Mission and HerStory
Our mission is to resource the resilience of women and non-binary human rights defenders by strengthening and sustaining webs of security and care. Our strategies are multi-faceted and linked to a transformative agenda of achieving social justice, building a solidarity economy and re-imagining cultures, including the culture of giving in Asia and the Pacific.
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Values and Change
We are led by activists, rooted in feminism, and strengthened through solidarity. We believe that the best way to support activists seeking to effect systemic change is to adopt a flexible, adaptive grantmaking approach that supports the creativity and vision of grassroots leaders and a diversity of tactics. This is because grassroots activists are constantly devising new methods for creating change. Flexible grantmaking allows activists to innovate and respond to unanticipated situations as they arise.
Within this flexible framework, what then are the ingredients of systemic change? First, we believe that grassroots leadership and community action are crucial. Urgent Action Fund supports long-term change efforts by supporting the vision, creativity, and agency of local activists – and not telling them what they should be doing.
Second, we believe that women have a unique contribution to make. The link between women and peace-building is well known but poorly supported. Women are often excluded from peace-building and post-conflict reconstruction processes. Urgent Action Fund Asia and Pacific supports women as agents of change in their communities.
Third, it is critical to recognize that changing oppressive systems often results in violent backlash. As shared in the findings of UAF’s 2016 Regional Consultation Report, human rights violators have found new damaging ways to deny human rights access to WHRDs. The push-back against the accordance of fundamental freedoms to WRHDs in the front lines of activism have given rise to waves of violence perpetrated by authoritarian regimes and other actors. The confluence of powers – political, economic, and also social has greatly marginalized communities, and creates or compounds the vulnerability of defenders. The convergence of powers between the elite in government, the police, military and security forces, and private interests of foreign companies invested in extractive industries account for high incidents of killings in the region and elsewhere. Poverty and other forms of exclusion also make defenders of specific communities vulnerable. UAF understands that investing in activists’ security is not only a moral imperative – it is critical to social change… and it’s also a good investment. Urgent Action Fund Asia and Pacific provides Protection & Security grants to women’s human rights activists in its two regions.
Fourth, funders, politicians, and policymakers play an important role in systemic change. Therefore, Urgent Action Fund leverages the power we have as a funder to advocate on behalf of our grantees with larger foundations and in political and policy circles.
And finally, we believe funders must see ourselves as part of movements for change, and hold ourselves accountable accordingly. Funders, then, have an opportunity to play a role in shifting the power dynamics between funder and grantee and between the global north and global south. This includes everything from how, where, and from whom we raise money, down to the daily interactions we have with activists and our donors. Urgent Action Fund trusts activists on the ground to identify effective strategies that we are committed to financially supporting and advocating for. We respect their knowledge, and honor their autonomy and dignity in all that we do. As Rauda Morcos, a Palestinian queer activist who lives in Israel, told us, “Urgent Action Fund listens, communicates, and adapts to the needs of activists. When you speak with UAF, you’re speaking at eye level: activist to activist.”
Our values and concept of change are inextricably intertwined, and all of our programming flows from this source.
Centered on a groundbreaking model of rapid response grantmaking, the Urgent Action Funds support courageous women and transgender human rights defenders (WHRDs) around the world. This model protects and advances the civil, political and social rights of women and LGBTI people, and invests in the resilience of social justice movements, including environmental, feminist, anti-corruption, land rights, peace, youth, and LGBTI movements. Collectively, more than $20 million in resources has been mobilized by the Urgent Actions Funds for women’s human rights defenders.
Urgent Action Fund was established nearly twenty years ago to support the resiliency of WHRDs globally during moments of threat or unanticipated advocacy opportunities. It pioneered the practice of rapid response grantmaking and the use of online, mobile, and SMS grant applications in rapid philanthropy. Among the Sister Funds, it is particularly adept on issues of digital security and digital advocacy. And, it produced the groundbreaking publications on issues of resilience and activism in difficult contexts:
To date, it has supported WHRDs affiliated with over 1,500 community-based organizations in over 80 countries in Asia, the Middle East, Europe and North America.
In 2001, Urgent Action Fund (UAF)-Africa was launched in Nairobi, Kenya. It is recognized as a Fund that catalyzes important ideas and debates on the African continent as well as for its work supporting women defenders of human rights. It responds to issues, conversations and processes around women’s rights in Africa, and, unapologetically supports African feminists and women’s rights organizations to seize windows of opportunity, fracture patriarchy, amplify their voices, and become significant actors who can influence policy and law. Among the Sister Funds, it is particularly recognized for its convening and leadership development capabilities for activists, as well as its virtual office model and capacity to work in the five official languages of the African Union. To date, it has supported WHRDs affiliated with over 700 community-based organizations in 48 African countries.
In 2009, Urgent Action Fund (UAF)-Latin America was founded in Bogota, Colombia. It was the first women’s fund in the region to provide protection support to WHRDs and their organizations. Among the Sister Funds, it is particularly adept at integrating learning processes and an intercultural approach to grant making. It is recognized as a leading organization in Latin America on the practice of Sustaining Activism (Integral Protection) and looked to as a model of the incorporation of wellbeing practices within programmatic work. It has played a leading role regionally and internationally on the support to WHRDs working on issues of land, conservation, and the environment. To date, its grants have supported WHRDs affiliated with nearly 400 community-based organizations in 19 countries in Central and South America.
And, several years ago, women human rights defenders in Asia began to voice the need for their own regionally-based rapid response fund. In response, Urgent Action Fund took several steps, including a series of listening and engagement meetings with defenders and, for the interim, nearly doubling our own financial commitment to the region.
After these years of preparation, in November 2017, the establishment of Urgent Action Fund – Asia Pacific (UAFA&P) was celebrated in Colombo, Sri Lanka. UAFA&P is the first regionally-based rapid response mechanism for WHRDs in the two regions.
As each Sister Fund has established itself, we have built a stronger web of support for WHRDs together.
Each Urgent Action Fund is independent and deeply integrated within local networks in its region. And, each implements a common model of rapid response grantmaking, alongside other support services to WHRDs in her region. Our rapid response model uses online, text and mobile applications to act quickly to advance human rights at the grassroots. We respond to requests from WHRDs within 24 to 72 hours and aim to have funds available on the ground within a week.
Our holistic approach and unique international network combine real-time grantmaking with training, knowledge production, and convening activities that advance women’s leadership, improve security for women’s and LGBTI movements, and amplify the voices and experiences of grassroots movements for equality, peace, and justice.
We are proud of this unique Sister Fund model and believe it is one of our greatest strengths. Each organization is autonomous and handles grantmaking and fundraising for each of its regions. It is through these systems of solidarity and co-responsibility that we practice sharing power, challenge hegemony, and collaborate on advocacy, strategy, and fundraising, while adapting to the unique circumstances in different regions of the world.