Paper: “Human Rights and International Justice: Challenges and Opportunities at an Inflection Point”

On September 12, 2011 Jonathan Fanton co-authored a report entitled “Human Rights and International Justice: Challenges and Opportunities at an Inflection Point” for The Atlantic Philanthropies. The report examines how human rights organizations fund their activities, the challenges involved in human rights funding, and the potential for addressing human rights issues in new regions. In this paper, Dr. Fanton makes specific insights into the role of global philanthropy in addressing international abuses and numerous suggestions on new areas for development. 

For a link to download the report, click here


Tisch Prize Reception Remarks

On June 22, 2011 Jonathan Fanton announced the recipients of the 2011 Joan H. Tisch Community Health Prize. Awarded by the Hunter Foundation, the prize recognizes an individual or nonprofit organization in the New York metropolitan area for outstanding accomplishment in the field of urban public health.
As Chair of the Selection Committee of the Joan H. Tisch Community Health Prize let me begin by saying what a pleasure and honor it has been to serve in this capacity.

From my time at The MacArthur Foundation, I have a special appreciation for how awards can elevate the importance of a field by honoring outstanding people and organizations.  The field of Community Health deserves our recognition and respect.

Before I announce the recipients, let me tell you about the process and criteria for selecting these two outstanding awardees.

The 8-member Selection Committee was comprised of Hunter faculty from the Schools of Public Health, Social Work and Nursing, and the Department of Urban Affairs and Planning as well as external health policy experts. The Committee did not have an easy task. We received 55 nominations in total—23 individuals and 32 organizations.

Thank you to all of the nominators and references for engaging in the process and introducing us to such worthy candidates.  The quality and range of work was breathtaking, representing all parts of our city and many approaches to improving community health.  For example:  a substance abuse program for the homeless in lower Manhattan, a Bronx HIV/AIDS prevention initiative for LGBT youth, a social services organization in Downtown Brooklyn working to decrease health disparities for at-risk children and their families, and an environmental health coalition in Harlem.

We used three main evaluation criteria in reviewing the nominees. The first was Achievement, defined as outstanding accomplishment in the development and implementation of a community-based public health initiative in an urban setting. The second was Imagination, or demonstrated originality, creativity and innovation in tackling an urban public health problem.  And the third was Impact—positive and lasting improvement in health, well-being and community life for a significant proportion of the target population, and potential for replication in other communities.

We found it difficult to compare individuals to organizations so we asked whether we could make an award in each category.  We are grateful to the Tisch family for making this possible.

While we struggled to select one winner in each category,  we want to acknowledge that there are many other highly qualified people and organizations doing great work.  So there are more inspiring stories to cover in future years.  Today’s recipients are emblematic of many heroic individuals and organizations that work to make New York more just, humane and a healthy place to live.

I know I speak for all members of the Selection Committee when I say that this was a very enjoyable—and uplifting—assignment.  Thank you President Raab for giving us the opportunity and the responsibility to help define this new prize and set the standards.  Thank you to Joan Tisch for inspiring this award and to your children for honoring you in this way.

And now I am pleased to announce the inaugural recipients of the Joan H. Tisch Community Health Prize—

The “organization” recipient is Union Settlement Association.

The reach and broad impact of Union Settlement Association in addressing the health and social service needs of a vulnerable East Harlem population make it an exemplary inaugural recipient of the Joan H. Tisch Community Health Prize.  In the words of Union Settlement’s nominator, Dr. Sebastian Bonner, a research investigator for the New York Academy of Medicine,  “With its range of programs from childcare and Head Start to senior services, from after-school programs to mental health services, and through its leadership in improving services for people living with or affected by HIV/AIDS—Union Settlement is a lifeline to one of the city’s poorest communities and is a leader among local agencies in its efforts to reduce the crippling health disparities faced by East Harlem families, who suffer from disproportionally high rates of diabetes, heart disease, obesity and HIV/AIDS.”

Of it’s pioneering work in pediatric asthma surveillance and coordination of care, Jacqueline Fox-Pascal of the New York City Health Department said in her letter of reference that, “Union Settlement’s leadership and staff represent everything we seek in a community partner: creativity, ingenuity and dedication among both its leadership and its ground-level staff, which is essential for bringing about real change in asthma management, awareness and prevention.” Another reference, Johnny Rivera, formerly of Mount Sinai and now with Harlem RBI noted, “Their programs foster healthy lifestyles, independence and leadership, and most importantly they help urban residents envision and take steps towards bright futures for themselves.”

Union Settlement Association represents an organization with deep roots in the community, a “can do” attitude, and a stellar record of leadership and achievement in improving health for at-risk populations, making it eminently worthy of the inaugural Joan H. Tisch Community Health Prize. I now ask David Nocenti, Executive Director, to come forward to accept the award on behalf of Union Settlement Association.

The first “individual” recipient of the Joan H. Tisch Community Health Prize is Dr. Melony Samuels, Founder and Executive Director of Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger.  Dr. Samuels stood out immediately for her grassroots efforts to address hunger, poverty, and health in the Brooklyn communities of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Ocean Hill and Brownsville, an area that constitutes a “food desert” where access to healthy and nutritious food is limited.  As a result, many residents suffer from obesity and related chronic diseases.  Kathy Armstrong, Board member and Vice President at Banco Popular who nominated Dr. Samuels, noted that she and the Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger “…led the early response to these troubling poverty and nutrition-related health problems with a wide range of successful initiatives, particularly a community garden program that attacks these issues from all angles.”

References Joel Berg from the New York City Coalition Against Hunger and Carlos Rodriguez from the Food Bank for New York City said that,  “Dr. Samuels’ work has made dramatic strides in helping eliminate hunger and food insecurity in Central Brooklyn”, and she “provides some of our neediest citizens with good nutrition, improving their health and overall well-being.  New York City is one of the richest cities in the world but food poverty and nutrition–related poor health is around every corner.”

While Dr. Samuels helps to alleviate the problems of hunger and malnutrition, we were most impressed by the extent to which her organization has gone beyond the traditional role of a food pantry—offering education on health-conscious food choices, food preparation techniques, exercise and healthy lifestyles to a client base that is nearly a quarter diabetic. Her vision, resourcefulness and grassroots activism make her an ideal recipient of the inaugural Joan H. Tisch Community Health Prize.  I now ask Dr. Melony Samuels to come forward to receive her award.

University of Winnipeg – Commencement Address

On June 1, 2012, Jonathan Fanton addressed the 2011 graduates at the University of Winnipeg, encouraging students to take an active interest in the leading human rights issues of the day. 

Good morning.  It is a privilege to address the 2011 graduates of the University of Winnipeg and I thank the University Community for this honor.  It is a special pleasure to be here with Lloyd Axworthy from whom I have learned so much in our work together at the MacArthur Foundation and Human Rights Watch.  The world is a more just and humane place for his effective advocacy for international conventions like the treaty to ban land mines, for new institutions like the International Criminal Court and for new norms like the Responsibility to Protect.  In times past, when my own country failed to lead in the fight for human rights, I have been inspired by Canada’s clarion call for human rights and international justice.

The University of Winnipeg stands tall among universities around the world as a beacon for scholarship, teaching, and principled action in the human rights field.  The University’s undergraduate program in human rights, the Global College, The Department of Indigenous Studies, all demonstrate a powerful commitment to diversity and respect for the rights of all individuals.

Our vision of a better world is challenged by daily events, civil war in Libya, violence in Syria, suppression of dissent in China, repression in North Korea and Zimbabwe, growing inequality in rich nations like the United States and more.

The temptation to give in to the forces of fatalism and despair is real, but I urge you to resist those impulses and to engage with public issues, not withdraw into private space.  We are at one of those pivotal points in history, with choices to make and opportunities to seize.  How your generation approaches the world will make a difference, but you have to work at it.  I am an optimist about the future, and I want to tell you why.

If you ask me how the world today differs from when I was graduating from Yale I would say this: the role of non-governmental organizations and direct citizen action is much more important now.  All over the world, people like us are joining together to influence governments and confront problems, from the environment to human rights violations, directly through the power of civil society.

By “civil society,” I mean non-governmental groups that do careful research and monitoring to expose problems, propose specific remedies rooted in law and reality, and pioneer models of direct service: Amnesty International, the Population Council, Save the Children, the Global Fund for Women  and World Wildlife Fund.  The honor roll is long.

These groups play an indispensable role in the policy process and, at the same time, advance the prospects of creating and sustaining healthy democracies around the world.  They give voice to ordinary citizens, check governmental excesses, fill in service gaps, and prod international agencies to establish norms that express humankind’s highest aspirations for justice and fairness.

And so here is my bottom-line message to you:  Get involved – you can make a difference.  Financial contributions are important and absolutely essential, but they are only the beginning.  Your time, expertise, emotional commitment – that’s where the real action is.

Let me illustrate my point with a few vignettes, taking you around the world to introduce you to some of the groups the MacArthur Foundation supports; examples of organizations which could use your help.

We start in northern Uganda where a civil war has raged for over twenty years between the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and government forces.  The LRA is especially known for kidnapping, torturing and killing children.  A local non-governmental organization, Human Rights Focus in Gulu, working with Human Rights Watch has carefully documented the atrocities: some 20,000 children abducted and tens of thousands more killed, wounded, or disabled.  This evidence convinced the New International Criminal Court in The Hague to open an investigation into the situation in northern Uganda and led to the very first cases now underway.

The International Criminal Court, or ICC, is the most important new institution since the founding of the United Nations.  It aims to bring justice to the Milosevics, the Pinochets, and the Saddam Husseins of the future.  One hundred and fourteen countries – though not, alas, the United States – have become members of the Court.  That is more, and much more quickly, than anyone supposed possible because of a group called the Coalition for the International criminal Court, an alliance of 2,000 local NGO’s working around the world for ratification.  It is a stunning example of civil society’s power to make a difference.

Come with me now across the world to Papua New Guinea, to the island of West New Britain, to look at the work of Mahonia Na Dari, a local environmental organization whose name means “Guardians of the Sea.”

Destructive fishing practices by both outside and local agents are killing the coral and with it marine life.  Some 400 species of coral and 900 species of fish found nowhere else on earth are endangered because those catching fish for aquariums in Europe and the United States stun them with cyanide and dynamite blasts – both of which kill the coral.

