These organizations fight for racial justice and equal rights for all

Credit: Unsplash / Chase Baker

The death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement have spurred the debate about racial justice. We shine a light on social entrepreneurship organizations who develop bold solutions to advance equal rights for all in the USA, and beyond.

How social entrepreneurs tackle racial injustice

How can the energy of the Black lives matter movement be used to advance constructive solutions which help to overcome the deadlock?  We have taken an in-depth look into the social entrepreneurship sector and identified initiatives, each of which contributes a piece for a solution. The approaches are surprisingly diverse:

  • Video Documentation: Helping activists to better document situations where injustice occur
  • Barefoot Lawyers: Helping disadvantaged / oppressed communities to enforce their rights
  • Mediation: Deescalate bringing together people from opposing groups on a personal level
  • Criminal justice reform: Fighting mass incarceration and racial injustice on the institutional level
  • Media: Raising awareness about human rights issues
  • Data for social change: Using technology to drive social change, and justice

Each organization is engaged in the USA, most of them also abroad.

In the final section we highlight the work of a number of extremely wealthy foundations that have the financial power to make change happen, and that use that power to fight racial discrimination.


WITNESS: See it, film it, change it

Without video evidence, the current debate about structural racism would not take place. Today, the majority of the world’s population now has a camera in their pocket. People everywhere are turning to video to document and tell stories of abuse. But all too often, they are not filming safely or effectively, and their videos don’t make a difference. WITNESS identifies critical situations and teaches those affected by them the basics of video production, safe and ethical filming techniques, and advocacy strategies.The organizations has teams based in Brazil, Malaysia, Mexico, The Netherlands, Senegal, Turkey, and the United States. The organization works with grassroots activists, journalists, lawyers, NGOs, and media makers.


Namati – Legal empowerment at the grassroots level

Nearly every nation in the world has declared its commitment to the basic human rights of its citizens. In reality, many governments do not deliver on that promise. Billions of people live in impoverished communities, outside the protection of the law. They can be driven from their land, extorted by officials, denied essential services, and intimidated by violence. Governments, rather than upholding and executing the law, often are stymied by inefficiency, chronic underfunding, and insufficient data.

«These are dark days if you care about justice. Power and wealth are extremely concentrated. Authoritarianism and nativism have gained ground.» Vivek Maru, Namati

Namati seeks to place the power of the law in the hands of the people. The organization trains and deploys grassroots legal advocates who work with communities to advance fundamental rights such as citizenship recognition, land tenure, and access to quality health care. Namati is building a global movement of community paralegals, people are empowered to know, use, and shape the laws that affect their lives. Drawing on data from thousands of cases, Namati advocates for improvements to policies and systems that affect millions of people. The organization currently works in India, Kenia, Mozambique, Myanmar, Sierra Leone, and the USA.


Search for Common Ground: Ending violance by talking!

The mission of Search for Common Ground is very simple: End violent conflict! While conflict and differences are inevitable, violence is not. The organization, which has been founded back in 1982 brings together people across dividing lines to discover and achieve shared goals. The organization works with all sides of a conflict, including those traditionally in power and those without a platform, often women and youth.

Over decades, Search for Common Ground successfully developed tools and methods which help to turn down the walls which impede that people from conflicting parties engage in dialogue, and possibly collaboration. Many of the initiatives take place on the grassroots level, creating a safe space to bring together people on a personal level.


Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) – Driving criminal justice reform

The facts are shocking. The U.S. has 5% of the world’s population but nearly 25% of its incarcerated population. The number of imprisoned people rose from 200,000 In 1972 to 2.2 million today. Mass incarceration disproportionately impacts the poor and people of color and does not make the country safer.

«The great evil of American slavery wasn’t the involuntary servitude; it was the fiction that black people aren’t as good as white people, and aren’t the equals of white people, and are less evolved, less human, less capable, less worthy, less deserving than white people.» Bryan Stevenson, Founder EJI

EJI has been founded by public interest lawyer Bryan Stevenson in Alabama, USA. The organization challenges excessive punishment in court, the incarceration of children in adult prisons, advocates for parole and provide re-entry support through specialized programs. Its overall goal is to advance systemic reform, which is enhanced through research, education, and narrative work.


Thomson Reuters Foundation – Boosting human rights through media

The charity uses its media power to raise awareness of human rights issues around the world and seeks to drive cross-sector collaboration to respond to urgent challenges where its expertise can lead to impact. The foundation’s news service sheds a light on the biggest global challenges affecting human rights with the specific remit of women’s rights, LGBT+ issues, the human impact of climate change, modern slavery, and access to land and property rights.

In addition, through its TrustLaw service the foundation provides legal support to international and grassroots human rights organisations and facilitates legal research to equip civil society with the tools they need to build coalitions with governments and the private sector to change laws and policies that further protect human rights.


