What are the support mechanisms that can help support a culture of self-care?

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What are the support mechanisms that can help support a culture of self-care?

What are those support mechanisms already in place that can help support a culture of self-care?  What can donors do better support this? 

What else could help?  What’s missing?  Share ideas for what else can be utilized, developed, or harnessed to support a culture of self-care within the human rights community.

Note: This dialogue is PUBLIC. Do not share any private or sensitive information. For advice on a specific situation, please contact a participant privately.

Organizational support mechanisms to promote self-care & wellnes

Greetings all,

My name is Jan Passion and work with a relatively new NGO, Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) <www.nonviolentpeaceforce.org>.  I worked with NP in Sri Lanka for three years with our first project, and at the time, we had little in the way of support mechanisms for our staff in the field. Currently I work for NP International as the International Human Resource Systems Administrator.

I believe that it is essential to have a variety of support strategies - to address the different needs of our staff, and the diversity of their background (global north, global south, women, men, differences in class & religion & life experience).  I think we still have a way to go to improve our support systems (funding is of course an ongoing challenge). 

Here are some ideas that come to mind:

  • Build in required "down time" (ensuring that people take time off every week and also time out of a stressful environment on regular intervals)
  • Clear and transparent policies & procedures to have provide staff with the support (and the guidelines) to do their work most effectively
  • Having in place adequate health insurance 
  • Supporting staff to keep in contact with their families (if they working away from home).
  • Time to support self-care activities such as writing/journaling, walking, exercise, spiritual practice, parties, reading, watching movies, Internet connecting, cooking, singing, etc. etc.
  • Having in place psychological support (counselors, Employee Assistance Programmes, mentors, etc)
  • Provide multi-cultural resources for staff (like the Capacitar resource mentioned in a previous posting), Critical Incident Stress Debriefing programmes, ensuring that the organization provides sufficient space for people to practice their spiritual traditions
  • Having a grievance policy when issues become stuck and seemingly intractable
  • Have clear methods for decision making and accountability - whether working in a vertical line-management system or a consensus system.
  • Have the head of the organization, or the head of the country programme, regularly take time to "check in" with the staff, and assess moral and general work satisfaction & be available to hear complaints, needs, issues, etc.
  • Create time so that team members can "check-in" with each other & share how they are feeling, and what they might be needing, and how they better support each other. 

These are some initial ideas, and I would love to hear other ideas so that we might all share/grow/borrow/learn from each other.

I'd also like to invite a dialog on whether or not many/most of the above strategies speak similarly to folks from the Global North and the South. Nonviolent Peaceforce, and many other similar NGOs - exist in a tension about working to be a more global NGO, but perhaps using (consciously or unconsciously) strategies and mechanisms that generally come from, and perhaps generally speak to, folks from the North. 



Organisaitonal support mechanisms- for north and South?

Jan has raised an important - an essential - question, which can be discussed at several levels: 

First, I think that the issues and problems faced by activists in the north and in the south are not essentially different.  A 'burn-out' is a burn-out  wherever you live or work. Being stressed or depressed causes the same kind of emotional suffering.  But definitely the context - personal, institutional, and in the broader environment, the economic, social, political circumstances in which the person finds her/himself - does impact on the level of the personal suffering as well as the degree of  complexity, or simplicity, of the potential measures to addess these issues.

So the 'support mechanisms' in order to be effective, need to take these contexts into consideration: and these situations might not be relevant ONLY in the south

For example: 

  • taking time off is an impossibility for someone who is working 2 part-time jobs amd juggling a household and 3 children as a single mother
  • having in place adequate health insurance for staff in conflict areas, even in peaceful areas  - who has achieved that?
  • supporting (migrant) workers to keep contact with families who live a thousand miles away is certainly not a priority of employers
  • and so on......

I do agree that we need to design and put in place as realistic as possible support mechanisms, but the bottom line is, for me:

where are the resources for a different kind of working and living? and how do those who really need them - like the single mother with 2 jobs and 3 children - access them? 

Understanding different human rights systems, steps forward

I would really like to pick up on Lin’s point, because it is such a key aspect of our dialogue.

We are discussing in this dialogue a range of different types of activist organizations and types of individual activists. They all have much in common in terms of self-care challenge, but there are some key differences in terms of both the types of ‘sub-cultures’ they have and, critically, the support systems available to them.

For this dialogue, I think it would be useful to be clear about which ‘sub-culture’ and ‘organizational system’ we are discussing, because both of these aspects affect individual ability to address self-care issues. 

There is much that an individual activist can do for themselves in terms of paying attention to self-care. The work here is in helping individual activists understand how important self-care is, what is possible for them to do themselves, provide examples (as many on the dialogue have already) about different, very achievable strategies for wellness.

But all activists are working in a larger culture of activism that also needs to change, or they will be making their internal changes without external support -- morally, organizationally and financially.

