Don’t Get Disempowered!

Don't Get Disempowered!How a Human Rights Movement gets disempowered?
By Sunil Babu Pant, Blue Diamond Society

Activists from the ‘global south’ hear, far too often, from our donors that we should ‘Learn how to become professional, make your NGO management efficient’.

Let’s decode what “becoming professional” means and what “efficient management means”:

1) Professional means a person engaged or qualified in a profession. ‘Profession’ is the key word here, and donors would like to make sure that you become a ‘professional’ activist, and want to see you taking it (human rights work) as a profession.

2) Efficient management means performing or functioning in the best possible manner with the least waste of time and effort. For conventional NGOs this means achieving targets, writing professional reports and submitting it in a timely manner. To really understand the “danger” of becoming efficient, you must compare it with effectiveness. Being effective is about doing the right things, while being efficient is about doing things right (no matter how far you have moved away from human rights ‘activism’ to be part of an efficient management team).

As soon as a well-meaning group of activists start the process of becoming a NGO, the problem begins. No matter what is said at the outset about the ‘NGOs being free to act the way they have envisioned’, the truth is that the NGOs are deeply indebted by donors, well-funded NGOs are even worse. This is start of a ‘professional’ submission to a system that repeatedly dis-empowers and controls the movement, denies the freedom of a human rights movement to do what it is supposed to do, all slogans of ‘grassroots-led and empowerment’ not-upheld.

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“Active Participation Empowers”

Active Participation EmpowersEditor’s note:  As the IMAXI Cooperative and friends are currently ‘all active’ on the All Aboard research project on meaningful participation in global health governance, the post below from Claudio Schuftan rings a timely bell.  With our severe lack of capacity and resources, the bell resonates loudly.
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Human Rights Reader 287
by Claudio Schuftan

In human rights work, it is the highly unequal relations of power that severely limit the terms of citizens’ active participation and representation.

1. Oppressed people that lack the capacity for collective action are historically doomed. That is where empowerment comes-in in human rights (HR) work. Actually, for us, the very meaning of participation is empowerment. It pursues a significant input in decision making processes rather than mere consultation. In our case, among other, empowerment implies that, to make progress, claim holders have to use tools such as legal* and political action, i.e., we see participation as exercising a painstakingly earned political right.

As someone said, the problem is that: “Part of being powerless is that people are always speaking on our behalf”. Are we those “people”…?


*: Seeking a redress for HR violations, access to justice and justiciability constitutes one of the tools for strengthening community empowerment initiatives; another is organizing the de-facto, vocal expression of community demands through active mobilization.

2. As the Occupy Movement around the world has shown, the voices of protest become insignificant and devoid of power when they are contradicted by the media and the computers of officialdom (…and of the secret service). As Amartya Sen rightfully reminded us, some of the real progress that has happened in recent years has come from public discussion –and from agitation.

3. From a HR perspective, a country can be doing well or bad. But in order to be doing well it has to want to do well. Do most countries want to do well? I have my doubts. If they do not really want to (beyond the lip service of their too often undemocratic leaders), it shows, because community efforts in them are thwarted and vanish before becoming a-political-force-to-reckon-with. Social cohesion, pragmatic solidarity across social classes and ultimately moral and political power are key ingredients to see change materialize in any society.

Participation as exercising a political right

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