Data moves us beyond anecdote — new Advancing Human Rights tools are great news for funders

dobson_bwIHRFG and the Foundation Center recently launched new tools to support the work of human rights grantmakers, including the first-ever interactive website about global human rights grantmaking, and a new report that examines funding flows for human rights by issue, population, and region.

Advancing Human Rights: Knowledge Tools for Funders is the first-ever effort to track the state of global human rights funding and to create a set of interactive data and research tools to help human rights funders and advocates increase their effectiveness. IHRFG launched this initiative in 2010 in partnership with the Foundation Center, and soon after began collaborating with two sister funder networks—Ariadne: European Funders for Social Change and Human Rights, and the International Network of Women’s Funds.

To date, four tools have been released: 1. an interactive funder-only map funders can use to explore grant-by-grant who supports which issues and where; 2. a public interactive website funders, activists, researchers, academics, and others can use to better understand the landscape of global human rights funding; 3. a report analyzing global human rights grantmaking in 2010 that serves as a benchmark for the field; and 4. a followup analysis on rights grantmaking in 2011.

We asked Christen Dobson, research and policy program director for IHRFG, to walk us through new features and explain how data can move us “beyond anecdote”.

WINGS: How can data strengthen civil society networks and work to facilitate social change, now and in the future?

Christen Dobson: A primary driver for embarking on this initiative was the realization of the difficulty of advancing human rights without a more definitive understanding of the breadth, diversity, and depth of—and gaps in—human rights funding. Without a clear sense of who is funding what and where, we were unable to identify gaps in support, assess philanthropy’s response to a major change in our field, or fully understand the impact of a new funder beginning to support human rights work.


Data moves us beyond anecdote. It can help civil society networks measure progress in their areas of focus and track trends over time. Data is a critical resource for informing decision-making and helping us to be more strategic. Social change activists, as one example, can use data about funding for their issue area to advocate for additional resources. Civil society networks can use data to better understand the contributions of their own members and then compare across networks. Pairing data about funding flows for a specific issue with data about need can illuminate gaps in support.

Another example is how collecting data about human rights funding for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) enables us to track philanthropy’s response to the Arab Spring. Between 2010 and 2011 we found that foundation support for human rights in the region increased by 33%. We will now be able to track how rights funding to MENA changes over the next five, ten, twenty years.

WINGS: You’re planning an enhanced redesign of the funder-only online visualization tool for September. What can funders expect?

CD: Over the past two years we have met with human rights and social change funders across the globe to demo our current grants map and ask how it might be more useful for their work. The updated version, created and designed by the Foundation Center, will be more visually intuitive, easier to use, and will include several new features.

When we launch, the new map will feature two main views: 1) a global map where users can search for rights funding by issues and populations supported, cities and countries where grantees are based, and the locations of funders; and 2) detailed lists of the funders, grantees, and purposes of every grant that fits the user’s search criteria. We will also add several additional “views” over the following months.

In less than a minute, for example, users can access who is funding environmental and resource rights in Brazil, how many grants support this issue and for how much, and which organizations received these grants. Funders will be able to download this information via an excel file to use in their own strategic planning or to share with colleagues. Funders can also see who else is funding their grantees and grantmaking priorities, scope out the funding landscape in a country before conducting site visits, and see where they are situated within the overall human rights funding landscape.

Before the end of 2014 we will add several entirely new features including:

  • The ability to search by the geographic area funded, rather than just the country or city where the grantee is based (the most frequent request we’ve received);
  • Downloadable charts and graphs;
  • A feature that enables funders to better understand the relationships between their grantees and other donors; and
  • Charts allowing users to see the breakdown of funding by issue for each funder.

Another key improvement is that the tool will now be compatible with iPads, android tablets, and other mobile devices.


IHRFG staff will spend the next year going to foundation offices and working with their teams to figure out how to most strategically apply this tool in support of their work. If readers are interested in organizing a demonstration and discussion at their foundation or network, please contact me at We’d love to discuss this further with you!

WINGS: Through the Advancing Human Rights initiative you’re asking funders to share their reactions to the tools, including how they are utilizing the findings in support of their work. How can funders help improve the tools going forward? Are there opportunities for funders to collaborate on common issues?

CD: This is one of our favorite questions! This initiative has only been possible because of funder leadership and involvement. The most critical action funders can take is sharing their grants data annually and ensuring that this data is as detailed as possible. This research is only as accurate as the information we receive. For instance, it’s difficult to know how much funding supports human rights defenders if funders don’t specify this in their grant descriptions.

We are particularly focused on capturing data from additional non-US-based funders, as we want to show as comprehensive a picture as possible of the incredibly rich and diverse human rights funding landscape. As public reporting of grants is required by US law, it has been easier to access information about US foundation giving. However IHRFG, Ariadne, and INWF are working with other funder networks to collect additional data, and the number of foundations participating in this initiative by submitting data has increased each year. We would love to partner with other WINGS members and Ambassadors of the Global Philanthropy Data Charter on this endeavor.

Another key way that funders can strengthen this work is by using the map, website, and reports and letting us know how these tools have supported their work, as well as how we can make them better. So far, to name a few examples, funders have used the tools to: better understand funding flows to emerging economies; identify peer donors with whom they do not usually collaborate; demonstrate their critical role in funding anti-trafficking work to their trustees; inform the design of new human rights funding strategies; and leverage additional funding on behalf of issues they perceive to face funding gaps, such as trans* rights and disability rights.

The more that we know about how funders are using the tools and what else they need, the more useful this initiative will be for the human rights field.

To organize a demonstration and discussion at your foundation or network, contact Christen at More WINGS interviews here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.