So we also need to be looking at the whole system of activism and seeking to change the way that we provide that external support to activists.

Within international organizations, which already have set institutional systems in place -- such as liveable salaries, health insurance, life insurance, pension plans, maternity/paternity benefits, holidays, sick days and vacation -- the work is to expand the internal understanding of additional ways to support activists in the organization (to either take advantage of systems in place or to develop other systems of support). 

But within many of the national human rights organizations, large and small, as well as among the many forms of individual or loosely formed groups of activists, we are missing a key step. The institutional systems of support are rarely, if ever, in place. Activists are paid far below minimum standards (if at all), few have access to basics such as health insurance, pensions, benefits. And there are no systems or resources in place if an activist is hurt, falls ill or burns out. 

For many of these groups as well, organizational ‘policies’ are irrelevant, because they don’t use ‘standard’ (often hierarchical) organizational structures. They are much more fluid, responsive/reactive than established, larger organizations (which is one of the reasons they are also very effective).

So I believe that our efforts to address self-care for activists must address the simple fact that the current framework of activism for most activists around the world does not support healthy and sustainable activism.

We can change that in two ways.

First, as mentioned above, we can support activists and organizations to become more aware of self-care as an integral part of their activism -- and all the very simple and practical ways that individuals and organizations can take steps to integrate self-care into their work and lives.

Second, we must address the systemic failure of the international human rights world to support the basic structures needed for sustainable change.

Specifically, we need to advocate to all organizations who support human rights activism (with financial resources, advocacy, technical support, etc.), to support basics such as, for example:

  • Liveable salaries
  • Health insurance, life insurance
  • Pensions
  • Maternity/Paternity benefits, child care/elderly care support
  • Holidays, leave, sabbaticals
  • Communication systems to connect with extended family/communities (in cases, as Lin points out, of migrant workers, or refugee situations or activism in exile)

These, and other systems, will help alleviate the stress that human rights activists experience daily, trying to juggle their work with surviving themselves and caring for families. Secondly, within a basic rights framework, these are all standard labor rights -- these aren’t extras, and international organizations supporting activists globally enjoy these rights themselves.

 In addition, we need to set up other systems that support both prevention and protection. These can include, for example:

 Culturally appropriate, activist-sensitive counseling networks available globally

  • Funds for health care when activists fall ill or are injured (particularly in areas where health insurance isn’t available)
  • Retreats, fellowships, sabbaticals, internships for activists who need a break
  • Opportunities for scholarships, further education, training

 Some of these already exist, but they are a) rare, b) underfunded and c) not well-known.  We should prioritise:

  1. supporting those existing services already mandated to serve human rights activists (who offer counseling, retreats, etc)
  2. lobbying those organizations that fund and support human rights groups globally to include both the basics in their funding as well as prevention/protection services
  3. creating new/additional funds and support groups that focus on supporting these forms of self-care/wellness
  4. encouraging activists and activist organizations to ask for what they need to be safe, well and sustainable from their partners -- so that they also raise awareness among their donors and partners that these are vital aspects of their work -- they need to include in their budgets items for security, for health insurance, salaries, etc -- without fear that these will be cut or diminished as ‘unnecessary extras’.

Finally, here is my attempt at describing the larger human rights system in terms of organizational ‘structures’, which might help in how we think about the different types of support needed at different levels. This is a quick and dirty write-up, so feel free to add or comment!

a) International organizations and individuals supporting activists and activism globally.

This includes:

Donors/Grantmaking Organizations (individual philanthropists, small, medium and large foundations)

These are groups that are primarily internationally or regionally based. Some may have some staff working in the field or conducting outreach visits. They support activism primarily through provision of resources, but also through advocacy and technical advice. Increasingly, though, there are also nationally based funds (such as the women’s funds, for example) that work directly as funders in their own communities. 

International human rights organizations

These are groups who are also primarily internationally or regionally based. Some have field staff as well, and also conduct outreach visits. They support activism through advocacy, lobbying, research, campaigning and provision of non-financial resources. On occasion, they will also provide small grants to individuals and activist groups. Examples include Human Rights Watch, Amnesty, World Organization against Torture, Forum Asia. 

International aid organizations/International Organizations (IOs), UN

These are groups that are internationally based, but set up emergency and development responses in countries around the world. The large ones (like CARE, Save the Children, ICRC/IFRC, UN operational agencies) will often have large operations with both expatriate (i.e., not from the country they are working in) and national staff. They provide direct services in country to communities. They will often also work with national NGOs and sometimes will provide financial and technical support to them. Some of these organizations and individual staff could also be considered human rights activists (Medecins Sans Frontieres springs to mind), particularly as humanitarian agencies are increasingly calling their work ‘rights-based’ (acknowledging of course, that this is not always the case in reality).