Land and coastal environments in that part of the world are held in common by communities, so effective reform requires local engagement.  Mahonia Na Dari established the first protected marine area in Kimbe Bay.  They have since convinced other communities to establish ten more covering 50% of the coral reefs in the area.

Now let’s transit to Russia.  You have probably been reading about the uncertain progress of democratic reform there, but that’s a Moscow story.  In the provinces, human rights groups are gaining; some 3,000 by one count.  Local people are coming together to tackle police abuse, protect freedom of expression, promote tolerance and respect for minorities, advance women’s rights and insist on the rule of law.

Here is an offbeat example of how Russians are using the courts to defend their rights.  In the summer of 2001, one of the world’s worst dictators, North Korean leader Kim Jong II, traveled across Russia by train.  The overbearing security arrangements for this trip created massive disruptions across the Russian rail system.   The Perm Regional Human Rights Center, on behalf of local citizens, sued the Russian government for violations of consumers’ rights in their handling of the Kim fiasco – and won.  Imagine a Russia in which ordinary people can sue their government and win.

The final international example takes us back to Africa, to northern Nigeria, which is largely Muslim.  You may have read about state efforts to impose Sharia, or Muslim law, and the infamous case of Amina Lawaal, 30 years old, convicted of adultery, and sentenced to death by stoning.  A local group, Women Living Under Muslim Law, took up her case, using their local expertise and cultural sensitivity to help craft a defense based on aspects of both Sharia and Nigerian law.  By holding the justice system accountable to its own rules, Women Living Under Muslim Law not only saved Amina’s life but also demonstrated that there are legal options for women living under Sharia law.

I chose my examples of NGO’s that make a difference from around the world on purpose.  While there are many important organizations here at home that are worthy of your time and money, I urge you to learn about other countries and cultures.  I was a provincial American until my early 40’s when I joined the Board of Human Rights Watch and chaired the Europe and Central Asia Division.

I have to say that of all the things I have done in life – jobs, volunteer work, serving on boards, — my association with Human Rights Watch has meant the most to me and contributed the most to my personal development.

So I end where I began.  Being engaged in community organizations and issue advocacy groups, as well as religious and service institutions will add value to your lives and make a difference at home and beyond as we search for a more just and humane world at peace.  And as you feel the difference you are making, you will take heart that the deadly forces of fatalism and despair can be turned back by the power of individuals coming together directly, unmediated by governments.

That is the way of the future in our race against global warming; against the ravages of AIDS; against the growth of terrorist networks; and against the potential of social explosion, as rising expectations clash with the stubborn persistence of poverty.

The most powerful force for good in our time is the worldwide mobilization of citizens to act directly, sometimes to supplement government action, sometimes to resist it; most often to bring compassion and competence, hope and determination, when formal mechanisms fail.  So my advice to you is to choose an issue and an organization with which to work.  And do it now.

You will make a difference and be rewarded with a more interesting and satisfying life.

Arne Duncan Introduction

On May 16, 2011 Jonathan Fanton introduced Secretary of Education Arne Duncan for a talk at the Roosevelt House.

Arne Duncan on Education

Jonathan Fanton Q&A with Arne Duncan, Part I

Hunter Students and Faculty Q&A with Arne Duncan, Part II

MAY 16, 2011

It is my great pleasure to introduce my friend Secretary Arne Duncan with whom I had the privilege of making common cause as he made Chicago a model for urban school improvement.

The MacArthur Foundation has had a long commitment to school reform in Chicago but the high point of a quarter century of our engagement occurred when Arne Duncan was C.E.O.

Chicago and education are deep in Arne Duncan’s DNA.  His father was a professor at the University of Chicago, his mother runs a tutoring program on Chicago’s South Side where he worked, and before coming to the school system he helped start the Ariel Community Academy, an elementary school built around a financial literary curriculum.  And The Academy was part of Eugene Lang’s, I Have a Dream program which provided scholarships to students who stayed the course and entered college.  It is a great pleasure to have Gene Lang with us today.

Arne Duncan became CEO of Chicago Schools in 2001 and when President Obama asked him to become Secretary of Education he was the longest serving major city schools superintendent.  In the United States.

Arne Duncan is a patient visionary or perhaps a romantic realist.  He does not let the stubborn reality of urban school problems dampen his spirits or his ambitions to move our schools up the critical path to a better future for our country and our children.  He challenges us to take the “road less traveled”.

Hear his words at his confirmation hearing as Secretary, when he said education is “the most pressing issue facing America…. Preparing young people for success in life is not just a moral obligation of society but also an economic imperative…  Education is also the civil rights issue of our generation… the only sure path out of poverty and the only way to achieve a more equal and just society.”

America’s core values so eloquently expressed, so deeply felt, so inspiring for all of us.

But words are easy.  Doing is difficult.  No Secretary of Education has gone to the post better prepared than Arne Duncan who led a renaissance of Chicago’s public schools.  Here is just a sample of what he did!

Started 100 new schools and had the courage to close under-performing schools.

The average ACT college entrance scores increased 3 times the national rate.

A record 66% of elementary school students met or exceeded state reading standards, 70% for math standards.

The number of teachers achieving National Board Certification increased from 11 to 1,200, the fastest growing rate among the nation’s big city systems.

The number of applicants to teach in Chicago tripled to 10 for every opening.

And that is just a sample.

I saw firsthand how hard he worked, how much he cared, how skillful he was at building coalitions with the business community, universities and the teachers union.  His story is a model of how clear vision, competence, commitment, compassion and courage come together to compel a system to reform and thus change thousands of lives.

He will now talk to us about how he is putting that experience to work at the national level, through a challenge to states to race to the top, a reform initiative that requires adopting rigorous standards and assessments, building data systems to measure student achievement, so policy is based on evidence, and recruiting and training top teachers and principals to turn around the lowest achieving schools.

He has put together an outstanding leadership team, infused a spirit of innovation in the department, and created a culture which documents success and learns from disappointment.  He is an empirical evangelist.

We have welcomed many policy makers to Roosevelt House but none plays a more important role in the future of our country and our democracy than Arne Duncan.

After his opening remarks we will have a conversation and include your questions and comments

Choate 50th Reunion

On May 3, 2011 Jonathan Fanton reflected upon his career experiences and political development at a reunion with fellow Choate classmates. 

Dave has opened a window on a fascinating chapter of his career, all illustration of how talented people give back through public service.

Another way many us have helped others is through our volunteer work, in our local communities, for schools and colleges and sometimes through organizations that address poverty and injustice all over the world.

I want to talk with you for a few minutes about my 30 year association with Human Rights Watch.  In a moment I will show you a short video.

Who I am was very much shaped by my years at Choate.  My family settled in Weston, Connecticut in the 1600’s and never left, indeed my 95 year old father lives within a 5 minutes drive of the of the family farm.  So I came to Choate as a provincial from a very Republican family.  But my horizons broadened here with great teachers like Herb Coursen, Gordon Stillman, Alan Low, Owen Morgan, not to mention, forces of nature like E. Stanley Pratt, Paul Julio and Pauline Anderson.

It was here I came to saw the first televised Presidential debate in Fred and Marion Thompson’s Long House living room.  And, found myself drawn to Choate’s own Jack Kennedy.  I was inspired by Adlai Stevenson’s model of public service and completely won over by his friend, Eleanor Roosevelt when she spoke here.  She invited members of the Choate History Club to visit her cottage in Hyde Park.  I can still remember the conversation about the U.S. obligation to promote human rights worldwide.  I trace my lifelong involvement in human rights to that conversation and to Eleanor Roosevelt.

My world view was shaped at Choate, by conversations with classmates, exposure to public figures and by the sessions in daily chapel.  Values like fairness, integrity, a responsibility to help others, an obligation to make a difference with privileges of a Choate education became animating forces in my life thanks to Choate.

I have tried to live by those values in my work at Yale, The University of Chicago, as President of the New School and the MacArthur Foundation.  But I have to say the most rewarding work I have done has been as a volunteer at Human Rights Watch.  My work at the New School brought me in contact with dissident scholars in Eastern and Central Europe in the 1980’s, scholars who were also leaders of local human rights movements.  To help them I joined a new organization called Human Rights Watch and gradually took on responsibility for its work in that region and the Soviet Union.

Some of the most memorable experiences of my life came from that work — being present at the start of the Velvet revolution in Prague’s Wenceslas Square, bearing witness to the overthrow of the Ceausescu regime in Romania, marching into Slobodan Milosevic’s office with evidence of war crimes, which ultimately brought him to an international tribunal, visiting each of the Baltic countries in February 1991 to investigate the Soviet crackdown.  It was in Tallinn, Estonia on a cold early February day that I reached the conclusion that the Soviet Union was finished.  You recall the challenges to the Soviet Union began in The Balkans and I could feel the sense of movement for change as I walked around the streets of Tallinn’s old town.

In those days Human Rights Watch was small, focused mainly on Europe and Latin America.  Later I had the privilege of serving as Chair during a period of rapid expansion.  Here is a short video on Human Rights Watch today.


In our lifetime we have seen the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights – which Eleanor Roosevelt fought for – take on real meaning.

Human Rights Watch along with Amnesty, Physicians for Human Rights is joined by thousands of local human rights organizations around the world fighting discrimination, police abuse and for freedom of speech and the press.  And a robust system of international justice, anchored by the new ICC, in moving the world from an era of impunity to an age of accountability.

My modest contribution to this profound change comes mainly through my volunteer work.  As we approach a new phase in our lives where we will have more time, I think it is important to increase rather than diminish our volunteer work.  So recently I have joined the Coalition to Support the ICC, became Chair of HRW’s Africa Division and just last month agreed to Chair the Scholars at Risk Network rescuing dissident Scholars from all over the world.

Let me stop here and give the floor over for a conversation about my talk and your own experiences.

Shaun Donovan Introduction

On Wednesday, April 6th, Shaun Donovan, U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development led a White House Youth Roundtable for Hunter College students at Roosevelt House. The event was moderated by FDR Visiting Fellow Dr. Jonathan Fanton.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4


It is a great pleasure to welcome my good friend Shaun Donovan to Hunter College’s Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute.  When I invited Secretary Donovan to come to Hunter he quickly agreed because he wants to have a conversation with students about housing and urban development policy but also about what is on your minds – what issues concern you, what advice do you have for The Secretary and The President.

