided a few more examples of what youth and Diaspora groups in other countries:

Youth in many developing and post-conflict countries make up over 50% of the population, yet they’re often excluded from critical partnerships or programs that affect their future. These are a few examples of the amazing work youth are doing:

  • In Ethiopia, young women opened a legal aid office to help marginalized groups access justice. These youth went on to establish a community radio run by students and organized awareness campaigns informing Ethiopians about everything from land rights to women’s rights. The determination of these young people to improve justice in their community led them to also open an office in prison to ameliorate the poor prison conditions of female prisoner’s.
  • In Colombia, youth have been integral to the work that paralegals do to mediate disputes. In some instances, people have to walk 50 miles before they can get access to a lawyer, but in Colombia, youth volunteers have mobilized local campaigns to help community members understand what their water and sanitation rights are.
  • In Kenya, a program designed to teach children about their rights, immediately empowered them to ask for more information and brochures to educate their parents about what they were learning. One surprising, but positive development, which resulted from the program, was that once children learned about their rights, they went out and became more involved in projects to build up their community. 
  • In Nigeria, over 100,000 youth participated last year in a twitter conference to provide feedback on amendments to the Constitution. Though youth were interested in being involved, they realized they didn’t have a platform to air their views and make their perspective known to policymakers. With Nigeria’s sizeable population, the e-conference was one way of getting as many young Nigerians as possible to participate as stakeholders in the process.   

Diaspora’s are another amazing non-traditional ally. Though not always given enough credit in mainstream media or policy circles, they’ve done a lot of great work behind the scenes to strengthen rule of law. These are a few examples:

  • Morocco: In 2011, Morocco’s new Constitution provided that certain rights would be guaranteed to their Diaspora. Earlier this year, the Diaspora followed up on this by holding virtual consultations around the world with Moroccan civil society organizations on the role they can play in strengthening rule of law back home.
  • Egypt: After the revolution in 2011, the Egyptian Diaspora formed the Egyptian American Rule of Law Association in the US. Since that time, the organization has used their legal skills and personal connections to the country to engage in a variety of policy and legal developments to strengthen rule of law. They’ve worked with civil society organizations in Egypt to build their capacity and also pushed for Egypt to adopt the Freedom of Information Act. 
  • Sri Lanka: Yesterday, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution to launch an inquiry into war crimes that were committed during the final stages of the civil war in 2009. The Tamil Diaspora from Sri Lanka has been heavily involved in lobbying the international community to push for an international mechanism to investigate the deaths and disappearances of thousands of Tamil civilians during and after the war. 
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