Benetech and CTCL  – Using data to empower human rights activists

The Silicon Valley based non-profit Benetech is even more data-driven and works across a broader range of challenges, such as enhancing the school system or – relevant for our topic – empowering human right activists to document incidences effectively, and safely through artificial intelligence, Its mission is to empower communities with software for social good.

«We are technologists with a big heart. With deep technology know-how and passion for social justice, we serve as a bridge between Silicon Valley software and the social sector.» Benetech’s self description

CTCL stands for Center for Tech and Civic Life. The organization comprises a team of data experts alongside civic technologists, trainers, researchers and election administration experts. The organizations mission is to connect Americans with the information they need to become and remain civically engaged to make the right voting decisions during elections. One key focus is to improve the electoral system in the US to make it more professional, inclusive, and secure.

The role of philanthropists to boost human rights

Did you know that six out of the seven organizations featured above are awardees of the renowned Skoll foundation with its mission to support social entrepreneurs who drive social change at large?

«Six out of the seven human rights centered organizations featured above are Skoll awardees!»

There exists numerous philanthropists like Jeff Skoll, the co-founder of ebay, who take a bold stand against racial discrimination and for equal rights for all. Most often by setting up a foundation which uses its funds or programs to engage in this field and to spur a debate even when controversial or opposing the home country’s official government policy.

We want to shine a light on two very old and very wealthy U.S.-foundations, who are not the usual suspects when we think about activism, but who use their power to fight racial discrimination and to advance boost human rights:


Ford Foundation – Challenging inequality on all levels

It is not widely known that the Ford Foundation has a very bold mission to challenge inequalities on all levels. One core area is gender, racial, and ethnic justice. Internationally, the foundation funds feminist and women’s rights organizations in the Global South, including those addressing the needs of specific vulnerable communities, such as women of color, indigenous women and girls, transwomen, and disabled women and girls. In the US, the Ford Foundation in particularly focuses on issues like reducing mass incarceration, challenging the attack on women’s fundamental rights, and confronting the demonization of immigrants. The foundation works on countering abuses of power and reimagining the government’s role in protecting the safety and dignity of all people—and engaging government as a partner in that process.

«We believe that social movements are built upon individual leadership, strong institutions, and innovative, often high-risk ideas. While the specifics of what we work on have evolved over the years, investments in these three areas have remained the touchstones of everything we do and are central to our theory of how change happens in the world.»  Statement of the Ford Foundation

As a large organization, the Ford Foundation also engages to challenge inequalities in several other areas, such as biased media coverage that undermine fairness, tolerance, and inclusion, or unfair rules of the economy.


Rockefeller Foundation – Ending violence against African Americans is not enough!

The Rockefeller Foundation pursues a different approach than Ford. Even though John Rockefeller, the founder, engaged in advancing racial equality by funding black colleges as far back as one hundred years ago –  which definitely was very unusual for a white person at the time – the foundation today is not directly at the forefront of the black lives matter movement. The foundation is less political than the Ford Foundation and may be engaged less in controversial human rights  topics. However, the foundation plays an important role in advancing racial justice by fighting for equal economic opportunities for African Americans and other disadvantaged groups.

«For more than 100 years, The Rockefeller Foundation has worked to advance racial equality in America because it is core to our values. We are proud to have stood for and fought for racial justice for decades, and we’re proud of our team members, grantees, and partners that are on the front lines today.» Rajiv Shah, President Rockefeller Foundation

In a personal letter to the foundation’s friends and employees on June 6th, Rajiv Shah made a bold statement why fighting violence against discriminated populations is not enough. Why we we need to take one step further:

Rajiv Shah argues:

  • Ending violence against African Americans would not be enough when it’s still seen as ‘normal’ for unemployment among African American workers to consistently be higher, and sometimes double, that of white workers; when, even before this pandemic, the median white worker earned 28% more per week than the median African American worker and 36% more than the median Hispanic worker; when wealth inequality between white families and African American families has grown by 67% over the last 40 years.
  • Ending violence against African Americans would not be enough while African American boys and girls still have to rely on their schools to be able eat lunch every day, in low-income communities where rates of diabetes and obesity can be 4-5 times higher – and life expectancy more than 15 years lower – than wealthier neighborhoods in the same city.
  • Ending violence against African Americans would not be enough when African American communities have consistently been the last places to get access to Covid-19 testing kits, despite being disproportionately at higher risk to this destructive pandemic because of preexisting health inequalities, underinsurance, and other vulnerabilities. It wouldn’t be enough when communities of color almost always have less access to high-quality hospitals and healthcare, or when an African American mother-to-be is three times more likely to die in childbirth or because of it.

These are three areas where the Rockefeller Foundation is particularly strong engaged.

There are many more organizations engaged. With this article we want to shine the light on some of them who follow a social entrepreneurial approach or who simply are powerful because of their seize and wealth.