So our format is straightforward.   After a brief introduction, Secretary Donovan will open with a few comments and then invite your questions.  He is on his way back to Washington so we have a hard stop at 4:30.

He is the 15th Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and I believe the best prepared.  After receiving his B.A. and two masters degrees at Harvard, one in Architecture and the other in Public Administration, he devoted himself to making cities better places to live and work for all Americans.

Affordable housing has been the center piece of his career in the private sector as a visiting scholar at NYU,  as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Multifamily Housing in the Clinton Administration and as New York City’s Housing Commissioner under Mayor Bloomberg.   Here he launched the New Housing Marketplace Plan to build and preserve 165,000 affordable houses.  We worked together when I was at The MacArthur Foundation because he appreciated the critical role of affordable rental housing at a time when most people were fixed on home ownership during the Bush years.  To advance rental housing preservation he started the New York City Acquisition Fund, a model for the nation.

In his bio I note he was President Obama’s designated survivor during the 2010 State Of The Union address.  Shaun Donovan is more than a survivor, he is a visionary leader determined to make urban America once more a pathway of opportunity for all Americans, including those newly arrived.

In his tenure as Secretary he has assembled an outstanding leadership team to reshape HUD.  He has rolled out a 6.6 billion dollar program to help cities stabilize neighborhoods reeling from the ongoing foreclosure crisis.  He has launched innovative programs like Sustainable Communities and Choice Neighborhoods, and he has streamlined the maze of separate rental subsidy programs and strengthened support for public housing.

Students and faculty, it is my pleasure to give the floor to my friend and inspiration, Secretary Shaun Donovan.


Atlantic Philanthropies Report on Human Rights

Below is a 2011 report compiled by Jonathan Fanton and others on the state of human rights organizations and funding programs.

Human Rights and International Justice: Challenges and Opportunities at an Inflection Point


Gara LaMarche, President of The Atlantic Philanthropies asked me to take a broad look at funding available for human rights.  Over the past six months, Zachary Katznelson and I have interviewed over 100 people: donors, wise people knowledgeable about the field, and leaders of NGOs working on the front lines.

What follows is a composite picture of trends in human rights funding, needs identified by leaders in the field, and the degree of alignment between the donors and the grantees.  We offer a series of concrete recommendations which we hope will stimulate more giving from existing donors and attract new donors.  It will come as no surprise that the needs vastly exceed current available funds.

Our conversations took a broad view of human rights including political and civil as well as economic, social and cultural rights.  We also looked at the emerging system of international justice and norms like the Responsibility to Protect.

The Historical Moment

We believe the landscape has changed significantly over the last thirty years as the modern human rights movement has come of age.  Many of our interlocutors see the need to adapt to a changed context.  In no order of priority here is what we heard.

There is something of a Bermuda Triangle of forces coming together: the instruments for human rights protection embodied in treaties and covenants are robust and that leads to (a) buyer’s remorse among some nations as the spotlight turns on their poor performance; (b) higher expectations among ordinary citizens that their rights should be protected and (c) rising cynicism as the gap between expectations and reality proves resistant to efforts to narrow it.  We heard over and over that the next period should see a relentless focus on enforcement of existing instruments not the creation of more treaties and covenants.

We also heard a concern about the expansion of the discourse of human rights which adds to the expectations but also to the backlash against rights-based approaches as more entrenched interests are challenged.

The human rights field is crowded, with 20,000 NGOs listed on alone.  The remarkable growth of small, local NGOs in most parts of the world is a welcome development.  But can they all be sustained?  Are we likely to see a period of consolidation as international funders move on and local funding proves inadequate?  We believe attention must be given to the structure of the field with some strong local NGOs receiving support to become sustainable.  We imagine a future with a network of strong NGOs in most countries of the world, some with regional reach.  And we believe it is important for there to be a few international human rights organizations based in the South.

The highly individualistic culture of human rights organizations makes the field more chaotic and competitive than it needs to be.  The field will have more force if there are more networks that allow for coordination on more issues and focus countries.  And we believe the gap between humanitarian organizations and human rights groups should be bridged.  So too with other disciplines like conservation that have a robust local presence.  The full realization of human rights is closely linked to economic development, so all will benefit if human rights and development activities are more closely coordinated.

We often heard that the human rights field is too elite, focused on policy makers but increasingly out of touch with ordinary people.  To some extent, a growing emphasis on economic and social rights makes the discourse of rights more meaningful to people.  But there needs to be a broad-based movement, amplified by intelligent use of technology, that brings home to those in power the political consequences of failing to respect rights at home and enforce treaties abroad.

There is widespread sadness that the U.S. role in human rights is weaker both because of its own record on the war on terror but also because it does not appear to make enforcement of human rights a priority in its foreign policy.  The wave of hope that greeted Barack Obama’s election is giving way to a sense of resignation that the field needs to look beyond the U.S. for leadership.

Some counsel more attention to Europe both to encourage its leadership but also to get its house in order on issues like the Roma.  Most everyone believes more attention is due to rising regional powers like Brazil, South Africa and India.

And there is a widespread belief that the human rights field needs to move beyond “name and shame” to a more complex set of tactics that include working with reform minded elements of government and with countries like China on issues where they are prepared to make improvements.  Engagement on the ground rather than distant critiques will be the new norm.  The field needs to take the long view recognizing that the struggle will ebb and flow and that progress will be uneven, a net proposition.

As the field matures it needs to develop new arguments for respecting human rights rather than rely solely on theory and ideology.  That will require research, for example looking at the relationship between peace and justice, and economic development and the rule of law.  Think tanks and university research and training programs will have an important place in the modern human rights movement.  As will unusual allies, including religious organizations and corporations.

There is a powerful consensus that prevention should be central to the next era of human rights.  That means taking seriously new norms like The Responsibility to Protect, but also investing more in the emerging system of international justice.  The ICC, regional (and sub-regional) courts and commissions, and hybrid tribunals offer robust settings for pursuing accountability when national courts fail to act.  But, as in Serbia and Bosnia, national systems can be educated by “positive complementarity” as the examples – and personnel – of the international bodies are adopted and adapted.  Many believe that accountability can be a strong deterrent to evil doers now that we are approaching an era where there is no place to hide.

We think when the history of the human rights field is written fifty years from now, the next five years will be seen as an inflection point.  A new generation of leaders and thinkers are taking over from those present at the creation of the modern movement.  The field has a more robust and diverse set of local actors than ever before.  And it is poised to use technology and sophisticated tools to advance the cause.  The foundation is strong: good basic treaties and covenants, an emerging system of international justice, strong NGOs, poised to do more.  Later in the report we offer examples of concrete actions ready to be taken.  But the challenge is funding.  Our survey does not suggest a powerful upward trajectory of the overall number of funders or the amounts to be given.  There is a danger that the momentum for the wider realization of rights will stall unless new sources of funding are identified and existing donors do more.

We purposely embraced a broad definition of human rights, embracing work that advances human rights under different terms, sometimes indirectly.  We believe growth in funding is likely to come through activity that, for example, addresses the rule of law, election reform, links between development and rights.

This discussion paper offers concrete suggestions for issues, places and methodologies which need investment.  We hope it will stimulate a conversation among existing significant donors, large and small, about how to do more and how to attract new donors.

Trends Among Donors

We were pleased to hear that the leader in the field, OSI, plans a significant increase in its giving.  And newer foundations such as Oak, Humanity United, Wellspring Advisors, are likely to increase.  Other major donors like Ford, Atlantic and Rausing are likely to remain stable while MacArthur will decrease.  We did not hear that any of the major foundations not now in the field planned to enter   But we note that Rockefeller Brothers Fund and Hewlett make significant contributions to the realization of human rights through other programs, support for the Western Balkans nations aspirations to meet E.U. admission standards and support for think tanks and critical countries respectively.

We recommend that the newer foundations, for example, Oak, begin to see themselves as leaders in the field and deploy their “reputational assets” more consciously.

European Government Funding

The increases described above will be partially offset by the decline of funding from European governments which support human rights through development programs.  That decline reflects both the economic downturn and, in some countries, new governments less sympathetic to development and human rights.

We hear that Hivos (Holland), SIDA (Sweden), Oxfam Novig (Holland) will all be cutting funding significantly.

Newer and Smaller Foundations

There are important new foundations that are beginning to make a difference, for example, Zennstrom, Unbound Philanthropy, Rowntree Charitable Trust, Bridgeway Foundation.  These foundations give $1-7 (plus) million a year to targeted issues like migrant rights, racial justice, women’s rights or places like Sudan, Rwanda, Liberia.  We believe new foundations represent fertile ground for growth and that the field leaders should devote more effort to recruiting them.

Individual Donors

We are less optimistic that donor education projects aimed at wealthy individuals will yield significant results but we still believe it is worth the effort to support groups like the Institute of Philanthropy that are trying.  And some of today’s individual donors will establish their own foundations over time, foundations that will be prospects for human rights work.

On-Line Fund Raising

On-line fund raising is in its early stages, but has great potential.  The environment field, through organizations like, have raised significant funds and built the base for mobilization of the public for advocacy.  In the human rights field Avaaz is leading the way in recruiting small donations over the Internet, raising about $8-9 million a year.

Public Charities

Public charities like the American Jewish World Service also make significant grants to advance human rights, $14 million to 450 organizations in thirty-four countries.  The Netherlands based Mama Cash favors small NGO’s working in marginalized communities with over $3 million a year.

Funders Based Outside Target Regions

There are promising examples of philanthropies based outside a country or region that work, with some constraints, on the ground.  The Brazil Foundation based in New York derives 75% of its money from Brazilian individuals and corporations, and works on legal assistance, monitoring government spending, prison conditions as well as health and education.

A regional pool of funds such as the Arab Human Rights Fund can also be useful.  The Fund is based in the Netherlands and works in fifteen countries supporting forty groups.  Its money comes mainly from Oak, Rausing and OSI, but there are a few anonymous Arab donors.  It hopes to raise more money from the likes of Denmark and Norway and expand giving from the Middle East.

Lack of Indigenous Funding

We uncovered few examples of indigenous philanthropy directed to human rights explicitly.  Time and again we heard that local funders, whether in Latin America, Asia, Africa or the Middle East, are not interested, willing or do not feel safe to fund human rights programs.  While more could be done to facilitate people giving anonymously, international foundations which are building up local human rights NGOs with the hope that local donors will take over will likely be disappointed.  But that reservation does not apply to examples like rule of law in the Balkans or social issues like health, housing and education which can have a human rights dimension.