  1. National and Regional Human Rights Organizations

Large, organized human rights groups 

These are well-established and structured nationally formed (sometimes regionally) human rights organizations that conduct a range of activist work, from advocacy and lobbying, transitional justice and legal reform and documentation of human rights abuses. There are also many human rights organizations that provide direct services to individuals and communities, from running women’s shelters, offering direct legal support and counseling, facilitating support groups, etc. There is often a cross-over with ‘humanitarian’ work in situations of conflict and disasters (provision of food, shelter, housing, water/sanitation) and in repressive regimes, where the only options are to officially offer ‘social services’ as a way to do human rights work safely. These organizations typically have a reasonably clear organizational structure, with management, policy and staff systems in place. They are primarily dependent for financial support from international donors, national/community support and also volunteer staff.

Smaller human rights groups

These are groups that may be made up of 2-20 individuals who work together to provide human rights services to communities and individuals (similar to those listed above). They are more typically grassroots, community-based organizations -- they can also be groups of survivors of human rights abuses themselves. Their organizations are much more loosely formed than the larger groups, they don’t necessarily have organizational policies and structures in place. Their financial support and operating budgets are smaller and their donor base and support are less diverse than larger organizations. They also tend to work much more on a voluntary basis, with activists earning their livelihoods outside of the organization through part-time work.

Individuals, loosely formed community groups, social movements, journalists, teachers, etc.

There are many individual activists who work outside of ‘formal’ organized human rights structures, either operating alone or in loosely formed groups. Social movements and organizers are in a similar position, in that they are fighting for human rights, but within a different form of grouping. LGBTIQ groups and individuals, for many reasons, including intense repression, discrimination and danger, are also working within loosely formed groups or as individuals -- often, it is just too dangerous for them to register as an NGO or to operate openly/formally.

Finally, there are many individuals who work as journalists, bloggers, teachers (think any woman teacher in Afghanistan), spiritual activists (nuns in Latin America, for example) and individuals who are fighting for the rights of their families and communities (parents in China after the school collapses) -- who are very much human rights activists -- but are not included within any organizational framework.  There are also many activists who are perceived by some as outside of the activist world, but are very much still activists in their hearts and actions -- for example, the thousands of activists in exile, activists who have fallen ill or burnt out, activists who have ‘retired’. 


Opportunities for activists - health care support, retreats....

Jane - I couldn't agree with more with everyone you said. I'm sure there will be many replies to your comment, but I wanted to point out on particular part of your comment that I am interested in learning more about:

Revolutions wrote:

In addition, we need to set up other systems that support both prevention and protection. These can include, for example:

 Culturally appropriate, activist-sensitive counseling networks available globally

  • Funds for health care when activists fall ill or are injured (particularly in areas where health insurance isn’t available)
  • Retreats, fellowships, sabbaticals, internships for activists who need a break
  • Opportunities for scholarships, further education, training

What kinds of opportunities like these already exist? I have heard that there are a few retreats offered to activists - can people reading this dialogue please share any retreats that they are aware of?  Also, scholarships, further education, training, and health care support?

Retreats in US and Australia

kantin wrote:

What kinds of opportunities like these already exist? I have heard that there are a few retreats offered to activists - can people reading this dialogue please share any retreats that they are aware of? 

In the US I know of Stone Circles and the Stone House:

The Stone House offers transformational experiences to activists in an atmosphere of deep spiritual life and a framework of strategic action for social justice. We work to inspire a dynamic exchange between progressive action and committed spiritual reflection, between individual and collective liberation and transformation. We do this in the context of 70 acres of farmland in the piedmont of central North Carolina. We seek to use the space, the wisdom and the possibilities that the land provides to support the work and deepen its relevance in the world.

In Australia Stillness in Action offer retreats:

Mornings of quiet reflection teach the sacred art of presence. Each afternoon, creative group work reveals fresh paths to personal and social change. Evenings sharing stories, poetry and music, enliven and deepen community.

Also in Australia EarthWorks offer deep ecology retreats and workshops:

Drawing inspiration from Joanna Macy's work in social and ecological spirituality, EarthWorks uses a range of experiential group and solo processes, in order to initiate new ways of seeing the world and renewing our spirit to allow us to take part in social and personal transformation.

Opportunities for taking time out


These are great ideas and sound like they are accessible at any time. For activists that are interested to consider taking some time out, to reflect on their work, to regenerate their energy and are interested and able to leave their country to do so, Front Line Defenders has an excellent Front Line Fellowship program that can be used as a great opportunity for a "time out" while still helping activists to feel connected and part of their ongoing work and efforts. This information comes from their webpage for 2011 fellowships:

"The purpose of the Fellowship program is to offer a possibility for human rights defenders at risk to take some time out from their normal work to undertake a project which will further develop their capacities and contribute to the protection of human rights defenders internationally.

Front Line Fellowships are offered on a flexible basis for periods of one to six months. The locations could include Dublin, Brussels or another location to be discussed.

Applicants should submit a letter addressing the following topics:

  • the candidate’s experience as a human rights defender and details of their current role;
  • details of any threats, harassment, detention, ill-treatment or other negative consequences faced as a result of the candidate’s human rights work;
  • a proposal of a project or skills to work on
  • topics the candidate would particularly like to study as part of the fellowship;
  • requested location and why (please explain why the suggested location is important for the success of the project)
  • period of time required and why
  • how the candidate will use the experience on the fellowship in their human rights work when they return home
  • how participation will contribute to the strengthened protection of human rights defenders nationally/internationally.

All Fellowships have been allocated for 2010. The deadline for applications for 2011 is 30 November 2010."



Thanks Kristin, Holly and Nancy! I would love for us all to put these resources in one place! I will continue here with some additional ideas about retreats and follow on in another comment about fellowships that I know of.

First of all, Contemplative Mind in Society has a very good list of retreats (mostly US-based, mostly spiritually oriented) here: http://www.contemplativemind.org/practices/retreat.html

There is also a great group based in Chiang Mai, Thailand, called the International Partnership for Women's Peace and Justice: http://womenforpeaceandjustice.org/. They run great retreats for feminist activists and the costs are truly minimal.

Although not technically a retreat, FreeDimensional does great work specifically 'to link community art spaces to social justice movements on a global level' http://www.freedimensional.org/. As far as I understand it, this means that they can also help activists working in the artistic field to take breaks and practice their art with community art groups in other countries (though I am sure they can give a much better explanation!)

Finally, I know that on an informal level, there are individuals and groups who have offered retreat spaces to activists experiencing security/health/well-being challenges. I would really love to be able to 'formalize' these efforts into a loose network, where we knew of people all over the world who might be able to offer space for activists -- and also of other retreat spaces that would welcome activists, if we could just negotiate it with them.  

For example, I know a group in Spain that is trying to set up a retreat space for activists, and they have the will and the energy to do it, but they are still trying to find a space and probably raise some financial support to make it happen. I know of a case of an activist from the former Soviet Union who was dealing with serious depression, and her friends in Italy negotiated with a local monastery for her to spend a few weeks in a silent retreat there (which worked out wonderfully). 

I will keep adding what I know into the dialogue, and looking forward to hearing more ideas!

Oak Human Rights Fellowship for human rights activists

Here's another opportunity to add to the list.  This is a fellowship opportunity with the Oak Institute for the Study of International Human Rights at Colby College in Waterville, Maine (USA).

The Oak Institute seeks a frontline human rights activist who works on problems created by or associated with poverty. The activist will come from outside the United States, and will take up residence at Colby College. Areas of work may include, but are not limited to, promoting: the right to work in safe conditions and earn an adequate and stable income; access to basic food and shelter; freedom from forced evictions; access to adequate health care and medical attention; access to basic services and infrastructure; the right to a healthy and safe living environment, including access to clean drinking water; access to education; freedom from discrimination based on class or income.

They especially encourage applications from those who are currently or were recently involved in on-the-ground work at some level of personal risk and are in need of respite. You can nominate someone for the fall 2011 fellowship by Nov 1 and you can apply yourself for this opportunity by December 15. For more information and application materials, please access the Oak Institute's web page (www.colby.edu/oak); see the frequently asked questions sidebar to clarify terms and eligibility.

Art spaces and freeDimensional's distress services


Thank you so much for highlighting freeDimensional's work connecting art spaces (particularly art residencies) and culture workers in distress to provide Creative Safe Haven - which is an opportunity to rest, reflect and make important next-step life decisions.

New Tactics and freeDimensional co-hosted an on-line dialogue a year ago (September 2009), Art spaces hosting activism & strengthening community engagement.

I hope people in this dialogue will explore the great ideas and resources shared in that dialogue. New Tactics and fD are in the final stages of developing a tactical notebook to assist organizations in thinking about how they can use surplus resources to provide individual assistance and strengthen community engagement by sharing the wonderful fD example of art spaces hosting activism.

retreats at Garrison Institute, USA

Here is another potential resource: Garrison Institute's Initiative for Transforming Trauma just completed a multi-year pilot of its Wellness Project, a training curriculum for human service workers that provides instruction and support for using contemplative practices for facilitationg individual and group well being. In the pilot, domestic violence shelter workers were targeted for the intervention. The curriculum originally addressed vicariuos traumatization, but in its most recent adaptation for use at FrontLine's bi-annual conference in Dublin earlier this year, it now addresses direct rauma as well. In the pilot, the participants completed their training in a 3-4 day residential retreat at Garrison Institute. Exploration is currently underway to adapt the curriculum and structure to meet the needs of human righs and humanitarian aid workers internationally.

