Using cross-movement collaborations to tackle human rights complexities

The complexity of human rights issues today means that breaking down problems in an isolated way simply isn’t working—and the complexity keeps growing. It’s almost impossible, for example, not to think about climate change and how it is inter-connected with mining, agro-industries, pollution and so on, affecting every aspect of our lives. Defining or tackling various human rights problems as clear cut, separate issues is disingenuous and may even hamper progress.

There has also been growing recognition in recent years of the effects of climate change on women´s life and rights. Researchers have made clear how women are disproportionally affected by climate chaos, along with the need to have women at the center of the initiatives to tackle it. Women are leading countless adaptation and mitigation initiatives at the local and national levels, yet they are still significantly underfunded and under-recognized.  

Indeed, because of scarce resources, non-governmental organizations do not have the opportunities to connect with their peers within their own and other movements, and they often end up competing with one another rather than working together. Yet many of us are dealing with several issues at once with limited time and resources, and we want to truly help and support the communities that we serve, while also facing pressure to deliver and demonstrate impact for our donors. As human rights practitioners, we can be more effective when we acknowledge that we cannot solve these complex problems from our own corners alone: collaboration is essential.

As human rights practitioners, we can be more effective when we acknowledge that we cannot solve these complex problems from our own corners alone: collaboration is essential.

It is from this vantage point that two feminists Women’s Funds—the Fondo Centroamericano de Mujeres (FCAM) and Mama Cash—and one environmental organization, Both ENDS, decided to create a program with a common goal of ensuring that local grassroots groups have the resources to strengthen their own capacities to ensure women can exercise their right to water, food sovereignty and a clean, healthy and safe environment.  This program is known as the Global Alliance for Green and Gender Action (GAGGA), and is a partnership with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands (MFA). While FCAM—the leader of the alliance—is a regional fund based in Nicaragua, our partners are Dutch and are both global.

The first lesson we learned in this endeavor was the importance of trust. We did not know Both ENDS at all; Mama Cash was the connector between our two organizations, and in retrospect perhaps it was risky to enter a five-year agreement with an organization that we did not know. However, because we had a long-standing relationship with Mama Cash through multiple experiences of working together, we trusted Mama Cash as the matchmaker. It had also been clear since the first conversations about this initiative that we had a shared interest and commitment, providing a solid common ground to start working together.

Then there were the “simple” issues of different time zones and language. The significant time difference between Nicaragua and the Netherlands was a complex hurdle, along with cultural differences. We had to invest a lot time in understanding each other, finding ways to communicate more clearly and making a commitment to never stop asking.

Pixabay/vait_mcright (Some Rights Reserved)

It is critical for human rights practitioners within grassroots organizations to use collaboration.

In addition, because FCAM is a regional organization working at the grassroots level, while Mama Cash and Both ENDS work at the global level, we had to find ways of cooperating and dividing responsibilities that worked for everyone, taking into account that the program is being implemented in 30 countries globally. Beyond cooperation and division of tasks, we had to find ways of working in a coordinated and comprehensive way while respecting each organization´s mission, roles and procedures—finding our own independence within the collaboration. We also had to recognize and be sensible to the multiple contexts we are working on and develop different strategies, related, for example, to security issues, or how lobby and advocacy strategies have to be adapted depending on the context.

Flexibility was a key issue as well, but when we started the program, this was not totally defined. It was clear to us that important aspects were going to be developed with our partners and allies during the implementation. The collective development of relevant strategies is part of our—and that of our partners—learning and trust building process.

Finally, the most significant lesson learned from our experience is that these types of collaborations require an important investment. From when this idea was first born to when we signed and received the grant, nearly 18 months went by. We had to devote a lot of time and resources into an idea that we weren’t even sure would be approved and funded. This was possible because of the core support the three of us had, and the capacity to have not one, but several team members working almost exclusively on this project during those 18 months. It’s important to start a project like this being very clear on what resources are available; for example, one organization may not have the extra staff but it might have the expertise, relationships or partners relevant to the initiative.

Now, almost two years into our five-year grant, we have settled into our various roles and are collectively focusing on strengthening the ability of local groups to learn better practices and to influence decision-makers at the local, national and international levels. In this regard, the diversity of GAGGA organizations is powerful, especially in terms of reaching local and grassroots organizations; for example, the GAGGA universe is made up by 14 Women´s Fund, six environmental funds, 28 NGOs, and at least 300 grassroots groups, working directly in 30 countries in three regions of the world.

However, many of the partner organizations in this collaboration have been working on issues related to women´s rights and/or environmental justice at the local, national or international level for many years but were not aware of other GAGGA actors working on related issues. In 2016 and 2017, we prioritized facilitating dialogues and spaces, so actors can share different viewpoints, with the intention of finding a way to work together, recognizing their differences. A key focus for us in 2018 is to try and influence the Green Climate Fund, its accreditation process as well as specific fund-wide policies, and we aim to involve different GAGGA actors that see this as a priority. For example, in South America earlier past year we helped to organize a campaign around the right to water, and we are expecting to build on this work with our partners over the next few years to influence decision-makers in various spaces.

This collaboration has reached many grassroots organizations, building capacity among local people and also learning from each other to create better strategies. It has certainly been a challenging and risky process, but the results we have seen thus far encourage us to believe that it has been well worth the struggle.