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Building a Movement Through Eye-to-eye Partnerships
Friday, October 10, 2008
Gretchen Alther (left), UUSC's Rights in Humanitarian Crises associate, listens to Rosina Philippe, a sustainable development expert, whose community of Native American shrimp fishers was devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
UUSC works with grassroots groups that are often overlooked by other government, nonprofit, and individual donors. They counsel torture victims in Darfur, repair fishing boats for shrimpers in the Bayou, form alliances among street vendors in Kenya, and fight the tide of water privatization in Peru.
"The commonality of our partners," said Atema Eclai, director of UUSC Programs, "is that we treat them as equals...We don't subsume them, we don't make them part of us. We join them."
When UUSC underwent a program review and refocus in 2004, four key program areas emerged - Civil Liberties, Economic Justice, Environmental Justice, and Rights in Humanitarian Crises. Now, each program area pursues a specific set of goals, working with local partners to achieve them.
In carrying out its mission, UUSC is committed to building relationships of equality and understanding, that honor the principle of "justice, equity, and compassion in human relations." This commitment serves as the foundation of UUSC's eye-to-eye partnership model.
Said Eclai, "An eye-to-eye partnership is a partnership that offers respect and mutuality, that appreciates diversity, that gives each other support, that is open to teaching each other."
How they work
UUSC partnerships begin with frequent conversations with groups on the ground to identify strong potential partners. UUSC staff look for groups that work in unique and innovative ways, but lack the resources needed to propel their work forward. In particular, UUSC seeks groups that approach human rights with a sensitivity to issues of gender, class, and race.
Once a program partnership is established, UUSC provides the organization with advice, strategic planning, and financial support to strengthen and widen ongoing work.
As the partnership grows and develops, initial goals can shift and change in organic ways, responding to new developments and emerging local needs.
A case in point
UUSC's work with Hands Across the Mideast Support Alliance (HAMSA) is an excellent example of a strong and innovative program partnership. Based in Washington, D.C., with offices in Cairo, Egypt, HAMSA is a nonsectarian, youth-based initiative of the American Islamic Congress, a nonprofit civil-rights organization.
An eye-to-eye partnership is a partnership that offers respect and mutuality, that appreciates diversity, that gives each other support, that is open to teaching each other. The commonality of our partners is that we treat them as equals...We don't subsume them, we don't make them part of us. We join them.
When UUSC's Civil Liberties Program asked HAMSA about a way to promote youth involvement in the movement for civil liberties in the Middle East, HAMSA suggested producing Arabic and Farsi translations of a 1950s comic book called The Montgomery Story, about the U.S. civil rights movement and nonviolence.
With seed money and encourage-ment from UUSC, HAMSA's project took flight. UUSC worked to make this happen. It was translated by a young reformer in Egypt and distributed throughout the Middle East.
The results of this collabor-ation are an inspiring, colorful pub-lication to be enjoyed by readers of all ages, as well as a deepening partnership between UUSC and HAMSA.
Remarked Nasser Weddady, HAMSA's civil rights outreach director, "UUSC is unique in its appreciation of grassroots work, of building unusual coalitions of young activists from diverse backgrounds...There was no sense that UUSC staffers were above us or the young student activists."
Our partnerships with grassroots innovators in Darfur, the Bayou, Kenya, Peru, and around the globe propels UUSC to the forefront of the human-rights movement. Looking forward, UUSC will continue to seek partners with innovative approaches to promoting human rights.