Overarching Observations

Putting all these conversations together, how might we describe the big picture?  We believe funding for human rights (but maybe not international justice) will increase but not as fast as the needs and opportunities are increasing.  Our main conclusion is that funding for human rights and justice will be less centralized in the period ahead.  Public charities, smaller foundations, on-line giving, and individual donors will play an increasingly important role.  As major foundations that have been early funders of the human rights field are in aggregate flat or slightly down and European governments cut back, some sharply, leadership in the field will begin to shift to newer foundations that are growing like Oak, Wellspring, Humanity United.  OSI, also growing, will remain the most important source of human rights/international justice funding.

The mapping project being undertaken by the IHRFG comes at just the right time.  We need a comprehensive picture of new, small, niche donors capable of growth, some open to partnerships.  We believe the current and emerging donor leaders need to give conscious and concerted attention to recruiting new donors and raising the size of new entrants.  And NGOs will need to strengthen their development efforts to adapt to the more time-consuming challenge of fundraising in a world where growth potential is decentralized.

A Footnote on Pooled Funds

Smaller foundations are often willing to pool their funds or partner with larger foundations.  We urge the larger foundations to expand their efforts to recruit new funders to the field and offer staff assistance to them.  Established foundations can also receive money from individuals (or other foundations) to regrant in other countries.

Most major foundations have prequalified, local NGOs which could use more investment or have a sense of places and issues where additional funding would yield clear impact.

The Global Fund for Human Rights, which gets support from Ford, OSI, Oak, Rausing, is a good model.  It currently gives away $5 million a year to about 200 small organizations, but also attractive are regional intermediaries modeled on the Arab Human Rights Fund, and the Brazil Fund and Trust Africa.


We were reassured that there is a robust consensus within and among the three groups of people with whom we spoke: funders, senior people in the field, leaders of front line organizations.  Everyone recognizes more funds are required for civil society at this pivotal moment in the evolution of human rights and international justice.  And that a greater diversity of sources is essential, especially the need to encourage new donors from beyond the United States and Western Europe.  Most everyone recognizes the central role of civil society and its need for core funding.  We did not sense any sharp division: the tension between advocates of political and civil rights vs. social and economic rights has eased considerably.  There is a growing acceptance that international justice – accountability – is an integral part of the human rights picture and that international venues have potential to improve national justice systems, but that much more needs to be done to realize their potential.

We heard consistent themes: (1) the architecture of treaties and covenants is strong and the emphasis should now be on implementation; (2) that building a strong network of local NGOs and some international NGOs based in the South is central to the promotion and understanding of norms as universal and not Western constructs, (3) that only through more cooperation among NGOs and with sectors outside human rights will true lasting progress be made; and 4) that more attention is needed to prevention, both through realization of the responsibility to protect and support for local conflict resolution.

With these general observations in mind, we offer some specific ideas for action starting with strengthening civil society.  We start with civil society, non-governmental organizations, because they have been the driving force in advancing human rights.  Most owe their existence to private foundations.  Indeed, many are reluctant to accept government money which could threaten their independence in fact or perception.

As civil society grows more robust around the world the needs are growing exponentially.

Civil Society Organizations

Based on our conversations, we foresee an NGO landscape that would include:

A robust set of local NGO’s with at least one strong general organization complemented by groups focused on specific vulnerable groups or issues like security sector reform, media freedom, judicial reform;

A group of NGOs with reach beyond a single country to a region or continent, again some general and other-focused on specific issues;

A few strong advocacy groups with an international scope, with some based in the South;

A few organizations aimed at building a mass movement for human rights and international justice.

We recommend:

That a mapping project be undertaken to identify the leading and most promising NGOs worldwide with attention to the four categories suggested above.  We have in mind a classification system that would have perhaps four ratings: strong; up and coming; small and new but promising, weak or less relevant.

That an analysis be done to identify the most glaring gaps in the picture by location and issues, with an eye toward breaking down silos and building more cooperative NGO networks.

That an analysis be done of the financial health and stability of each organization, including attention to plans for expansion.  The analysis will yield a rough estimate of the investment required over, say, the next five to ten years.  A similar analysis should be done to create a reasonable plan to fill the gaps identified in point 2.  The aggregate need should then be matched to plans by existing major donors, some of which might be motivated to do more.

That existing donors focus on the long-term stability of the strongest NGOs and a select number of NGOs poised to move to that level for significant investment.

That donors talk about how to phase out support to weak or less relevant NGO’s and to encourage mergers where sensible.

That pooled funds vehicles be created to attract new donors or move existing donors to new topics.  We could imagine a pooled fund to seed new NGOs, especially in places or fields that are under-represented.  We could imagine a pooled fund for difficult places like Burma, the Middle East, China.

That more funds be invested in strengthening the management, governance, fundraising, financial planning and advocacy skills of NGOs.  The West Africa Civil Society Institute is a useful model.

That investments be made in creating regional and thematic networks of NGOs which may require a secretariat and funds for communication and convening.  The Altus Network on Security Sector Reform is a good example.

That NGOs be trained to collect, analyze and use data effectively.  As the number of NGOs has grown exponentially, the quality of data/evidence collection has been uneven.  NGO effectiveness in advocacy and ability to challenge governments’ politicization of numbers depends on establishing credibility through good data.

That a “technology audit” be undertaken for the human rights field and that significant investment be made in upgrading technology of all kinds.  This is likely to include basic office and website projects among local NGOs, creative use of video and SMS to capture and transmit information in real time, infrastructure in support of NGO networks, sophisticated use of digital media to reach a mass audience, and security measures to protect data and make its collection and storage anonymous where necessary.

That more systematic attention be given to efforts by governments to constrain the freedom of civil society.  As civil society expands across the world, governments feel threatened.  Russia, Ethiopia, Bahrain and Venezuela, among others, have recently tightened the rules, often requiring detailed reporting on activities or limiting the amount of foreign monies an organization can accept.  There needs to be a concerted and coordinated effort to head off (or moderate) such restrictions through a “civil society freedom index” and watch.  An analysis should be made of the legal framework of major countries against a template of best practices with recommendations for improvements.

Pivotal Places

We think it is important for leading donors to review the map of where human rights funding is going, prepared by the IHRFG.  That review will reveal an uneven pattern, for example an imbalance between East and West Africa, and an underinvestment in Asia.

It would be useful for donors individually and collectively to articulate the criteria for choices of where to work.  It is important that funds not be over concentrated on “the crisis of the moment”  and that places formerly in crisis now making a slow transition to stable democracies not be abandoned by donors all at once.

We did not do a systematic analysis of sources and needs by place.  But our conversations yielded some insights we share here.

Traditional Leaders

We recommend continued investment in monitoring human rights in the United States and Europe.  The U.S. lost some of its moral leadership over the past decade and is slow to rebound.  The example it sets remains important to governments and civil society around the world which look to the U.S. to establish standards in word and deed.  It would send a powerful signal if the United States would ratify a treaty/convention or two such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

Likewise, Europe has been a leader in advancing human rights/international justice in theory and practice.  As the United States has receded some, Europe, especially the Nordic countries, has been increasingly important.  Therefore it is important that issues like the treatment of the Roma, Muslims and migrants in general accord with international law and best practices.

Rising Powers

India, South Africa and Brazil are often cited as increasingly important voices (and votes) in the United Nations and other international fora (others like Indonesia, Japan, Turkey and South Korea were mentioned by some but these three are cited by almost everyone with whom we spoke).

We recommend increased attention to the international human rights performance of these countries.

We recommend investment in think tanks in these countries which can help shape foreign policy in a way that advances human rights and international justice globally.

Sub-Regional Leaders

There are often countries that are important in their sub-regions but also can play a constructive role in international fora.

We recommend a focus on these countries in two respects mentioned above: investment in NGOs working to improve domestic human rights records and think tanks which can influence foreign policy for the better.

We do not pretend to have made a scientific determination on which countries deserve special attention.  We used a simple filter of size, economic importance and a pivotal historical moment.

Among the countries we heard about are (in no order of priority): Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Kenya, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey, Mexico and Argentina.

Major Countries in Trouble

We recommend deeper attention to human rights in Russia.  Russia is a vast and complicated country where progress on some issues and in some places is possible, particularly at a moment when it seeks admission to the WTO.  We recommend:

Building a network of NGOs in the regions as well as strengthening half a dozen or so national institutions like the Moscow Helsinki Group and Agora.

Helping international organizations like Human Rights Watch and the Carnegie Endowment expand their work in Russia.

Protecting internet freedom.  So far the Internet in Russia has been remarkably free although there are signs that the government is preparing to tighten control.  In societies where the press is controlled and freedom of association restricted, communication over the Internet is vital to human rights activists.

China is even more difficult to work in than Russia, but probably more important.  There is virtually no space for direct human rights work within China, but from the outside groups like Human Rights in China keep the spotlight on China’s shortcomings.  The issues like Internet freedom and freedom of expression are absolutely critical to the development of a robust civil society and long-term change.

Progress is most likely to come from within on issues where the government is prepared for change, for example, juvenile justice reform.

And work in fields like the environment can have a rights dimension as strategic litigation can compel both government and industry to pollute less.  Issues like the environment can spark interest among the wider population which leads to a form of a mass movement, sometimes even demonstrations.  Environmental issues were on the forefront of the early popular movements allowed in East and Central Europe.  Tunisia and Egypt today exemplify the manner in which “non political” issues like unemployment and food prices can galvanize the public, who in turn expand their grievances and challenges, quickly or over time, to other issues.

Asia and The Middle East

These two regions have the least well developed infrastructure for defending human rights and advancing justice by international standards.  We have already commented on some countries in each region that need attention.

We think it is time to devote more attention and resources to Asia.  We recommend that leading human rights funders and NGOs meet to frame a comprehensive strategy for investment and action in Asia over the next five years.

We understand Asian resistance to interference in domestic affairs and the region’s aversion to the Western concept of human rights.  But progressive leadership within the ASEAN Secretariat, supported by Indonesia and to a lesser extent Thailand, has created a human rights mechanism, a step along the way to a commission and eventually a court on the model of other regions.  And the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions provides a useful venue for human rights discourse.  Both should be supported and donors should build ties with reform-minded staff and with progressive officials in ministries in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand.

