Inspiring endurance and focus within your team and allies for the long haul

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Inspiring endurance and focus within your team and allies for the long haul

We'll use this discussion topic to explore how groups are maintaining momentum and commitment within their own team and among their allies. Human rights camaigns require endurance and focus - how do you inspire and support these qualities within your team? Consider these questions below when sharing your comments in this discussion topic:

  • How are groups addressing frustration with their own colleagues, and lost faith?
  • Building on last month’s online conversation on building partnerships and coalitions for human rights work, now that you have your partnerships how are these relationships maintained? Based on your experience maintaining the commitment of your allies, what would you have done different when initially building these partnerships and coalitions?
  • What resources have you found that are useful?

For help on how to participate in this conversation, please visit these online instructions. New feature: you can now add images and video to your comments!

Story telling to address frustration and lost faith


Story telling and story telling. In campaigns were the organizers and leaders are the constituency themselves (for example persons with disabilities and not activists on their behalf) story work helps deal with some of the frustration and lost hope. Remembering what moves me to action, remembering the stories that brought me to lead this effort and to commit to it - reminds me and others the source of our strength in the face of frustration and lost hope. But it is not just my story - story of self- sometimes, it is the collective story of what we present together- the fact that we made it so far or that we present a different culture of collective action. And sometimes it is the story of what just happened. We often facilitate an exercise for the leaders or organizers to collectively author what just happened. Listening to others' narrate of what happened may make me change a perspective I had developed because I was hurt or fearful or frustrated. And in the collective authoring of our journey, we reach a moral - the moral of the story. Getting to that point, allows us to turn a page and start another chapter- having made meaning of what frustrated us or weakened our commitment.  ّ

If this resonates with you, read Marshall Ganz on public narrative and its use in movement building and campaigning. 

Also below is a video of story that always moves me. It recognizes the frustration- does not deny it - but helps move forward.  

The Story of Us, and other resources

Great points, Nisreen! Another great resource based on Marshall Ganz's work on public narrative is the New Organizing Institute's resources on 'The Story of Us'. Very powerful stuff. See the video below.

For more resources on storytelling, visit our conversation summary on the topic Change the Story: Harnessing the power of narrative for social change.

Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

The Somali Star Campaign

I love the point you make about "the collective story of what we present together" Nisreen!

Another great example of using a collective narrative to maintain moementum is the American Refguee Committee's Somali Star Campaign.  The campaign began in the Twin Cities when members of the Somali diaspora community located here approached the American Refugee Committee.  They wanted to raise awarenss about the humanitarian crisis in Somalia and send money to those suffering.  However, previous human rights campaigns for Somalia raised little money because they didn't challenge the false perceptions of Somalia as "another African country beset with violence and intractable to change."   

The American Refugee Committee, in partnernship with the Somali diaspa community, decided to change the narrative in their campaign.  Rather than using images of Somalia's suffering and bringing up issues of tribal conflict, they created the "I Am A Star Campaign."  This campaign set a goal to shift the Somali narrative from one of pirates and starvation to a message of community strengths, hope and humanity by engaging and activating Somalia’s neighbors all around the world. It was about building solidarity with Somali neighbors on a global scale and raising funds for famine relief.

The video below shows an ad for the campaign, depicting the participants of the campaign saying what they did for Somalia.  The campaign asks everyone to be to "Be a Star for Somalia" and donate to the campaign. 

This human rights advocacy campaign worked to create and maintain momentum by crafting a story of Somali's succeeding.  This tactic gave Somali's the agency to project their own images and the opportunity to challenge the stereotypical perception of their country.  In this way, they generated hope in the Somali communities internationally and inspired people to donate to the campaign.  The American Refugee Committee writes about the campaign: "We are uniting and mobilizing communities outside of Somalia to provide desperately needed help in Somalia. Basically, the efforts, creativity, hardwork and support of people and communities around the world are making our efforts in Somalia a reality."

Through this campaign, 22,469 families in Somalia have received food assistance

--Brittany Landorf

New Tactics in Human Rights Intern

Great example of harnessing the power of narrative

Great example, Brittany! Thanks for sharing this, Brittany! I am a Star is a great example of using the power of storytelling and narrative.

Eager to learn of other examples like this!

- Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

Changing perception to build momentum

Thanks Brittany. Your post made me think of how at points we need to use our own stories - not those around challenge- but those around success and ability in order to change perceptions and create momentum. Understanding why a campaign is not gearing momentum is always a first step. I wonder how the American Refugee Committee figured out that changing perceptions about Somalis is what it needs to do!

More on story, motivation, and momentum - this time in Arabic

Anothe source for the public narrative/ story work in Arabic is . This link takes you to the chapter on story telling in Arabic. 

Mutual Creating

I love what everyone is saying about the power of storytelling! Conducting oral histories should be transformative for the the interviewer and interviewee and is so important in building empathy. In an oral history interview both people have equal investment and control in the interview. Too often lead organizers just ask,ask,ask (or demand) without listening back. Listening to each other is so important! This can help create stronger relationships between allies.

Treating your allies and partners as equals is really important. It's great to give your allies the resources they need to do the work, but it would also be great to build resources collaboratively - make people more a part of the process. Some might not want to, but others would relish adding their skills. One tool I've been loving lately is icebergs - which lets people collaboratively gather all sort of multimedia from the internet, or upload photos, documents etc. I think it could be a cool tool to help people build engaging toolkits together. Or even just use google docs. But don't just send out a resource toolkit and hope people use it - they might, or they might just ignore it. 



Relations to maintain commitment of our team

Sometimes half way through a campaign we help facilitate an evaluation and learning meeting with the core team of the campaign and we open the session with some story telling around "what keeps you committed to this campaign and cause?" It is an eye opener.  Sample answers: Some organizers tell their stories or the stories of others who are suffering from the problem, others remember some campaign events and peaks, others talk about the advancements the campaign made, others talk about the different culture of work this campaign has embodied and many talk about the relationships they have with one another. Relationships can maintain commitment of the team members. If it is a relationship where we took the time to learn each other's stories, and where we took the time to explore and celebrate each other, where having one on ones is a habit almost. But how can this style of relationships be nurtured in a campaign and in the campaign's meetings? I wrote an article on this but in Arabic in it I talk about creating spaces for sharing stories, for check ins on each other before we start the "work", for facing each other, challenging each other, holding each other accountable and celebrating each other. A culture like that nurtures relationships that become the reason for commitment in the time the campaign is facing challenge and uncertainty. 


As part of our work to both do public education about the Universal Periodic Review process at the Human RIghts Council and create a more grassroots-informed dialogue as part of the Review, the US Human Rights Network partnered with WITNESS to collect testimonies about human rights (and human rights violations) from across the U.S. The main Testify page is down now, but the summary video is still available on WITNESS's site:

This was a great way to use storytelling to both grow and sustain the movement, as well as introduce a more participatory element into the Review process.

Impacts of Testify campaign to gain momentum for UPR process

Great example, Eric! Thanks for sharing this. Certainly, including your allies and the public in the work that impacts them is a powerful way to build and maintain motivation (and probably the only way to do this work successfully). This is a great video and a great story. And it's a great example of a successful partnership - WITNESS, who has the video expertise, and the US Human Rights Network, who has the connections to the UN and the grassroots groups. And it speaks to Thelma's comment above about engaging your allies in the creative process, and facilitating a way to work together.

Do you happen to know anything about the impact of this video and the Testify project? Was the project able to gain as much momentum as you had hoped, to engage human righs groups in the UPR process? Is there something unique about projects based around UN reporting mechanisms that works well to build momentum? Perhaps the fact that there's a deadline helps? Or that there's an international audience? Would love to hear your thoughts.

Other examples out there? Please share them here!

Thanks, Eric.

Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

Recap of the main points shared so far

Thank you all for sharing your experiences and ideas on how to maintain momentum in human rights work! This has been so enlightening. I wanted to share a brief summary of the main points shared so far, and ask you to share any remaining specific examples of campaigns that have struggled with momentum and found effective tactics to address it.