More on fellowships

Front Line has a brief list of fellowships and awards on their website (as well as funding sources for human rights organizations): http://frontlinedefenders.org/other-sources-of-funding. The Oak fellowship at Colby has already been mentioned here. One point about all of these types of resources (scholarships, awards, fellowships, retreats) -- they are a bit of a moveable and largely inaccessible feast. They can often change (usually because of funding cuts), so each one needs to be checked again to be sure they are up to date. Also, they are usually only accessible to high profile human rights defenders who know about them and can get support to apply. It would be wonderful if there were a place -- some sort of 'live' portal -- where human rights defenders/activists could go to get the up to date information about these types of resources -- and support on how to navigate the application process. This would go a long way to increasing access to these resources -- and also increasing their impact. 

Providing psychological support for staff

Great list, Jan - thanks! I would be interested in hearing more from people reading this dialogue about how they have acheived this type of organizational support:

Jan Passion wrote:

  • Having in place psychological support (counselors, Employee Assistance Programmes, mentors, etc)

I am especially interested in how organizations would be able to provide this in places where there might be not be easy accessibility to counselors. Have organizations found 'Empoyee Assistance Programs' that can benefit employees in any country? Have organizations found ways to provide counseloring and mentoring support through phone or online means? What are the challenges and what are the creative, effective approaches to providing this support? Thank you!


Continuous support

We need to support, cultivate , grow the culture of self care individually or organizationally. Like any change, it takes times. We need to be persistent and create spaces in on going basis. One or two workshops would not do it. I think the individual or the organization needs a facilitator Or a holder of the process. One wonderful example: Capacitar- www.capacitar.org in collaboration with Timor Aid trained a group of National Trainers and these trainers trained others: teachers, policemen/women, youth, social workers etc. Then the National trainers do a routine visit to the above to make sure they have enough support. And Capacitar International do follow up training every one - two year and ongoing support through phone and email. Through this continuous support we are able to see the result, the shift in how individual manage situations. Capacitar is currently conducting survey on the effectiveness of it's program/training. The result will be posted on their website

Thanks for all the references and links

This is a great start.... Thanks everybody....especially Jane, for your comprehensive elaboation of the issues of accessibility of such resources for activists in specific, more contrained situations.  Indeed, mapping the available resources - in terms of practitioners, safe spaces, quiet spaces, group trainings, resources for self help, etc.,  is the first thing that has to be done.  And then begins the work of figuring out how to make them accessible to those who need them.  My team in the Institute for Women's Empowerment is starting to seriously address this for the Asian region, where we are all based.   

As Nina said, one or 2 workshops for the 'lucky ones' who are funded to participate, are not sufficient... so we are thinking about how to devise a system, that can offer support for the lesser resourced individual activists and organisations who are wanting - needing - to sustain themselves and their human rights work - in a culturally and linguistically appropriate manner.

This dialogue has already been so rich and helpful - a great stimulans to get on with it.  

I look forward to more suggestions and leads....






If you could obtain a grant to support sustainable activism...

Hi all,

The Urgent Action Fund for Women's Human Rights is currently exploring launching a pilot Sustaining Activism Grants Program.

This has been bubbling for years at UAF, but we have never been able to take the plunge because of all the scary questions, like, "how in the world would you choose one applicant over another?" "How can you determine who needs a sabbatical, or cancer treatment, more than another?" There is a real fear of being overwhelmed with requests (we are a very small fund), and having to "play God." At the same time, the need is obvious. It is not going anywhere. We keep seeing it in the applications to our current Rapid-Response Grantmaking Program.

I would love to hear any input you have on any of this (good idea? bad one? needed? not? grant criteria? selection process?). And in particular, here are some questions we are considering including in the application - it might be fun to imagine that you, or your organization, or organizations you have worked with, are applying and consider how they would answer these: 

a) What does sustainable activism look like to you? Share your vision. Consider sustainability at the individual, organizational, and movement levels.

b) What are you proposing to do with the SA grant?

c) How would your proposal help you to achieve your vision of sustainable activism? Does your proposal address the short term, the long term, or both? Does your proposal focus on individual, organizational or/and movement sustainability?

d) What are your budgetary needs?

Any and all input would be very appreciated!


Allowing concerned individuals to contribute

Hi Kris,

Great questions! I really look forward to reading the responses to your questions. I need to think about this one a bit before I write more tomorrow...

in the meantime, I wanted to throw out an idea that came to me over the weekend. I was at a conference and heard someone talk about a new project called 'Kickstarter' - heard of it? It's a place where people can help kickstart a new idea by donating money (investing in it). Now, I know that technology isn't the answer to everything, but wouldn't it be neat to have a tool like this to allow concerned individuals to support human rights activists by donating money/time/space to someone? An activist could post what it is they need, and someone could respond with that requested item (or whatever it is). Of course, not everyone wants to be public about their needs - but there might be some.