The section that follows was written before the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt.  But we stand by the central conclusion: the Middle East needs more investment from donors, especially in building the civil society infrastructure.  When the history of these uprisings is written, we believe the role of social media, while important, will have been overestimated and the role of nascent civil society undervalued.

For the Middle East we recommend support for the Arab Human Rights Fund, a grant-making entity based in Holland that supports forty groups in fifteen countries.

There is also a small but growing number of NGO’s based in the Middle East that deserve support, for example the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.

There is likely to be a new openness to NGO’s throughout the region.  We recommend that a group of funders interested in the Middle East meet now and fashion a plan to build civil society.  A mapping exercise that identifies and evaluates existing NGO’s would be a useful place to start.

Helping countries in transition design a regulatory framework for NGO’s is also important.

Issues to Think About

Donors often make the most impact when they focus on a limited number of issues and places.  Our conversations surfaced many ideas from which we have selected a few to emphasize here.  Our selection criteria included: (a) frequent mentions; (b) clear opportunities for donors to make a different; (c) important and underinvested in.

Protection of Human Rights Defenders

We recommend more attention be given to the protection of human rights defenders, perhaps the most commonly mentioned issue in our conversations.  The focus on policy and systemic reform may have diluted the attention given to protecting individual human rights defenders, especially in dangerous countries like Russia, or those who work on sensitive issues like LBGT rights in oppressive countries like Uganda, Iran or Sudan.

Security Forces Reform and Monitoring

We recommend more attention to security forces reform and monitoring their performance.  Police are the arm of government ordinary people experience most frequently.  Ineffective, corrupt, repressive security forces breed cynicism about democracy and human rights.


Elections are increasingly the source of tension and violence, for example Kenya and the Ivory Coast.  More needs to be invested in technical preparations for elections so they are – and are perceived to be – conducted in a fair way.  Among the needs donors could help with: training election officials, production of citizen education materials, support of local NGOs to monitor preparation and conduct of the elections.  The forthcoming election in Nigeria is a good example of where investments could yield a significant benefit.

Internet Freedom

The Internet is one of the most powerful forces in advancing democratic discourse and practice.  It is no surprise that countries like China, Iran and Belarus recognize the threat and engage in elaborate and sophisticated efforts to censor open discussion, communication and dissemination of news on the Internet.

We believe that protecting – and promoting – Internet freedom should be a very high priority for donors.

We recommend a conference of donors with the Berkman Center at Harvard to formulate a plan for donors to invest in promoting internet freedom.  Among the ideas worth discussion are:

Support for local experts who can help media, political parties, and NGOs defend their sites.

Provision of expertise to governments on media and communication policy.

Training of judges in how to deal with the Internet and filtering/censorship questions.

Support for research on how people are using digital tools and to what effect.

Data Collection

We spoke earlier of the need to help NGOs with data collection.  But the challenge is more comprehensive.  Collecting reliable data on human rights abuses, people killed or disappeared, property confiscated or damaged and analyzing patterns that may point to those responsible goes well beyond what an individual NGO can do.

Benetech spends about $1 million a year on human rights data collection and analysis, an amount that should grow at least tenfold.

We recommend support for a conference to map data needs and formulate a plan for strengthening capacity for collection and analysis of data.

National Human Rights Commissions and Ombudsmen

National Human Rights Commissions and Ombudsmen systems are often ineffective, too close to government.  But there are instances where reform minded commissioners and ombudsmen are “working from within” on cases of discrimination and unfair treatment, who deserve support.

Link Between Human Rights and Economic Development

There are two issues which deserve careful monitoring: (a) the tendency of the international community to “go easy” on authoritarian regimes thought to be meeting good economic progress, and (b) the misuse of international aid to favor certain political and ethnic groups.

International Justice

The past several years has seen the rise of an international system of justice with great potential, but which stands at an inflection point regarding effectiveness and no longer being viewed as a Western construct.  There is a pervasive belief among people with whom we spoke that prevention should be the focus going forward.  We have seen the adoption of a robust architecture of treaties and covenants defining rights, an even stronger network of NGOs documenting abuses, and an emerging system of international justice expanding accountability.  These include the ad hoc courts and hybrid tribunals (Former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Cambodia), the International Criminal Court, regional and sub-regional human rights courts and commissions and UN treaty bodies.  We think it important to think of all these venues, including transitional justice mechanisms, as part of a whole.  Their goal is not just justice, but deterrence.

Our survey of donors did not reveal significant investment in international justice.  We believe the imbalance between support for human rights and international justice should be addressed as part of a greater emphasis on prevention and deterrence.

We include bringing national systems up to international standards in our discussion.

Here are some ideas for donors on how to strengthen the international system of justice:

Positive Complementarity

Positive complementarity is a key objective.  No international or regional body can handle all the cases flowing from a crisis or the accumulation of everyday instances of discrimination.  Opportunities for funders to advance positive complementarity are plentiful.  Investments should be made in helping international and regional courts strengthen national courts whether on the model of Special War Crimes Chamber in Bosnia and Serbia or ad hoc and hybrid courts like in Sierra Leone, Cambodia, Rwanda and Kosovo, where international personnel train local prosecutors and judges who then take over.

Strengthening Regional Human Rights Courts and Commissions

Europe and Latin America have well functioning regional commissions and Courts and Africa is just starting a new regional Court.  Asia lags behind but ASEAN has just established a Human Rights Commission.  In Africa, sub-regional courts, for example ECOWAS, also have potential.
More investment in local NGOs to bring strategic litigation in these (and domestic) fora is needed.  These cases can be expensive to investigate and litigate, but have potential for wide impact.

The courts and commissions themselves also need investment in training judges, prosecutors and other staff as well as basic infrastructure like library and reference materials and technology.  Their capacity to hear cases varies widely as does the degree to which member states adhere to rulings.

It would be useful to have a regular report, available on-line, of all decisions by regional (and sub-regional) courts and commissions and a scorecard on the implementation record.

Training Legal Professionals

A critical need for all regional courts and commissions is legal professionals well trained in international laws.  We applaud OSI’s support for a new International Criminal Law LLM at the University of Tanzania and urge that two or three more programs be started in Africa.

Strengthening the ICC

The creation of a permanent International Criminal Court represents a milestone in the evolution of a system of international justice.  It has three trials underway and another in the pre-trial stage, with the accused in detention in The Hague.  These trials will begin to define the Court.

There are ways in which private funders can help the Court at this inflection point.

Support the Coalition for the ICC in its efforts to add members.

Mount a campaign to pressure the U.S. to join the Court.

Help the Court with outreach in situation countries.

Support NGOs to gather evidence in situations that might be subject to Court’s jurisdiction.

Truth Commissions

We believe Truth Commissions are a good investment in allowing societies to heal and also in preventing future conflicts.  It is well recognized that Courts alone cannot handle the need for accountability in places like the Balkans or Rwanda.  We are told there is a great demand for help with commissions around the world, but very little funding available.  For example, ICTJ has requests from fifteen countries for help with the commissions underway or under consideration.

Strengthening U.N. Treaty Bodies and Special Rapporteurs

We were struck by repeated expressions of disappointment in the efficacy of the UN treaty bodies and special rapporteurs.  The Human Rights Council remains too susceptible to political machinations, with skillful maneuvers by countries like Colombia and Sudan blocking decisions on the merits.  Nations disposed to reaching verdicts, like Singapore and Ghana, get worn down diplomatically.  Still the Universal Periodic Review process is valuable within the country under review.  Local NGOs need funding to conduct studies that feed into the review and file independent reports with the Council.  The special rapporteurs meanwhile were uniformly praised for their efforts, but are voluntary posts beset by vastly insufficient funding.


We were surprised how often our interviews emphasized the need for research.  People on the frontline and thought leaders in the field strongly urge funders to support research and training.  There is enough experience now that best practices can be distilled, strategic choices made that use scarce resources wisely and evidence accumulated that can strengthen the practical arguments for promoting human rights.

Peace vs. Justice

There is a lively debate about the sequencing of peace and justice.

How to think about the relationship of peace and justice is a complex and important topic ripe for exploration.

International Justice as a Deterrent

The hope is that as evil doers are indicted and brought to account, those who would incite violence and commit crimes against humanity in the future will be deterred by the prospect of being held to account.   Is there evidence, for example, that the “shadow of the ICC” was helpful in mediating the post-election conflict in Kenya?

Does Accountability Matter

Is there a connection between post conflict accountability and the economic, social and political recovery of society?  There is preliminary evidence of such a connection in Bosnia but a thorough study is needed.

Social Media

The uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East have focused attention on the roles of technology and social media in popular movements for democracy and human rights.  No doubt they play a role, but the press may attribute too much to technology.

Research is needed on how people are using digital tools and to what effect.  How does information spread?  Do relationships formed through social media transfer into movements that take to the streets?  How does the interruption of Internet access affect a mass protest underway?

Economic Benefits of Respecting and Enforcing Human Rights

Martin O’Brien, among others, recommended research on the economic benefits to the larger society for doing the right thing for the individual.  Providing access to housing, education and health care without discrimination is likely to result in less crime, more productive citizens, more taxes paid.

A systematic set of studies might well show that respecting human rights is a good economic investment for society, thus broadening support for non-discrimination laws and practices.

Connection between Migration and Development

Another topic ripe for research is the connection between migration and development.  Some countries do better than others in the treatment and incorporation of newcomers.  Are there economic benefits to progressive immigration policies?

7)    Finding Community Leaders to Prevent Atrocities

We have discussed the widespread feeling that prevention deserves more attention and investment.  Could people who take the lead in rebuilding communities after ethnic conflict and genocide be identified and mobilized before a conflict reaches a crisis point, and thus contribute to prevention.

8)    Academic Research Centers

The question naturally arises: who does the research and where are they located?  There are several university human rights programs in the Europe and the U.S.

But it is important to have academic research centers in the South as well.  We recommend a scan of existing programs in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, and an investment in a few with potential.

These are a representative sample – not all – of the suggestions we heard.  It is fair to say there is a widespread need across the field for research.  We did not hear any interest in research from many of the funders.  We think it would be useful for a foundation to organize a two day meeting of funders, NGO leaders, U.N. and national human rights commissions, judicial leaders and wise people in the field to talk about the research agenda.  We take it as a healthy sign of the maturity of the field that there is a thirst for exploration of complex topics like peace and justice, a compilation of best practices, and arguments that will broaden the appeal of human rights to a wider public.


We hope this report will generate a robust discussion of the current state and future prospects of funding for human rights.  We consider this a first draft and invite comments and critiques which will inform a revised draft.  We look forward to the findings next year of the mapping project underway by the International Human Rights Funders Group and the Foundation Center.  We would like to see a group of leading funders in the human rights and justice fields – OSI, Oak, Wellspring, MacArthur, Humanity United, HIVOS, SIDA, Ford, Atlantic, Skoll, and AJWS among them – meet to discuss the future.

Among the agenda items we recommend:

A strategy for strengthening NGOs.
A strategy for supporting research, including think tanks and university training programs.
A discussion of how to think about geographic investments, perhaps using the categories we suggest.
A review of special opportunities, issues that need more attention or are ripe for movement.  More emphasis on prevention could be a fruitful topic.  As would how to employ technology more fully.
A strategy for strengthening domestic and international justice systems, including the ICC, regional courts and commissions and positive complementarity.
A strategy for recruiting new donors to the field, including language to describe the opportunities to make a difference.

On this last point, we believe leading funders are the best vehicle for attracting new donors (with direct and indirect work that advances human rights) and need to make a conscious, coordinated and concerted effort to do so.

We conclude on a note of optimism: our conversations with leaders from every part of the world gave us confidence that there is a powerful movement, gaining strength, for the improvement of human rights and international justice.  To be sure, progress is uneven and horrible abuses continue.  Progress may seem elusive because we know more, have higher standards.  But ultimately those standards and good information about abuses will lead to changes in policy and practices – if the pressure is kept on and the human rights field properly funded.

We are at a moment of hope and opportunity: a comprehensive architecture of covenants, treaties and institutions dedicated to advancing human rights, an increasingly robust network of effective NGOs, a determined group of leaders in the field and a sense that the tide of history is moving in the direction of respect for human rights.  But nothing is inevitable.  How much and how wisely we invest in the human rights field will make be critical.  The opportunity to make a difference is what motivates purposeful action and giving.  We hope this report has described such opportunities.

The Universe of Union Square

On September 16, 2011 Jonathan Fanton commemorated the publication of The Universe of Union Square by Jim Gabbe, a book that highlights the area’s rich history and cultural life.

The Universe of Union Square – Thursday, September 16, 6:30 PM
National Arts Club at 15 Gramercy Park South

First of all, congratulations to Jim Gabbe for this herculean task in putting together a wonderful book that is rich in history and filled with so many powerful images of the past and present of Union Square.

It is also nice to see so many people here with whom I have made common cause over the years.

I always love coming back to the Union Square neighborhood.   Every time that I am here, it seems that there is something new, something better.  The energy of this place is uplifting.

I am an historian by training so Jim’s book has special meaning to me.  It is quite simply the best book on a place that I have ever seen and visually, the most beautiful.  The chapter headings tell the story, “Democracy’s Stage”,  “A Creative Cauldron”, “Inventive Ventures”, “Enlightened Streets “ – we are the academic hub of New York.

The honor role of activists, writers, actors, scholars and political leaders who have lived around us is stunning.  Can you think of any other neighborhood in America with such talent, talent that rivals great periods of the past in ancient Athens or Rome or Enlightenment London or Renaissance Paris?

We come together at a low point in the history of Union Square and we rebuilt it.  I wish that I had known its rich history as we began our journey, but I now know our vision reflects the values so deeply embedded in the very fabric of our neighborhood.

Often when people look at the success of neighborhoods, they look at the achievements through the lens of bricks and mortar—the size and shapes of the buildings, and physical improvements.  And Union Square has its share of beautiful landmarks and new additions that have anchored the Square.

But, as Jim captures so well in his book, the Union Square journey of revitalization is as much about the people as it is about the physical space.  This neighborhood’s defining characteristic and strength is its diversity.  The very word “union” symbolizes the spirit and moral purpose that has animated our work together over the years.

In reading through this book, I enjoyed seeing the quotes from so many here that made a difference – Danny Meyer, Eric Petterson, Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, and Gene McGrath.  Perhaps Gene said it best when he said “Business people, residents, the arts community, schools, city agencies have worked together believing we could make our community a better place”.

It was believers like Jim, his wife Jill and family that made this neighborhood the very special place it is today.    They are part of an extraordinary group in this neighborhood that saw opportunity in challenges and seized them with a sense of spirit, camaraderie and purpose.

And that is what made all the difference here in Union Square which has been a beacon in the universe of community development corporations all across the City.   We are all proud of Rob Walsh who was our leader at the critical moment when our path forward became clear and true.  Through him, what we have done together has been a model for other neighborhoods which have enabled the citizens of this great city to shape their own destiny.  That is democracy at its best as ordinary citizens unite together, putting differences aside, to forge a common purpose:  neighborhoods that are safe, welcoming, growing – avenues of opportunity in pursuit of a more just and humane world.

Jim, thank you for deepening the meaning of our journey together and providing the context that makes sense of life itself.

Thank you.

The Nigeria Higher Education Foundation Award Acceptance Speech

On September 23, 2010 Jonathan Fanton accepted an award from The Nigeria Higher Education Foundation and discussed the MacArthur Foundation’s initiatives in the African country. 

NHEF Acceptance Speech

September 23, 2010

I thank the leaders of The Nigeria Higher Education Foundation for this award which I accept on behalf of my colleagues at The MacArthur Foundation, especially Kole Shettima and Raul Davion.  Of the 80 countries around the world where MacArthur works, Nigeria is number one in my heart, the place I visited most often, made the best friends, and care most deeply about.  I love Nigeria and its people and I am optimistic about its future.

I want to congratulate NHEF for organizing a full day of excellent discussions.  I am grateful for the opportunity to be with so many colleagues with whom I have made common cause for over a decade, especially Vice Chancellors Briggs and Bamiro.

A robust system of higher education is essential to realizing our collective ambitions for Nigeria.  And those ambitions bring us together tonight to reaffirm and redouble our commitment to Nigeria’s great universities.

I am proud that MacArthur has so far made grants worth $35million to higher education in Nigeria focused on Ibadan, Bayero, ABU and Uniport.  But we have also helped the whole system through bringing down the costs and improving access to internet bandwidth, making available the JSTOR archive of digital journals to all universities, and helping universities acquire and maintain advanced scientific research equipment.  And we are honored to partner with international companies like Shell and Total local businesses like First Bank and a growing number of alumni.

As a result of our collective efforts, we see new laboratories, libraries, IT Centers, research institutes ready to serve a new generation of students and their teachers who have completed their Ph.D’s at first rate universities at home and abroad.
But these new beginnings need to be nurtured by Nigerians everywhere.  MacArthur started the NHEF to appeal to Nigerians working abroad, especially in the U.S., to give back to their homeland, to invest in its future at this critical juncture.  MacArthur can bear witness that every dollar we have given has been used wisely, has produced results.  It is now time to compliment major donors with a broad based campaign for gifts, large, medium and small, and I hope you will help.

Universities are the bellwether for democracy and development.  Can we think of any vibrant democracy and developing economy that has not been nurtured by free and dynamic universities?

For individuals, education is the ladder of opportunity; for communities, it is the base of common values that holds diverse people together; for nations, it is the engine of economic growth; and for all who believe in freedom, education provides the moral foundation for democracy guided by respect for individual dignity and the rule of law.

Nigeria’s journey to democracy is being watched the world over.  Because of its size, cultural complexity and economic prospects, this country is seen as a leader throughout Africa and as a key actor on the global stage.  A Nigeria that improves the quality of lives of its citizens can blaze a trail to the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals.  A democratic Nigeria that respects human rights at home can encourage, perhaps even compel, higher standards in Africa and beyond.  A Nigeria that fully meets its obligations to its own citizens can provide a beacon of hope to people everywhere.

Let me say here how proud I am of my friend, Vice Chancellor Jega of Bayero, who has taken on the challenge of leading The Independent National Election Commission.  Next year’s elections are critical to Nigeria’s future: they must be – and be seen to be – fair and clean.  Ordinary citizens will engage more vigorously in building their country if they have faith that the government is of, by and for the people.  I believe passionately in Nigeria as it is poised to begin a new era of genuine democracy.

It is said that, “all work that is worth doing, is done in faith”.  Tonight, looking around this room, full of energy and high expectations, I have faith.  I believe, with each of you, that the best years of Nigeria are just over the horizon.  Together, we can each contribute to a future in which knowledge is translated into right actions, and right actions into the creation of a globe that is more just and free than it has ever been.

I have faith that through education, research, and reasoned discourse, we can create a humane world at peace.

Allow me to close by saying:

For all you have done, I salute you.
For all you are doing and will do, I applaud you.

Together we can make a difference.  Let us leave this glorious occasion committed to supporting Nigeria’s great universities.

Introduction to the Panel Discussion

Honorable Minister Chukwu, my distinguished fellow panelists:  It is a pleasure to be here with you all today.  I am delighted to be with my old friend, Professor Nimi Briggs, one of Nigeria’s most outstanding university leaders, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, a leader in transforming Nigeria’s financial situation. And I take special pleasure in sitting on a panel with Dr. Funmi F. Olapade (FOON-me F. OH-la-Fa-dey), winner of one of the MacArthur Fellowships, known as The Genius Grant.  I am pleased that so many of my friends with whom I have made common cause, including Vice Chancellor Bamiro of Ibadand and Ngozi Obonjo Iweala who was a great Minister of Education.

MacArthur has worked in Nigeria since 1989 making grants worth $83 million to over 100 organizations over that period.  Our largest commitment has been to higher education, $33 million, mainly to four institutions that we believe could set the standard of excellence for all Nigerian universities:  Ibadan, Bayero, ABU and Port Harcourt.

Our other work is in human rights and the rule of law and women’s health with a focus on reducing maternal mortality.

We choose higher education because we believe there is a direct link between a strong and independent university system and democracy.  Ask yourself this:  do you know of a strong democracy anywhere that does not have a robust and independent system of higher education?  The reverse is certainly true:  authoritarian regimes do not tolerate intellectual freedom.  As Nigeria advances its transition to democracy, the training of a new generation in the rights and responsibilities of citizenship is essential.

