Building trust and investing in relationship infrastructure for rights movements


Marta Garbarino


‘Trust is the currency all philanthropic transactions are based on’ stated Philea CEO Delphine Moralis at the 2024 Forum in Ghent. Her words set a pragmatic tone for three days of dynamic exchanges where foundations, innovators, and experts came together to examine insights, explore solutions, and build valuable connections.

In an era where shared values and democratic principles face constant threats, it was inspiring to see discussions at the Forum consistently returning to the core of philanthropic work: the relationship with the communities it serves. This was paired with a deeper understanding of the systemic changes needed, especially the crucial investments in relationship infrastructure for rights movements.

Could this be the new moral ambition hoped for by the philanthropic community? Here are my key takeaways from the Forum.

Finding common ground

Working in the human rights space, it’s clear that movements deeply value the power of community, especially when faced with attacks. In such circumstances, isolation can happen easily, but community provides strength. Funders should prioritize authenticity and openness, sharing both successes and failures within the community itself as part of the process rather than just promoting ‘good news’. Even when movements don’t fully align on an issue, investing in bringing them together can help mobilize and find common ground. This is crucial as anti-rights movements are notably better resourced and organized.

As one speaker rightly noted, “there is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we don’t live single-issue lives.” Funders have an opportunity to not only finance spaces for rights movements to convene but also devote more resources to organizations themselves, rather than just projects. For instance, there is still a lack of understanding about the mental health needs of frontline organizations.

When we talk about trust, we need to talk about respect

Youth testimonials, especially from the Global South, delivered a powerful message at the Forum. Young people feel tokenized and inadequately compensated for their engagement, often reduced to box-ticking exercises. Here trust begins with respecting young people, from co-designing solutions with them to acknowledging their distinct leadership styles.

Philanthropy has the unique ability to take risks others can’t. It can be a formidable ally in shifting power to the youth to deliver the impact and the future they want. Change can start from within by revisiting governance structures to better support young people. Of note, this trust-building exercise will deliver stronger, more equal, and inclusive alliances with the rights movements of the future.

Revive the social imagination

One of the final sessions I attended focused on how philanthropy can fund narrative power at scale. Recognizing that narratives are pervasive, philanthropy can unintentionally reinforce the very issues it seeks to change. For example, the myth of financial scarcity in philanthropy may result in narrow investment areas. In addition, narratives are frequently crafted by organizations rather than those working in the field. Bridging this gap is essential for more genuine storytelling that would resonate with society and garner support from rights movements.

Ultimately, this exercise requires a profound analysis to identify and rethink some of the assumptions that are embedded in the ways we all operate. Yet, this is the time for rights movements to revive the social imagination for the better and for philanthropy to channel its enormous power to narrate the hope that lies beneath it.

Marta Garbarino is an external relations officer at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Tagged in: PhileaForum2024

Comments (0)

Block Blast

The focus on supporting organizations themselves, not just specific projects, is commendable. This includes acknowledging the mental health needs of frontline workers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *