At Rights CoLab we want activists to have the space and support they need to be resilient and innovative in their response to human rights abuses. Across our networks, we hear loud and clear messages about two major operational challenges human rights activists are facing:

  • They need to come up with new ways of raising money to fund their operations.
  • They need to stay safe and continue working in the face of increased government surveillance, restriction, and criminalization of civil society activity.

That is why we are excited to announce the launch of the Freshwater Institute, a new initiative to promote organizing, learning, and strategic exchange among human rights innovators in East Asia.

Freshwater is co-led by Ed Rekosh, co-founder of Rights CoLab, and Shawn Shieh, a Rights CoLab contributor and founder of Social Innovations Advisory. Shawn works with human rights activists to re-think, re-orient and re-strategize their work in challenging spaces such as China and Hong Kong; he also helps CSOs in other regions assess the social risks of Chinese overseas investment as part of the Belt and Road Initiative. Shawn and Ed previously developed workshops for East Asian civil society organizations on alternative business models, which led to the idea to create Freshwater.

At the heart of the Freshwater Institute is a collaborative human rights accelerator program for emerging and established human rights activists and CSO leaders. By late spring, we will open a competitive selection process to select the first cohort of Freshwater Fellows. Our first big event is the Civil Society Innovation Lab, a 3-day, in-person experience to be held in May in Taipei. For representatives of Asian civil society organizations seeking more tailored support, Shawn and Ed will offer advisory services based on their decades of experience in research, organizational development, and human rights activism. We are also developing summer internships for bilingual (English and Chinese) students with an interest in civil society and human rights. 

Our goal is to develop the Freshwater Institute into a lasting NGO  based in Taiwan with regional impact. We envision the Freshwater Institute developing into a space for networking, retreat, and reflection—a place where Asia Pacific CSOs and activists gather to build trust and develop shared strategies in a safe, collegial environment surrounded by nature.

Stay tuned for more information on the Civil Society Innovation Lab, the application process for the Freshwater Accelerator, and the launch of Freshwater Institute’s website!


Photo by Andrew Bertram on Unsplash