What is the Human Rights Accelerator? An Interview with Shawn Shieh
The Freshwater Institute, a new hub for human rights activists based in Taiwan, recently launched a Human Rights Accelerator program in partnership with Rights CoLab. We caught up with Freshwater co-founder Shih-hung (Shawn) Shieh to learn more.
Rights CoLab: Tell us about the Accelerator. What is it designed to do?
Shawn: The Accelerator is designed to help East Asian civil society organizations develop business ideas into workable prototypes. The underlying idea is to foster a more robust human rights sector in East Asia by empowering CSOs to build diverse funding streams beyond traditional grants.
We knew that one-off workshops such as our Civil Society Innovation Lab last May were only a first step and that a more sustained program was needed if we were going to see results. The Accelerator Program gives civil society leaders the time and support they need to build out their business ideas.
Rights CoLab: As part of the Accelerator, you and Rights CoLab co-founder Ed Rekosh will be meeting with the Fellows for one-on-one coaching. How have your first meetings been? What did you discuss?
Shawn: It’s been great so far. My first meeting was with the Judicial Reform Foundation which works on expanding access to justice in Taiwan. They want to start a project to allow victims of injustices to tell their stories and express themselves through photography, art, music and other creative endeavors. Their first piece is a documentary made by one of their supporters whose father was wrongfully imprisoned. They hope to use these creative works to raise awareness among ordinary citizens and encourage them to support JRF’s work through small donations.
The second meeting was with Taiwan Equality Campaign, a LGBTQI group which started a voter platform called PrideWatch to help voters understand the positions of candidates in Taiwan’s local and national elections. TEC hopes to use this platform to expand their followers and donors.
Rights CoLab: What are you most excited to see with this program? What challenges do you forsee?
Shawn: I’m excited about the amount of interest in the program, the diversity of CSOs that applied, and the business ideas they proposed. There were 20 participants in our CSI Lab back in May, and 10 of them are continuing in the Accelerator. They represent a fascinating diversity of human rights goals: preserving the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong; LGBT and gender rights; labor rights; accountability of the judicial system and local legislatures; and strengthening civic space.
There of course will be challenges. These CSOs come from a wide range of backgrounds, some better resourced than others, and some further along than others in the process of developing prototypes. Some CSOs do not yet have a clearly defined business idea, others have more complicated ideas that will be challenging to prototype, while others are already in the prototype stage. We will try our best to customize our support to their different needs.
Rights CoLab: What comes next?
Shawn: A couple things. We’ll be holding a Prototyping Workshop on November 2 to introduce the prototyping process to the Fellows. Over the next eight months, Fellows will be developing their prototypes with help from me and Ed and presenting them to other civil society groups and experts from the social impact and business community in Taiwan for feedback. By next May, we expect that each Fellow will have developed a compelling and feasible prototype that they will present in a Pitching Forum. The winner(s) will receive a cash prize to support the further development of their business idea.
Watch this space for further interviews with the 2023-2024 Freshwater Fellows. If you want to learn more, contact us at info @ rightscolab.org