Advocates for human rights today have always faced hostility: indeed, it is often hostility from one’s own government, laws, and institutions that prompts the reliance on human rights as a source of legitimacy by those struggling against oppression. Today, however, after decades of expanding domestic and international recognition of rights, the trajectory is reversed and hostility is growing, and can be expected to continue to grow in most of the world in the decade ahead.

While individual activists will always play essential roles in struggles for rights, organized activism will be necessary to advance and secure rights in this increasingly hostile environment. This project aims to design a theoretically sound and practical program to fortify human rights organizations in this work: both those on the front lines of struggles for rights and those providing national, regional, and worldwide support to front-line advocates.

The design will provide a set of possible answers to each of the following six questions.

  1. What are the strongest cases to be made today for the authority and legitimacy of human rights principles, whether newly formulated or long-established?
  2. What are the practical choices available today to human rights activists for the legal form and structure of their organizations, and which are likely to provide the greatest resilience?
  3. How can nonprofit, non-governmental organizations expand their revenue models to take advantage of new private sources, including crowd funding, earned income, impact investment, and donations from the new less constrained mega-philanthropies?
  4. What forms and skills of internal management can help organization leaders better respect staff and volunteers in routine interactions and meaningful consult on decisions while strengthening organizational discipline and effectiveness?
  5. How can human rights organizations choose among potential alliances, coalitions, networks, and other partnerships to reap the greatest value with the least risk of distraction from mission?
  6. What tools, rituals, and processes can help organizations better plan their work for the long-term?

If successful, this design work could then supply the substantive content for a long-term program of development for domestic and regional organizations advocating for human rights in all parts of the world.

Chris Stone is a Research Visitor at the Bonavero Institute, a member of its Advisory Council and an independent advisor on justice reform, organisational strategy, and innovation in the social sector. He served as president of the Open Society Foundations from 2012 to 2017.


The Bonavero Discussion Group on Human Rights takes place every Tuesday, 12.30 to 2pm, in the Gilly Leventis Meeting Room at the Bonavero Institute, Mansfield College.

A light sandwich lunch will be served.

No RSVP is necessary.