We look back at a tough past year through the lens of organisational landmarks and learning.

A illustration showing four joyful female figures holding hands and moving in celebratory circles.
Artist: Vidushi Yadav

In early 2019, we wrote this;

“2018 was a year that saw virulent backlash against human rights defenders across Asia and the Pacific, and coincidentally, it was also the first year of operations for us at UAF A&P. The need for strengthening the resilience of movements to bounce back from risks becomes imperative now more than ever.”

It rings true in 2021 as well, as we enter the fourth year of our operations. The risks facing women and non-binary activists and defenders of Asia and the Pacific have only grown more urgent, as the pandemic worsened gendered disadvantages. Last year, dissent and human rights work increasingly came to be viewed as anti-state activities across several countries we work in, directly risking the lives and freedom of activists in the regions.

Now, values of solidarity and co-responsibility that drive our work have intersectional facets too. In 2020, while internally shifting gears to adapt to only remote working, we created newer spaces of engagement and support channels. Here are our top 20 reflections of team growth and learning that came to define a tough year.

1. We gave out a record number grants to a wider intersection of grantees

In 2020, we more than doubled our 2019 grant numbers. We gave out 115 grants, totalling to over $494,000, including to 13 environmental defender organisations. For the first time ever, the recipients also included 3 Disabled Persons’ Organisations (DPOs).

We also supported activists from far-flung countries of Asia and the Pacific to access our grants. We received grant requests from activists and organisations from the island nation of Micronesia and the land-locked Laos, expanding our geographic span of access across the regions to 20 countries.

2. We released a first-of-its-kind scoping report, “Where is the Money for Women and Girls in the Pacific” in partnership with the Fiji Women’s Fund

Five female figures smiling and looking at the camera while holding up purple-coloured copies of a report.
Virisila Buadromo (UAF A&P), Michelle Reddy, and Erica Lee with the authors of the study.

We launched the study at the 2020 Australian Aid Conference through a panel presentation and discussion in February, which included the call for a distinct Pacific Feminist Fund that would support rights-based work across the Pacific. Read more about it.

3. Our adaptive grant-making responded to the pandemic with COVID Crisis Grants

UAF A&P’s grant-making adapted quickly to the uncertain, scary, and unprecedented moment that was upon us. COVID Crisis Grants were launched in April 2020 to provide quick infusions of funding to address immediate and urgent needs of WHRDs and non-binary HRDs in Asia and the Pacific. We gave out 43 COVID Crisis Grants by the end of 2020.

4. We leveraged the collective power of the Sister Funds to realise more philanthropic giving

Ten female figures standing close in a line against a large sepia photograph, looking at the camera and smiling.
Ten female figures standing close in a line against a large sepia photograph, looking at the camera and smiling.
UAF ReSisters with Monica Aléman of Ford Foundation in March 2020.

In March, the Urgent Action Sister Funds came together as a unified voice for women and non-binary defenders and activists globally. The meeting, held at the Ford Foundation in New York, was the first remote one we organised, as the COVID pandemic made gatherings too risky. It was attended by 20 funders, with most participants dialling in. This was the start of a year-long joint advocacy for philanthropic giving, including a virtual donor briefing in May 2020.

5. We re-imagined our grantee consultations and round-tables as virtual oases of sharing and support during a pandemic

A text and illustration-heavy poster containing pink-coded sub-headlines and paragraphs. Central headline states, Resilience.
A text and illustration-heavy poster containing pink-coded sub-headlines and paragraphs. Central headline states, Resilience.
The ‘Resilience Infographic’ featuring the words of women and non-binary defenders and activists who participated in UAF A&P consultations. Artists: Medhavini Yadav and Vidushi Yadav

UAF A&P adapted to 2020’s social distancing by creating secure virtual spaces where defenders and activists could feel connected and share their experiences. Seventeen grantees and advisors came together in August 2020 to help us review our work over the past 3 years. We also hosted a virtual round-table conversation in October 2020 to better understand how activists from across Asia and the Pacific understood and engaged with building, sustaining, and re-imagining resilience.

6. We ensured focused conversations around social justice and defender needs for marginalised groups.

UAF A&P’s first consultation with Women Human Rights Defenders with Disabilities was held in October 2020 to understand their needs and learn from them how our grant-making ecosystem can support them. At the end of 2020, we supported three organisations working to provide safety and well-being to women and non-binary HRDs with disabilities.

The biggest virtual consultation facilitated by the UAF A&P team occurred in October 2020, when 29 Environmental Justice Defenders from 12 countries came together to discuss their current challenges, their responses to these challenges, and the ways in which UAF A&P can support them.

7. We succeeded in developing a COVID Plan to build internal team resilience and collective well-being

The COVID-19 global pandemic affected not just our physical well-being, but also our emotional security. To cope with this crisis, UAF A&P put together a COVID-19 plan based on the Emergent Learning framework. Read our detailed approach in this blog post.

8. We were affirmed by our donors’ faith in our work

Through the year, our donors supported extended deadlines for grant reporting, besides making more money available for flexible grant-making and increased emergency support for our grantees. Foundation for A Just Society’s renewal grant of $1.4 million towards UAF A&P was a boost of confidence.

We would also like to say a big thanks to American Jewish World Service, Channel Foundation, Count Me In! Consortium, Dreilinden Foundation, Ford Foundation, NoVo Foundation, Oak Foundation, Open Society Policy Centre, Swedish International Development Agency, Wellspring Philanthropic Fund, and our individual donors, for consistently believing in our work.

