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Mapping Civil Society Innovation

to advance human rights

Welcome to our collaborative space! More and more groups are exploring opportunities to organize and resource human rights activities in novel ways, and our hope is that others will join this effort to share their ideas and experiences. Over time, we intend the site to become a rich repository of information to support civil society innovation, pooling common practical resources as well as insights drawn from both achievements and challenges.

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To include your initiative in our database, please describe the innovative organizational form (including the legal structure and revenue model) as well as its human rights impact. We will follow up with you for more details.

Organizational Forms

Types of organizational forms

The standard organizational form of a CSO is comprised of a legal structure (typically a non-profit, charitable association or foundation) and a revenue model (typically charitable grants). Alternative organizational forms that rely on other legal structures and/or revenue models include:

Locally-funded Charitable Organizations

CSOs may need to change their legal structures in order to accept local charitable funding, engage in public fundraising and apply for government contracts. They may also need to adopt a different public profile, revising their communication strategy and their programming in order to cultivate a new and different philanthropic constituency. To raise funds from the general public, it may be desirable to change their form of governance to a membership model. They may also use a crowdfunding platform or develop their own.

Social Enterprises

Some CSO functions can be carried out in the form of a business to generate commercial revenue. At their early stages, before they generate sufficient revenue to cover their operations, social enterprises may seek funding from impact investors who expect a low, slow or no return on investment. They may also seek charitable or public support in their early stages as they develop and execute their business strategy.

Individual Partnerships

Some CSO functions can be carried about by individuals working together in partnerships. Such partnerships can be sustained through marketing the consulting services of the partners or through project-based fundraising. Services that are in commercial demand can subsidize services at no or low cost. Public interest law firms are an example from the legal field, but the model can be applied to many professional services.

Tech Start-ups & Apps

Some CSO functions can be carried out with dramatically reduced cost by developing a new application of technology, often with commercial revenue generated by the application itself, like a social enterprise, and the potential to attract impact investment. Such start-ups also lend themselves well to crowd funding, particularly if crowd sourcing technology is inherent in the design of the application. Applications relying on blockchain technology can potentially sustain themselves by developing tokens that carry either monetary or non-monetary value.

Voluntary Groups

Many CSO functions can be carried out at modest cost by mobilizing voluntary efforts via social media platforms. Professional volunteering among lawyers and other professionals is also growing. Crowdfunding strategies lend themselves well to covering some of the costs of coordinating volunteer efforts, which can be further enhanced through existing or new software applications. Further, the increased degree of comfort with remote communication and collaboration by Millennials and Gen Z provides growing opportunities for mobilizing volunteer-based strategies.

About

Welcome to our collaborative space! More and more groups are exploring opportunities to organize and resource human rights activities in novel ways, and our hope is that others will join this effort to share their ideas and experiences. Over time, we intend the site to become a rich repository of information to support civil society innovation, pooling common practical resources as well as insights drawn from both achievements and challenges.

Each of our organizations is actively advising and assisting groups searching for new ways to achieve human rights aims while avoiding some of the pitfalls of the traditional human rights organizational model, comprised of a legal structure (typically a non-profit, charitable association or foundation) and a revenue model (typically charitable grants).

While we have come to depend on such civil society organizations (CSOs) or non-governmental organizations (NGOs) for the realization of human rights, that model – particularly when a CSO’s revenue comes mostly in the form of grants from outside the country where it operates – has made them vulnerable to financial insecurity as well as political attack on the grounds of perceived illegitimacy.

Where governments have severely restricted CSOs, alternative organizational forms — driven by growing trends in social entrepreneurship, impact investment, voluntarism & technological and generational change — can carry out some of the same functions. These new organizational forms, and the broader range of revenue models they encompass, also offer the promise of enhanced sustainability.

We envision this site as a platform for all those exploring alternatives to the traditional organizational form for human rights activities. We hope you will join us, bringing your own experiences and exploring the challenges of civil society innovation for human rights. Together, we hope to build a healthy and rigorous transnational community of civil society innovators working collaboratively to supplement and reinforce the already extensive transnational CSO networks we have come to depend on for promoting and protecting human rights.