Just an idea...

input to budgetline "sustaining activism"

Dear Kris,

Here are some comments, hope they are useful:

Definitely a good and needed resource.....albeit with clear criteria, as the need is so great that you could indeed be overwhelmed.

I think that individiual requests are always problematic for funds, and most funds, including UAF, as far as I know, do not entertain requests from individuals, unless it is a fund specifically meant for individuals, like study scholarships.  But I think you can build in a condition that the request must be endorsed by the organisaiton where the activist works, or a 'relevant' oganisation, in the field where she works. I think this is feasible, since 'activist work' normally is not something one does in isolation. So it  would very likely that she is in touch with an organisation that knows her, values her work and is wiling to vouch for her. The support would be also, in effect, supporting the organisation who needs to care or their employees, or need to have as many working in the field as can be sustained.

It would perhaps be better to support organisations who are putting measures in place  to create  more healthy working environments for their staff, before treatment becomes necessary.

Now, answering your questions: imagine a project like this:

a) What does sustainable activism look like to you? Share your vision. Consider sustainability at the individual, organizational, and movement levels.

 "Sustaining activism" means:

  1. Raising the awareness among individual activists, the organisations they work in and the movements they inspire, that it is an ethical responsibility that individuals care for themselves and organisations and movements care fo their personnel. Priority groups to work with are those working among  semi- and unskilled workers, migrants, sex workers, LGBT groups, survivors of violence, especially in southern countries.  
  2. Making  (systematically) accessible to those who need them, multifarious resources and knowledge of practices and measures that will help individuals to hep themselvess and organisations to create and maintain healthy and creativity-inducing environments and working conditions for their personnel.

b) What are you proposing to do with the SA grant?

Activities to achieve the above objectives are:

Mapping: of all kinds of resources, such as:

  • practitioners of various kinds of stress-reducing, trauma-healing, heart-mending processes , etc...techniques, especially those who are willing to work for a minimal fee or only for costs
  • Safe, healing, comforting spaces and places which are open to receive guests on recommendation at affordable prices, or even in exchange for some non-monetary return
  • Group Trainings, workshops, which are offered regularly, also at affordable prices;
  • Modules which can be adapted for self-training of groups and organisations

All resource will have to be translated to some major Asian  languages.  These resources will be posted on a dedicated web-site, so will be widely available.

c) How would your proposal help you to achieve your vision of sustainable activism? Does your proposal address the short term, the long term, or both? Does your proposal focus on individual, organizational or/and movement sustainability?

Working actively with organisations who are willing, especially self-organisations, and those mentioned above, to review their procedures and personnel policies for any "unsustainable" aspects, and to change, were necessary, to more healthy ones.  Probably start with one or 2 pilots..

d) What are your budgetary needs?

Salaries for 2 part-timers for one year to set up the systems, a web-site, do the mapping, communicate with potential needy organisations, carry out a pilot with at least one organisition  ....

All best,


Sustaining activism thoughts from Lin

Lin -- these are great ideas -- very clear and practical. I like the fact that it is regional (to begin with) and that you are looking at mapping resources and making them available to activists. But also that it is holistic and looking at the range of supporting interventions. This could be an important model for others. Thank you! 

grant-making as process promotion

I like those questions, especially as they will tend to have the effect of forcing potential grant-seekers to think through questions such as "what does sustainable activism look like to you?" and "how in the world might we contribute to movement sustainability?" I know that grant applications tend to be confidential, but I am wishing for your organization to figure out some way to collate and distribute all of the great ideas you get, whether or not you are able to fund them.

Lin, Pattrice and

Lin, Pattrice and Kristin-

Thank you so much for your input and ideas.

Lin, I love your "grant request." It is really helpful to see, and confirms in my mind that we need to send out this kind of questionnaire to our grantees and advisors to get a broader view of what people might apply for.

Pattrice - yes! We are on the same page. Those questions are meant to be transformative in themselves, AND to create our vision of sustainable activism as we go. I'm hoping we can create a section on our website where we can publish the answers and solicit comments/dialogue. It is extremely helpful to have this feedback as I advocate for such a radically UN-confidential process.

Kristin - Yes! In fact we recently received a Sustaining Activism grant request (even though it is not our policy to fund them), I suggested exactly this model. Unfortunately our board didn't like it - they thought it felt exploitative or disrespectful, to ask people to solicit funds for their psychological survival on the web. I can see their point, but I would also like to see if we could make this mechanism work in some way that WOULD be respectful. Perhaps if we can't provide funding, but the applicant did submit a strong application, we would offer to work with them to craft a strong online request?  Just brainstorming.

