The Freshwater Institute is on a fast track to becoming an independent organization and regional resource for human rights innovators.  

In December 2023, 29 members of the Freshwater Institute’s general assembly held their first in-person meeting. The general assembly and board meeting are a milestone in the process of registering Freshwater as an independent civil society organization with the Taiwan Ministry of Interior.  

After approving the articles of association, work plan, and budget, the general assembly held elections for the nine members of the board of directors and three supervisors, as required by Taiwan’s Ministry of Interior. Annie Huang, Freshwater’s newly appointed Senior Advisor, moderated the election process. The elected board members include experienced civil society and international NGO leaders in Taiwan, in addition to a lawyer, two academics, a social impact consultant based in London, and an independent photojournalist.

After the general assembly, the elected board members convened to choose the board chair. Freshwater’s board chair is Clarence Chou, a lawyer who has been involved with a number of human rights legal cases in Taiwan and was previously the board chair of Taiwan’s oldest human rights organization, Taiwan Association for Human Rights (TAHR).

Shawn Shieh, co-founder of the Freshwater Institute, shared his thoughts with the general assembly on Freshwater’s role in promoting human rights in East Asia. In his remarks, he noted:

I moved to Taiwan two years ago, after working for more than 10 years with NGOs in China, Hong Kong, and the Global South. I’ve seen that the world is changing and the space for advocacy NGOs and moderate, nonviolent solutions is getting smaller, while the space for extremism, conflict and war is growing.

Taiwan is an exception to this global trend. There is still space here for civil society to develop. I want to use this space to think about new ways to support and strengthen groups advocating for a more equal, just, and peaceful world. One way is to help these groups develop new business and fundraising models so they can have more diverse and sustainable funding. A second way is to strengthen networking in the region between advocacy groups in Taiwan and groups outside of Taiwan.

Here at Freshwater, we see ourselves playing a supporting role to human rights groups working on the frontlines by strengthening the ecosystem that allows civil society and human rights to flourish.