Support to rights-based programs: Four challenges

Human rights’ refers to rights that have legal/constitutional protection. In the development sector, rights-based work extends the argument to include basic services, dignity and justice (among others) as rights that citizens are entitled to. Rights may beheld as a cross-cutting theme that can guide grant-making strategies across portfolios like livelihoods, education, health etc. It can be tricky, though. Four challenges-

First, it is often genuinely difficult for donors to support programs over extended periods of time, given the constantly changing trends in the grant-making landscape. Priorities may be dictated by changes in global governance/priorities (the MDGs, climate change, HIV) or national policy changes (welfare schemes, infrastructure projects, large dams, right to information legislation). Work with rights-based groups (as opposed to working with service provision groups) tends to be time consuming and requires long-term engagement.
Second, donors will have to identify civil society partners that are capable of delivering on the said agenda. The choice of partners may be determined by the following considerations:
    • NGOs as external catalysts can play an important role. However, donors will have to work closely with their partners to build capacities, addressing governance issues and laying down roadmap for eventual withdrawal.
    • Developing local leadership in communities is an important priority. Donors have to determine how best to achieve that goal – should constitutional bodies like local governments be strengthened? Are there potential conflicts with local governments if NGO-led development programs/projects initiate and support parallel community-based organizations?
A third challenge is that of measurement. In particular,
    • Identifying indicators: expected outcomes may not be tangible (awareness, uptake, legalization etc) and/or be highly subjective
  • Time horizon for impact assessments: how soon can donors expect visible and sustainable impact? There are usually pressures on donors to report results and outcomes on a quarterly or six-monthly basis. This may affect the choice of projects funded
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of having ‘human rights’ as a cross-cutting theme is also likely to be challenging
Fourth, there are the risks involved in engaging with ‘rights-based’ work. Donors are likely to be wary of antagonizing governments or some part of the government machinery. Also, there is the danger that larger political developments may undo small gains made over time.

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