Humanity United is a grantmaking and operating foundation that takes a trust-based approach, honoring the lived experience and agency of those closest to the issues we focus on. Our work is underlined by a core set of beliefs about the system we are trying to change, and about our role within that system:
- We believe in the intrinsic dignity of all human beings.
- We believe in the interconnectedness of all human beings.
- We believe that enduring change happens when those who are closest to the issues have the agency to act and make decisions about the issues that impact them.
- We believe that current institutions and power structures, if unchecked, exacerbate inequities for those most impacted by violent conflict and exploitation.
- We believe that we are most effective when we play a dual role: shifting power to and supporting the agency of those most impacted by violent conflict and exploitation, and holding powerful institutions accountable and advocating for structural change.
- We believe that to be successful, we must embrace and model diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice both internally and externally.
What is the core work we are engaged in and why?
We work at the intersection of human rights, peacebuilding, locally grounded action, and influencing systems to recognize shared humanity.
We focus on two specific portfolios of work: Peacebuilding and Forced Labor & Human Trafficking. In addition, we invest in a cross-cutting Public Engagement portfolio that includes investigative journalism, policy change, and strategic communications as leverage points to try and shift harmful systems and practices towards a recognition of shared humanity.
How do we carry out this work?
As a private foundation based in the United States, we are privileged to engage with a wide range of stakeholders around the world. We believe that we have a responsibility to make sure institutions are informed by and responsive to the individuals and communities most impacted by violence and exploitation and that those individuals and communities can access systems that impact them. In order to meet the needs of our partners and focus on the conditions we seek to cultivate, we anchor our work in five strategic pillars.
As a U.S.-based organization, we prioritize our relationships with people and networks around the world as a key component of our work. Developing diverse partnerships helps us understand the inequities and power imbalances inherent in the issues and systems we seek to shift towards justice and inclusion, and how we can best deploy our resources to do so. By investing in networks, we acknowledge the power of collective sensemaking and action.
Much of our work is locally-driven and network-supported. It is important for HU to be in relationship not only to local communities but also to the communities and networks of advocates and organizations that are also working for enduring peace and freedom in the world. Our organization’s credibility derives from the integrity of our relationships and the strength of our networks.
One of the most persistent challenges is the deep inequity of access to financial capital and broken accountability structures that reinforce the power of certain institutions. We acknowledge we are part of that system. As a result, we are on an active journey of devolving power to those who are closest to the issues—within our organization, in the U.S., and around the world.
When we engage in relationships with our partners and grantees, we practice accompaniment – a long-term, multi-year commitment to walking alongside partners closest to the context in which they work, in a way that reinforces the sufficiency, capacity, and power of their own approaches. This means we engage as deeply with our partners as they want us to. Accompaniment isn’t directive and requires a willingness to trust and follow adaptation.
Our relationships with our partners hinge on forms of mutual learning that are most beneficial to their work. We actively strive to shift away from extractive models of learning in philanthropy and towards an approach of cross-pollinating and facilitating shared knowledge. A systems lens helps us better understand the complexity of the environments in which we operate and informs and affects decisions about how to adapt effectively. At the same time, we recognize that systems are made of people, and that complex web of human relationships has the potential to harm, enhance, heal, and solve. Hence, we approach our decisions based on how individuals have to live their lives, honoring the spirit of ubuntu (“I am because we are”).
Our program strategies must be emergent, responsive, and inclusive of the communities we serve – those who experience first-hand the exploitation and violent conflict we seek to address.
We are a grantmaking foundation that employs many different tools to support our partners and effect change. Our core strengths, in addition to our ability to fund partners’ work, are our people, their collective experience and knowledge, and our expansive relationships. We deploy a flexible set of tools, including financial support, network weaving, advocacy, and strategic communications. We lead specific initiatives when appropriate, but always in partnership.
5) We invest internally so we can grow together with our partners
In service to our mission, we build and maintain a values-based, responsive, and resilient organization that is best positioned to serve our partners over the longer term. HU staff share a purpose, are empowered in their work, and are able to imagine new approaches to the issues we are focused on. We intentionally invest in the people that comprise Humanity United, including in a strong and healthy culture, and the core competencies that are vital to this line of work.
What are the conditions for enduring peace and freedom?
At Humanity United, our mission is to cultivate the conditions for enduring peace and freedom. While these conditions can change as we learn and adapt, at this time we are focused on cultivating:
Agency – We support efforts to shift and build the power of individuals and communities to determine and pursue the outcomes or solutions that best address their needs. What we aim to see is a shift of power that results in an increase in agency.
Accountable and Responsive Institutions – We use our influence and proximity to power, often working through networks, to make certain key institutions accountable and responsive to the people most impacted by human exploitation and violent conflict.
Recognition of Shared Humanity – We support efforts that recognize and advance the shared humanity, interconnectedness, and intrinsic dignity of all human beings.
To learn more about our work and approach, read our Organizational Strategy.
Listen to this podcast episode to hear more about our organizational strategy from HU Managing Partner, Srik Gopal.