The second reason that we choose higher education as our main focus is the topic of this panel:  the inextricable link between higher education and economic development.

Respected international studies show that university graduates ordinarily earn 50% to 100% more money on the average than a person who stops at secondary school.  Those with degrees are usually employed under better working conditions, helping them enjoy better health, avoid disabling injuries, and live longer.  They are also more able to reason, communicate, plan, organize their lives, and manage their finances.  Their self esteem and confidence are higher than those of other people, their interests broader, and their ambitions greater.

And what is good for the individual is also good for society.

Studies show that a person with more education is likely to pay more in taxes and help increase the productivity of the overall work force.  University graduates also tend to have fewer children, with lower maternal and child mortality rates.  They are able to contribute more to society while needing less from government.  Their children are likely to perform better in school, which means those children are more likely to attend universities themselves and thereby multiply the benefits of a higher education down through the years.

Societies also gain from the research that universities help perform, enriching the economy for all by bringing technological advances to industry, communications, and agriculture.  There are good examples from Nimi’s university, UNIPORT.  The Nigerian film industry, the third largest in the world, Nollywood, is incubated by the Department of Theatre Arts.  Graduates of the Institute of Petroleum Studies are playing a strategic role in the oil industry.  And the Malaria Research Laboratory is poised to make significant contributions to malaria control in Nigeria and Africa.

Elsewhere, Ahmadu Bello University has been designated a W.H.O. center for yellow fever and influenza and made progress in the study of parasitic disease.  It has discovered new more productive varieties of sorghum, maize, cowpeas and cotton.

Ibadan has a partnership with Chicago’s Northwestern University to improve the effectiveness of HIV/Aids prevention services in rural areas. Bayero and Ibadan are offering entrepreneurial training programs so essential to economic development.

I could go on, but you get the point:  University teaching and research are contributing directly to training a new generation of entrepreneurs, skilled personnel for the oil industry, new and more productive crops, and better health outcomes for the population – all essential to realizing Nigeria’s great potential.

So I take great pride when I walk around the campus’ and see MacArthur’s work: a new library and senate building at Port Harcourt, an information technology center at Bayero, a distance learning center at Ibadan and new science labs at ABU.  And I am thrilled to see how the universities have used our support to leverage other funds.  And here, The University of Port Harcourt under Nimi Briggs and Don Baridam, stands out as its capital campaign has raised $25 million from the likes of Shell, First Bank and Bayelsea.

I conclude by saying that I have great confidence in higher education in Nigeria and feel that MacArthur’s money has been well used.  I applaud the NHEF for helping tell this success story to the wider world, particularly here in the U.S.  Let us hope that what has been accomplished will encourage those who love Nigeria to give generously to its universities and for businesses looking for a good investment in Africa’s greatest nation confidence that support for universities will translate directly into economic gains for ordinary Nigerians, but for smart international investors as well.

Universities as Strategic Partners in National Development, University of Port Harcourt Convocation Lecture

In May 2010, Jonathan Fanton spoke at the 26th convocation of The University of Port Harcourt.

May 2010 Jonathan F. Fanton, President Emeritas John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

The Chancellor of the University of Port Harcourt, His Royal Highness, Oba Akran of Badagr, the Wheno Aholu, Menu Toyi 1, (OFR).  The Chairman of the Governing Council Dr Dan Shere, Vice-Chancellor Dan Baridam, deputy vice-chancellors, and other principal officers of the university, distinguished guests, eminent faculty, students and friends:  All other protocols observed.

Let me begin by thanking the Vice-Chancellor and the Chairman of the Committee of Vice Chancellors of Nigerian Universities, for his gracious words of welcome and by expressing my admiration for the strong leadership he is providing for this institution and for higher education in Nigeria.  I also appreciate the kind words of introduction by the University Orator.  Port Harcourt is doubly blessed to have one outstanding leader follow another.  It was my privilege also to work with Professor Nimi Briggs, whose determined vision sparked this University’s renaissance.

To you all, I express my appreciation for your warm welcome.

It is a great pleasure to be back at Port Harcourt and to join you in celebrating the 26th convocation of The University of Port Harcourt, UNIQUE UNIPORT.   The special role of the University is the theme of my remarks today.  I well recall my first visit here in June 2000 as The MacArthur Foundation was considering which universities in Nigeria to support.  Vice Chancellor Nimi Briggs and Professor Mbuk Ebong gave me a full tour including the unfinished library, science labs without equipment, empty fields designated for student dormitories, a computer center and more.  There was no doubt that Port Harcourt, like other universities, had been neglected during years of military rule.

But there was a spirit on this campus that gave me hope that MacArthur’s financial investment would help transform Port Harcourt into a quality university by international standards.  I think back to a meeting with students in the Vice Chancellor’s conference room.  As a former university president, I knew that talking with students was a good reality test.  And so it was.   I heard from students wanting to work in the gas and petroleum industry who were taking courses in labs with no equipment.  They were not complaining, only telling the truth in a mature and thoughtful way.  I was impressed with their spirit, their determination, and their optimism that they would live and work in a better Nigeria.  But to prepare for that future, they needed access to modern laboratories, the internet and faculty trained to international standards.  I came away from that meeting excited by the possibilities at Port Harcourt and convinced that MacArthur should help.  The Foundation made a commitment to the University based on its leadership team, a vision for its future, and its critical importance to the Niger Delta.

The University has used our funds wisely and exceeded our expectations.  I am honored to be here at Vice Chancellor Don Baridam’s final commencement and bear witness to the tremendous improvements on this campus.  He should be justly proud of what has been accomplished here under his outstanding leadership.  His clear vision, high aspirations, practical wisdom, collaborative style, hard work and tenacious pursuit of resources have galvanized our collective financial and spiritual investment in a UNIPORT that is a unique beacon of hope.  Hear his words, “My vision for the University is for it to be ranked one of the best in Africa, renowned for its ground-breaking institutional research, innovation and knowledge transfer.”  Your university is well on its way to meeting that goal.

As I walked around the campus this morning, I saw with my own eyes the most dramatic transformation I have witnessed anywhere.

Among the physical changes I noticed are:

New School of Basic Studies
New Faculty of Management Sciences
New Faculty of Clinical Sciences
New Entrepreneurial Center
New Alumni Hostel
New International Center
New Faculty and Laboratory of Dentistry
New Three Lecture Halls
New Intra-Net Hub
New Senate Building
New Faculty of Social Sciences
New Four Student Hostels
New Department of Tourism and Hospitality Management
New Emerald Energy Center for Petroleum Economics, Policy and Strategic Studies.

The transformation of this campus is truly breathtaking.

We are proud of all this progress made possible by the most sophisticated university advancement program in Nigeria. The Capital Campaign, launched in 2007, has already raised more than $30million and is poised to exceed its $50 million goal.

I recall the critical moment when sights were set high for fundraising.  Egbert Imomoh, then Deputy Managing Director of Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC), and I convened a productive meeting at Aristo House that created the Friends of University of Port Harcourt.  That group now includes SPDC,  Schlumberger, Moni Pulo, Chevron Nigeria, Elf Petroleum Nigeria Limited (now Total E &P Nigeria Limited), Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG)  and other leading private sector companies, as well private individuals like Dr. Ebitimi Banigo, Mr. Ferdinand Alabraba, and others who support the University generously today.  I am glad that MacArthur could do its part with four grants worth 5 million dollars to help with the campus fiber optic backbone, the new Senate building, automation of library records and fellowships abroad for 37 faculty to complete their Ph.D.’s and enhance their scholarship.

But it is not only in the area of physical infrastructure that I noticed significant changes.  The quality of academic programs has improved dramatically.  Consider the facts:

  • Faculty who have studied abroad have brought home ideas for improvement. I think of Dr. Ekele [A-kay-Kee] who following training at the University of Kwazula Natal, returned to the University’s Surgery Department to set up a new Endoscopy Unit for non-invasive plastic surgery. Another faculty member, Dr. Ilimalo of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology trained at the University of Cape Town and returned to establish the only In-vitro Fertilization unit in the Niger Delta.
  • All your academic programs in the 52 Departments are fully accredited by the National Universities Commission and the professional bodies.
  • Port Harcourt has consistently been ranked by the NUC as among the best universities in Nigeria, often in the top five and number one in 2003.
  • Your university is the second most sought after institution in Nigeria for admission by prospective students.
  • The University’s College of Health Sciences has been judged to be the top program by the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria.
  • The University’s engineering program has placed second at the Society of Petroleum Engineers’ International Conference in Denver, Colorado.
  • Your Malaria Research Laboratory and the Regional Centre for Biotechnology have received support for new equipment from the World Bank as centers of excellence.
  • And with this recognition of enhanced quality, UNIPORT has been sought after for academic partnerships by institutions around the world and here at home.  Some examples: the IFP School in Paris, Doris Duke Institute for Medical Research, The Universities of Pretoria and of Cape Town and two others in South Africa, and in the U.S. with Pittsburg State, Jackson State, and Louisiana State universities.

And, at home:

The University of Maiduguri; The Rivers State University of Science and Technology, the University of Calabar and the Ahmadu Bello University Zaria.

UNIPORT is unique.  The story of Port Harcourt’s transformation is a model for all of Nigeria higher education.  And as higher education goes, so goes Nigeria.  I want to talk with you about the importance of higher education for Nigeria’s future.

Universities are the bellwether for democracy and development.  Can we think of any vibrant democracy and developing economy that has not been nurtured by free and dynamic universities?  The reverse is also true, as we know all too well:  authoritarian regimes and closed economies are by their nature insecure and dare not tolerate either intellectual liberty or academic independence.

Democracy is not an event, but a process that takes years, even decades.  It requires patience, as progress is measured little by little, day by day.

There are many building blocks but none more central to the process of strengthening democracy than education.  This seems to me undeniable.  For individuals, education is the ladder of opportunity; for communities, it is the base of common values that holds diverse people together; for nations, it is the engine of economic growth; and for all who believe in freedom, education provides the moral foundation for democracy guided by respect for individual dignity and the rule of law.