Maintaining momentum, commitment and credibility from the public

Maintaining momentum, commitment and focus from your team and allies

  • Storytelling was again raised as an important tactic to deal with frustrations and lost hope with a team. Nisreen writes, “In campaigns were the organizers and leaders are the constituency themselves (for example persons with disabilities and not activists on their behalf) story work helps deal with some of the frustration and lost hope.”
  • “Treating your allies and partners as equals is really important”, Thelma writes. Be sure to make people more a part of the process – create resources together. Eric shares a great example of a participatory approached called the Testify campaign.
  • Relationships can maintain commitment of the team members”, Nisreen writes. “A culture that nurtures relationships can become the reason for commitment in the time the campaign is facing challenge and uncertainty. “

What other points haven't been raised yet in this discussion?

What other specific examples can you share about ways to maintain momentum in human rights campaigns?


Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

Grassroots-level diffusion

Great discussion! 

At Tostan, we’ve witnessed a growing human rights movement in the communities with which we partner in West and East Africa, particularly around the abandonment of harmful traditional practices such as female genital cutting and child/forced marriage. Over 7,000 communities have publicly declared abandonment of these practices!

A key to this movement has been the diffusion of relevant information about health and human rights and stories of change by community members across entire social networks of people. They start a dialogue about what this information means to them, and then decide together what practices promote or violate their human rights. For them, the positive change starts here and momentum builds.

How can we replicate this grassroots-level diffusion of stories in the global development arena?

From international to domestic advocacy

The Testify campaign was highly successful in engaging new groups with this otherwise abstract human rights process of the Universal Periodic Review, and we've had success, as you note, in using the human rights reporting mechanisms to build momentum because it gives groups something concrete to organize around. We also have used video reporting from Geneva to keep groups engaged who can't travel to Geneva for the hearings. See our reports from CERD and the UPR (and a postponed ICCPR hearing) on our You Tube site. However, the challenge we encounter is that once the review in Geneva is done, we really need groups to take the Concluding Observations from the Committees and work them into their advocacy, and hold government accountable in the time in between reviews. The trouble is, without that concrete, imminent goal, momentum is more difficult to maintain, especially so when, like the U.S. this year, many of the same advocates are immediately on to the next review (we have ICCPR in March, CERD in August, CAT in November, and UPR in March of next year). A strategy which has overcome this tendency, at least in part, is turning the recommendations into a concrete National Plan of Action, as advocates did following on our last round of CERD review in 2008, and then advocating with the government to implement that plan. On a related front, advocates have also come together to form the Human Rights at Home (HuRAH) Campaign which seeks to implement basic human rights infrastructure within the federal-state-local government system to ensure that gains made at the international level are translated into policy at the domestic level. Of course, both these campaigns face challenges of their own in maintaining momentum, but we have at least partially succeeded in ensuring the conversation about human rights with these government entities is not solely focused on reporting for upcoming reviews, but also about implementation. See this blog post about a meeting where we at the Law Center took the treaty process outside of the formal reporting structure and pushed the government to make concrete reforms.

Holding others accountable- maintaining commitment

We often struggle with people meeting the commitments they took in a campaign or towards a peak of some sort. Once that happens and repeated it has an impact on the pace or impact of the campaign and it has -maybe more importantly - an impact on the energy of other members even those who usually meet their commitments. Then we start talking about maintaining commitment to maintain momentum. We do scenario and role play to model holding another accountable whether in 1:1 meeting or group meetings. But it is a challenging topic. Does anyone have good resources - articles? movies? interviews? experiences?- on holding people accountable and maintaining their commitment in social movements or political/social campaigns? 

Thoughts of a failed activist on accountability
Thank you for participating in this conversation!

This has been such an interesting conversation on maintaining momentum, commitment and credibility with the public and within the movement.  I can't thank you enough for creating such a great resource!  I especially want to thank Anneke Osse for giving us the idea for this conversation topic, helping to facilitate this dialogue and engaging their network of practitioners to participate.

I hope you found it helpful to reflect on your own experiences, learn new ideas and tactics from peers and meet new practitioners. 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 commitment of our conversation leaders to participate each day has come to end, but you can still add comments until the summary is posted (in a few weeks). 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.

Thank you!

Kristin Antin - New Tactics Online Community Builder

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