Human Rights Leadership in Challenging Times

News | Posted on Thursday 25 May 2023

If you've met or worked with any effective human rights protagonist, you may have been impressed by their dedication, their courage, and their ability to make a difference.

All these characteristics (and many more) could be part of what defines leadership - and yet there is virtually no research or published literature which explores leadership in a human rights context, nor how leadership can be encouraged and strengthened within the international human rights movement.

Human rights organisations and networks, large or small, all rely on some form of leadership (whether formal or informal, hierarchical or more collaborative). But just as there is a lack of information about what leadership means for defending, human rights organisations usually have very little resources available to nurture those who have or who could have leadership responsibilities.

A recently-launched CAHR research project, Human Rights Leadership in Challenging Times, aims to respond to both of these issues.

Co-led by CAHR lecturer Eric Hoddy and CAHR Associate John Gray, the project aims to understand the relationship between leadership and human rights practice in the context of challenges such as Covid-19 and attacks by governments on political space.

It is hoped that if we can understand this relationship better through the research then we can find new ways of supporting human rights activists and defenders globally. The word 'leadership' itself of course comes laden with assumptions and implications, and we hope to explore these as part of the project.

The project combines a research element together with professional development for the participants, including training workshops, executive coaching and the creation of individual action plans that they can apply in their work. A group of international defenders has been recruited to join and benefit from the project.

The first workshop took place online in April 2023, and generated a wonderful sense of connection and inquiry amongst the group. We're excited to see how project unfolds, in terms of development and learning for the participants themselves, and the potential learning about leadership for sharing with the wider human rights movement.

The project concludes in December 2023, and we hope to invite participants to York for a final workshop if funding can be secured.