Nigeria’s journey to democracy is being watched the world over.  Because of its size, cultural complexity and economic prospects, this country is seen as a leader throughout Africa and as a key actor on the global stage.  A Nigeria that improves the quality of lives of its citizens can blaze a trail to the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) worldwide. A democratic Nigeria that respects human rights at home can encourage, perhaps even compel, higher standards in Africa and beyond.  A Nigeria that fully meets its obligations to its own citizens can provide a beacon of hope to people everywhere.

With these aspirations in mind, let us reflect on two basic connections.

The first is between higher education and national development.

The second is between higher education and democracy.

The statement of purpose on the University’s website provides the text for our reflection:

“The academic objectives of the University of Port Harcourt shall be to contribute to national development, self-reliance and unity through the advancement and propagation of knowledge and to use such knowledge for service to the community and humanity”.

There was a time a decade or so ago when experts argued that it was better strategy for developing countries to invest in primary and secondary rather than higher education.  Studies were done purporting to prove in dollars (and naira) that it made more sense to invest in early schooling, even if that meant neglecting colleges and universities.

Fortunately, this is one case where the views of experts have changed. Several years ago, an international Task Force on Higher Education pointed out what should have been obvious, which is that primary and secondary education are essential, but not sufficient, to empower people and nations to compete successfully in the global economy.

Now I certainly agree that as many young children as possible should be taught to read and write and make simple calculations.  Nothing matters more.  But we must be careful not to create a false choice between higher education and learning at lower levels.  We must strive for the right mix between the two.  Chronic problems of poverty, ill health, and illiteracy will not be solved without effective programs from first grade all the way through graduate school.

Let us be clear.  First-rate universities are not a luxury; they are a necessity.  It is essential to spend what it takes to establish and maintain them, because great nations grow from great universities, and Nigeria belongs among the great nations of the world.

But why is higher education so central to development and democracy?  Let me begin with the individual.

The numbers vary from country to country and from year to year but a university graduate ordinarily earns 50% to 100% more money on the average than a person who stops at secondary school.# Those with degrees are usually employed under better working conditions, helping them  enjoy better health, avoid disabling injuries, and live longer. They are also more able to reason, communicate, plan, organize their lives, and manage their finances.  Their self-esteem and confidence are higher than those of other people, their interests broader, and their ambitions greater.

And what is good for the individual is also good for society.

Studies show that a person with more education is likely to pay more in taxes and help increase the productivity of the overall work force.  University graduates also tend to have fewer children, with lower maternal and child mortality rates.  They are able to contribute more to society while needing less from government.  Their children are likely to perform better in school, which means those children are more likely to attend universities themselves and thereby multiply the benefits of a higher education down through the years.

Societies also gain from the research that universities help perform, enriching the economy for all by bringing technological advances to industry, communications, and agriculture. There are good examples here at UNIPORT. The Nigerian film industry, the third largest in the world, Nollywood, is incubated by your Department of Theatre Arts. Graduates of the Institute of Petroleum Studies are playing a strategic role in the oil industry. As foreseen by the Ashby Commission, UNIPORT is leading in meeting the human resource needs of the South-South.  Scholars in your Malaria Research Laboratory are poised to make significant contribution to malaria control in this country and Africa. Your intensive care unit has become a model for others.  The sandwich teacher training program of the Faculty of Education attracts students from across the country because of its quality and flexibility.  And these are just a few examples.

It should come as no surprise that studies show a direct and substantial link between improvements in higher education and a rise in national prosperity and health. Such research – whether in medicine or chemistry or engineering – is essential to helping Nigeria mine its most valuable resource: knowledge. That rare essence is not found in the ground, but in its people.  Rivers State should not only be the Treasure Base of the Nation because of oil but also the source of rich human capital educated and trained at UNIPORT.

I have been talking about how higher education is good for development. Just as important is the role a university can play in building and sustaining a democratic society.

A great university is characterized by the democratic values of fairness, transparency, and wide consultation.  It sets the standard by which all other institutions, public and private, should be judged.  It carries within itself the conscience of a society, keeping alive the vision of what a nation at its best can be.

A university also provides practical lessons.  When students are challenged by their instructors to analyze arguments, look for fallacies, and verify facts, they develop skills in critical thinking that are assets to all citizens in a free society.  So, too, when young people rouse their intellectual curiosity to pursue independent research inspired by their own interests and ideas.

Here at the University of Port Harcourt, students conduct campaigns and hold elections.  They serve on committees and develop proposals for change.  They learn how to build coalitions and count votes.  They interact with each other in ways that encourage civility, embrace complexity, and nurture the skill of knowing when to compromise for the greater good.  These are qualities that ignite democratic progress and that burn away the ignorance and self-absorption of bigoted ideologies.

There is, after all, nothing inherent or inevitable about democracy.  Democratic habits must be learned, which means they must be taught.  To understand how important this is, consider that bigotry, intolerance, and violence may also be learned and taught.  No one is born hating anyone else.  That is something we learn when the educational process is perverted and people are taught not how to think, but what to think — not to seek knowledge but to accept false myths and stereotypes as truth.

The finest universities attract talented students from around the world, from every region of a country, from every ethnic and religious group, providing a venue where differences can be understood and respected, where national identity can be forged through shared ideals not at the expense of the other.

As students become more accustomed to democratic ways, they begin to appreciate the truism that living in freedom is not only about the enjoyment of rights; it is also about the fulfillment of responsibilities.  Democracy appeals to our sense of justice because it dares to assert that legitimacy in government comes from the collective whole, not just the privileged few.  However, this thesis falls apart if citizens do not rise to the challenge by exhibiting restraint, tolerance and sound judgment, based on evidence not ideology – all qualities nurtured at universities like Port Harcourt. Graduates of this University will lead Nigeria’s citizens by the power of your ideals and the inspiration of your example. Indeed the decision by UNIPORT students to contribute to the Capital Campaign through a voluntary levy is a good example of shared governance and responsibility.  Your contribution has assisted in building the Faculty of Management Sciences and Clinical Sciences.

So it is no accident that universities are where the democratic leaders of today and tomorrow are developed.  UNIPORT graduates have been governors, ministers, judges and members of parliament.  Many are leading figures in the military.  And you have produced a Vice-President and an Acting President for Nigeria. I invite you to look around this hall at the students who are present among us today. Now imagine them in a few years, a little older, and perhaps even a bit wiser.  In their hands will be the new Nigeria, one either floundering about in a sea of troubles or, as I believe, confidently guided by their hands and sailing steadily towards a democratic shore.  And on that shore will be a fair and just society with opportunity for all.

As you can tell, I am optimistic about Nigeria and its future, your future.  Optimistic because I have seen with my own eyes, the progress made, not just at universities, but in other fields where MacArthur works, like women’s health and the rule of law. A pilot project in Kano has reduced maternal mortality by 44% and is being brought to other parts of the country by the Ministry of Health. In the human rights area, New Fundamental Rights Enforcement Procedural Rules have made access to justice easier and more effective.

But, I am realist, as well as an optimist.  I know there is much more to do, in higher education, in health, in the rule of law, and in improving the standard of life for millions of Nigerians still living in poverty.

I also know that this has been a challenging time with uncertainty about leadership at the national level.  There could hardly be a more difficult test for a young democracy.  But Nigeria is meeting the test: the business of government continues, the economy is weathering a world-wide recession, civil society groups are flourishing — in short, “things have not fallen apart”.

The election next year will be a watershed moment for Nigeria’s young democracy.  It must be – and seen to be – a sharp improvement over the elections of 2007.  Passage of the Electoral Reform Bill now pending before the National Assembly is critical.  And those in leadership must bend every effort to improve the process and call to account those engaging in electoral fraud.

Clean elections are crucial for all democracies, even mature ones in Europe and America.  Nobody should expect perfection in the early years of a democracy.  It took the United States some time to develop a stable party system, abolish slavery, and allow women to vote and more.

But I think it is fair for Nigerians to demand a sharp improvement.  And a sense of progress will be essential to keeping the gap between rising expectations and reality manageable.  Long ago, Alexis de Tocqueville warned of the dangers of rising expectations.

Nigerians are understandably impatient with problems that persist, poverty, corruption, unreliable power supplies, for example.  But building a sustainable democracy depends on the right balance between impatience and patience.  Essential to keeping the balance is confidence that the leaders chosen at all levels really reflect the wishes of the voters.  The people of Nigeria must feel ownership of their government – and share the responsibility for building a fair and prosperous society.

I hope you will not think me presumptuous in making these observations.  I care deeply about Nigeria and its people and I respect the progress that has been made since the return to democracy.  But like many – perhaps most of you – I believe Nigeria is at an inflection point.  The future should be bright given the tremendous human potential in this country, in this hall.  But nothing in history is inevitable.  All of us who care about Nigeria must focus on enabling the bright scenario which, in turn, depends on credible elections next year.

Each of you graduating this year represents hope for Nigeria, for Africa, and for the world. I believe passionately in you.  In keeping with Professor Baridam’s vision of making UNIPORT the best in Africa, renowned for its teaching, research, innovation and knowledge-transfer, I believe in your commitment to create a UNIQUE institution that will earn and richly deserve a place of honor in the world.  This University, like all others around the world, needs the continued involvement and financial support of its alumni to reach that goal.

I believe, as well, in Nigeria.  Your country is stronger for the setbacks it has overcome, and wiser for the knowledge it has acquired through adversity.  Nigeria is poised to begin a new era of genuine democracy with a more fully developed sense of itself as one nation, united, independent and free.

It is said that, “all work that is worth doing, is done in faith”.  Today, at this ceremony of clear-sighted remembrance and high expectation, I have faith. I believe, with each of you, that the best years of this University lie ahead, that the best years of this country are just over the horizon. Together, we can each contribute to a future in which knowledge is translated into right actions, and right actions into the creation of a globe that is more just and free than it has ever been. I have faith that through education, research, and reasoned discourse we can create a humane world at peace.

Allow me to close with three brief sentences in admiration of your courage and energy:

For all you have done, I salute you.

For all you are doing and will do, I applaud you.

And for your kindness, patience, and attention here this afternoon, I thank you very much.


For ten years, I was President of the MacArthur Foundation, which is one of the largest private philanthropies in the United States.  MacArthur works in 60 countries around the world in conservation population and reproduction health, peace and security, human rights and international justice.  Nigeria ranks second in MacArthur’s giving outside the U.S. and is the country I visited most often in my time at MacArthur, indeed, this is my third visit in the last 15 months.  And, it is the country that I care most about.