An all others -- please, please do add your own thoughts to how a Sustaining Activism Grants Program would look! I just received word from our board meeting in Amman that they have given us the okay to explore this possibility further!


What's Next?

Greetings to all. This has been an amazing dialogue. It has been both a pleasure, and a relief, to hear from so many about their experiences of challenges and successes as individual activists, and as practitioners working to support other activists around the world in so many ways. I was surprised by how much we all had in common in our thinking about self-care, and how the discussions further deepened and explored the topic. It is wonderful to think of how much we are already doing, and how much more we could do, together.

This is one of the rare moments where a group of practitioners in self-care for activists have come together to talk -- and a huge thank you to New Tactics for making it happen. I'd also like to thank UAF, Capacitar and so many others for their ongoing work on this topic.

So here's one of my final questions to this group and others -- what's next?  What could we do to take this conversation further? I'd love to hear from everyone on the dialogue with your final thoughts -- even if it is just one, concrete, practical idea that we could consider (though you are welcome to list as many as you'd like!).

With thanks and respect, Jane 

what next.

Well for me engaging in this dialogue held a mirror up to myself and I saw myself in some of the things we were talking about. Hands up anyone else who found the same! So for me personally next steps is spend time making some spaces in my routine, such as a more regular cycle ride to start the day and taking on a few less commitments. 

The subject of burnout is not going to go away and having brought us together, it might be great if we could check in with each other at some point down the line and share any new things we have learned.

Hopefully what we have built up here will become a useful resource for ourselves and others. It's been great to be a part of it.

Self-care working group & utilizing defenders declaration

I think a great place to start thinking about ideas, is Jane's comment on understanding different human rights systems, steps forward.  In that comment, Jane writes (among many things):

Specifically, we need to advocate to all organizations who support human rights activism (with financial resources, advocacy, technical support, etc.), to support basics such as, for example:

  • Liveable salaries
  • Health insurance, life insurance
  • Pensions
  • Maternity/Paternity benefits, child care/elderly care support
  • Holidays, leave, sabbaticals
  • Communication systems to connect with extended family/communities (in cases, as Lin points out, of migrant workers, or refugee situations or activism in exile)

I wonder if we, as the human rights community, could utilize the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders to demand basic support basics, such as those that Jane points out. This document is much more about protecting defenders from repression and harassment, but we can add to this. We can create our own declaration, and demand that human rights organizations, including the big guys - UN, etc, commit to these standards for supporting defenders.

In addition, we could create a well-being/self-care/sustainable activism working group that can act as the hub for those interesting in participating in creating a more sustainable human rights community around the world - as well as a hub for those looking for more resources.

wellness activist handbook? guidelines?

I wonder about if there could be a way to pool the amazing ideas and resourced shared during this past week. I'm imagining not just a compiliation, but an organized document that offers a framework to help human rights activisits in the field think about and organize their wellness plan--personally, organizationally, for the community, for their movements.....Would it be possible to use a wiki to generate a consensually created document that was created by a larger virtual community? Towared this end, I was very impressed by the security manual FrontLine created. Could there a kind of sister manual for wellness planning?


Hi Deborah, this is a great idea. There is a manual forthcoming from Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation and Urgent Action Fund for Women's Human Rights called Integrated Security: The Manual, which offers a framework for facilitating workshops with human rights defenders on developing strategies for their security/well-being in an integrated way. I am completing this now, it should be ready for publication by the end of this year (though I am sure the final version can be shared before it is published). This manual also draws on the really excellent publication: Self-Care and Self Defense for Women Activists (http://files.creaworld.org/files/self-care-brochure.pdf), mentioned already in this dialogue, as well as on elements of the Frontline manual.

There is not yet, however, a manual or guidebook that is devoted to wellness planning for human rights activists at the level you describe, and it would be very welcome! 

thoughts from left field

I too have noticed significant homogeneity and have had mixed feelings about that. My own experience and interest has been mostly with un/under-funded grassroots organizations... organizations that don't even have paid staff, much less funding for health insurance or psychological back-up services. I'm glad to see that folks working within better-funded NGOs are thinking about self-care so carefully. At the same time, I know that, as the title of the INCITE! anthology puts it, The Revolution Will Not Be Funded. I hesitate to sign onto a self-care agenda that seems to depend so heavily on lavish availability of money. I tend to keep my own self-care prescriptions to those that nearly anybody, or any group of people, could implement.

So, I guess going forward, what I would like to see this or--even better-- a wider group discuss is this question: What does radical self-care look like? How might we, as individuals and organizations, develop and enact an understanding that taking care of ourselves and taking care of each other are not separate and opposed activities but rather two aspects of the same process of resistance to the literally sickening social and material circumstances in which we all find ourselves?