9. We bore witness to the transformative philanthropy spearheaded by MacKenzie Scott

This generous and “human and soft” receipt towards the Urgent Action Sister Funds was an early Christmas gift, and a milestone in feminist philanthropy. Now it is our moment, to meet the urgent and critical needs of our movements with care and to remake and recast a future that is for all of us –a more equitable and just, feminist future, where people and planet flourish.

10. We made the RRG Database a comprehensive and secure mode of communication with our grantees

We made big strides to our feminist vision of making our grants database a safe and secure channel for applying for our grants and for follow up communication with our grantees.

11. We gave our first ‘Webs of Safety and Care’ grant under our Enabling Defenders programme

As part of our Enabling Defender’s programme, our grant was provided to a group to help them develop a feminist para-psych training module for WHRDs in their network. We envision these grants to help defender organisations and networks to better understand their inflection points for resilience and better prepare themselves.

12. We finished drafting an inclusive organisational Communications Strategy

In an effort to support our overall engagement and relationship-building across the women’s rights ecosystem, we conducted a comprehensive audit of our communications and social media channels, which led to the developing of a detailed communications strategy that will guide us over the next few years.

13. We grew our team as our work and grant-making expanded

Nepal-based Jyotsna Maskay joined the UAF A&P Grants team as Rapid Response Grant-making Support, and India-based Shruti Sharada joined as Communications Support to work with the Communications and Learning Facilitator. Later in the year, India-based Sunayana Premchander joined the team as Executive Support Facilitator to work closely with the Co-Leads and the Governance Boards.

14. We leveraged various platforms to advocate for more funds for the Pacific during the COVID-19 pandemic

UAF A&P’s Virisila Buadromo, Fiji Women’s Rights Movement’s Nalini Singh, and Fiji Women’s Fund’s Michelle Reddy spoke at the ‘Women Of the World’ (WOW) Festival in June 2020 about collaborating and co-designing new ways to tackle gendered inequalities. Earlier in the year, Virisila was also part of a podcast episode by Good Will Hunters, where she spoke about the dearth of funding for rights-based work, especially for women and girls. Listen to the podcast here.

15. We revised our Annual Report as a repository of our learnings to support our vision to be a learning organisation

An illustration showing a section of a blue curving hill and a rising sun. Headline states, Lessons on Risks and Resilience.
An illustration showing a section of a blue curving hill and a rising sun. Headline states, Lessons on Risks and Resilience.
The cover of the 2019 UAF A&P Annual Report. Design by: Vidushi Yadav

Our 2019 Annual Report was our first foray into an introspective report that reflected our experiments with emergent learning as a key tool of monitoring and evaluating our work, and making our learnings available and accessible for more funds and grantee organisations. We also chose a visual language of collective care to reinforce the message that we will tide these crises together!

16. We initiated steps towards disability inclusion by commissioning an organisational audit

The detailed audit report by a disability rights activist on how to build and sustain an organisational culture that centres accessibility, and helps reach out to more women and non-binary human rights defenders with disabilities, culminated in a two-day disability sensitisation training for the Board and team in July 2020.

17. We completed our first three-year Reflective Review process

We commissioned a look back at the journey we traversed in the institution-building phase of UAF A&P. The process of structured conversations and storytelling that we chose reaffirmed our convictions and commitment to feminist practices. The report also supported the preparatory work of our Strategic Planning for 2021–2023.

18. We undertook a mammoth virtual exercise of brainstorming and completing our Strategy Plan for 2021–2023

The UAF A&P team and Board leaned into our faith in trusting the process, and collaboratively co-designed our strategy plan for the next three years, over multiple sessions spread between October and December. Stay tuned for the release of our plan that best represents our core values and thinking on how to navigate a post-pandemic universe and its intersectional crises.

19. We created new channels of connection and engagement within our ecosystem

An illustration showing a long-haired female figure swimming in blue waters dotted with fish, lotus plants, and greenery.
An illustration showing a long-haired female figure swimming in blue waters dotted with fish, lotus plants, and greenery.
The quote poster created to mark International Women Human Rights Defenders Day 2020. Artist: Harini Kannan

In 2020, we improved and innovated on ideas of keeping touch like never before. Our quarterly newsletter became a vital connecting link for our ecosystem comprising grantees, advisors, Board members, and the team. The e-publication delivers quarterly work updates, grantee reflections, major regional trends, and a reading list.

During the global 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence Campaign, we honoured the determination, wisdom, and compassion of women and non-binary human rights defenders through posters featuring their reflections on movement-building, self-care, and resilience. The quotes were culled from the discussions facilitated by UAF A&P in 2020.

20. We bid adieu to Mary Jane Real as our Co-Lead

A female person with shoulder-length dark hair who is wearing a white shirt and is sitting at a desk speaking.
A female person with shoulder-length dark hair who is wearing a white shirt and is sitting at a desk speaking.

In October 2020, Jane announced her resignation as a Co-Lead, effective December 31st, 2020. Her contributions and tireless efforts remain indelibly carved into our legacy. We are happy to note, that she will continue to support our programmatic work till the search for her successor is concluded.

UAF A&P will dedicate the first month of this new year to fortifying its Strategy Plan, and the rest of 2021 to helping strengthen the resilience of activists not only to respond in moments of crises, but to integrate care and support into the fabric of activism so that activists can thrive. In our approach, we will continue to centre relationships, reflection, and rejuvenation. While working to influence philanthropy and create stronger webs of safety and care among activists, we will make every effort to also nourish ourselves and our internal resilience.

A regional women’s human rights and feminist fund that protects, strengthens and sustains women and non-binary human rights defenders in Asia and the Pacific