Philanthropy Impact

Inspiring philanthropy and social investment across borders, sectors and causes

Human Rights: What Opportunities for Philanthropists?

Investing in human rights causes is a risky endeavour, what do we need to do to push it to the top of the agenda?

Human Rights: What Opportunities for Philanthropists?

Event report
On 29 June 2015, Philanthropy Impact, in collaboration with Mansfield College, University of Oxford, organised an event entitled “Human Rights: What Opportunities for Philanthropists?”. The event provided a valuable primer into giving for human rights projects and organisations and was well attended by philanthropists, philanthropy advisers, and human rights organisations. The issue of human rights is still struggling to appear on the radar of many lawyers and HNW individuals. The discussion was lead by experts in the human rights field: 
  • Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, public personality, chair of many human rights organisations as well as having lead the fundraising efforts for Oxford University’s proposed Institute of Human Rights; 
  • Mark Stephens CBE, leading media lawyer and trustee of Internews;
  • Karen Tse, CEO and Founder of International Bridges for Justice which works globally to guarantee all citizens the right to competent legal representation, the right to be protected from cruel and unusual punishment, and the right to a fair trial; and
  • Professor Stephen Hopgood, author of ‘The Endtimes of Human Rights’.  
The panel was ably moderated by Esther Hughes of Global Dialogue and was graciously hosted by Allen & Overy LLP.
 
An array of issues and topics were discussed by the panellists and stimulating discussion was had. The event started by outlining what we are talking about when we mean human rights, and the rights that we believe are the most important. There was vigorous debate on the current state of human rights, and whether there is cause for hope or scepticism. The panel examined serious and timely questions, for example: Should philanthropic projects focus on utilitarian aims that have the greatest impact to the greatest number, or more resource intensive human rights concerns (for example, freeing political prisoners), but which may have indirect impact on later issues? To attract philanthropic giving, should organisations focus on quantifying the impact, or the morality of their work? 
 
Panellists gave their stories on human rights giving – from Helena Kennedy’s early forays of needing urgent funding for pro bono civil liberties cases, to Karen Tse’s now global network of training programmes for human rights and civil liberties defenders.
 
Unanimously agreed between the panel was the need to focus on a partnership model of philanthropic giving: to find an organisation with expertise in specific areas, contacts on the ground, and the capacity to deliver clear, effective and measurable outcomes, and working with them to meet philanthropic goals. This focus on new models of delivering impact and outcomes is one of the future directions of research in human rights. The event raised other exciting and cross-cutting human rights issues, for example, how does the right such as freedom of expression enable other important civil and political rights? 
 
The event gave us pause to think of areas ripe for philanthropic investment: the intersection between business or the environment and human rights, or the balance between security and human rights in surveillance and data-gathering. It also forced us to consider where money is best spent – with global organisations or with grass-roots initiatives.
 
The link between philanthropy and human rights is a relatively new one, and the speakers ably demystified the field for philanthropists and wealth advisers alike. Its success was in no small part due to the experience of our speakers and moderators, and them generously giving up their time.
 
 
Toby Collis is a Researcher at Mansfield College, University of Oxford