Me, I'm not at all sure that I'm my most essential resource. I'm pretty sure that's water, followed by other people. And--oh yeah!--it happens to be that I am mostly water and, as a social animal, am most healthy in the context of healthy relationships. So, maybe, taking care of myself and taking care of water aren't separate activities at all! And, maybe, helping to co-create healthy relationships at home, in the neighborhood, in the workplace (whether or not that's an NGO), and in the wider culture is a part of peace-making while also being critical to my own well-being. And, indeed, as many women within the anti-rape and battered women's movement already know, taking action is often an essential element of healing from trauma.

It's possible that thinking about what I've been balking at calling "self-care" (since that seems unduly narrow) in this way might alter or expand some of the remedies suggested in the dialogue so far.

Re: radical self-care

pattricejones wrote:

I tend to keep my own self-care prescriptions to those that nearly anybody, or any group of people, could implement.

How might we, as individuals and organizations, develop and enact an understanding that taking care of ourselves and taking care of each other are not separate and opposed activities but rather two aspects of the same process of resistance to the literally sickening social and material circumstances in which we all find ourselves?


Thanks Pattrice, I really appreciate your comments. I think for me one of the most effective 'self-care' strategies is building close relationships. This doesn't need to cost money. It is radical. It builds personal resilience as well as the strength of our organisations, communities and movements. There is an element of skills development that can make a big difference: reflection, understanding emotions, listening and support skills, managing workloads, setting up effective campaigns and organisations. Being able to invest financial resources is great, but the main resource is people and their thoughtfulness and commitment.

Next steps...

Holly Hammond wrote:
I think for me one of the most effective 'self-care' strategies is building close relationships.

Agreed, wholeheartedly. A personal next step for me is the same "next step" I try to take every day. It doesn't work every day, and this forum has been a great reminder for me of how easily it can fall by the wayside, even while proselytizing about it to others! My daily attempt is to take care of 1) my mental health, especially focusing on making time to nurture relationships, as you describe, Holly and Pattrice, and on finding joy and delight, as others have said, and 2) my physical health, especially focusing on getting enough good food, enough good sleep, and enough good exercise.

In another thread, folks were discussing the rarity of grant proposals that include line items to fund self-care. We have recently added objectives (thought perhaps not money) related to self-care to a couple of grant proposals, and those were accepted by funders. Perhaps one next step for some of us would be to consider building some self-care component into the next proposal we write. I think it's important to acclimate funders to the idea that this is one cost of the work we're doing.

As much as I wholeheartedly support the concept of developing some larger document out of this dialogue, it also reminds me of the posts in which people have talked about scale, or drowning ourselves in expectations that exceed our capacity. It would be wonderful to have such a document, and I don't mean to discourage the idea in any way - it's fabulous. I guess I'm just wondering what smaller, more imminently achievable next steps might be, in addition to the grander Next Step of having a document.

A million thanks to Jane and Kristin and everyone who made this possible. I'm sorry I haven't been more active, but it has been a pleasure hearing your ideas and getting to know you a little bit.

water is life!

pattricejones wrote:
 my most essential resource. I'm pretty sure that's water, followed by other people. And--oh yeah!--it happens to be that I am mostly water and, as a social animal, am most healthy in the context of healthy relationships. So, maybe, taking care of myself and taking care of  water aren't separate activities at all! 

love this distillation! 

Re: What's next

Thanks Jane and Kristin for convening this great dialogue.

A next step for me is taking the time to read all the various resources and articles people have shared. I'll be looking at ways to adapt and share these with Australian activists. It would be useful to know if there are websites or publications that haven't been mentioned yet.

I'm considering developing a short course for activists which consists of sessions focused on different aspect of self-care: goal setting and time management, peer listening skills, eating well, exercise, relaxation and sleep, etc. I think this could be a lot of fun, and a good learning experience for myself and others.

I welcome ongoing contact with folks. There may be projects we could collaborate on, or share resources around. A lot of the comments in the dialogue could be developed as articles for journals and websites. The Change Agency is always keen to include articles and weblinks of value to activists in our enews.

It's been lovely to 'meet' you through this dialogue, and heartening to know you are all out there doing this important work. Take care and may you all thrive!

workshops, retreats, gatherings to practice/support one another

Yes, Holly, I wholehartedly agree! It's a wonderful idea.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if activists could find wherever we were working, a network of fellow activists invested in wellness/self care?! And that this network was accessible, in the form of web-based information and dialogues on line, as well as informal and local gatherings when possible? For instance, here in the states, there is a growing group of people working with children who are interested in using mindfulness. The online community is robust; and local gatherings are beginning to take hold as well (www.mindfulnesstogether.com). The service and opportunities for shared learning and help is inspiring!

With a bow and a smile, I thank you all for your good works and wisdom.

In signing off, here is my ending wish: May we of the human rights activist community find ways to realize radical self care, and in so doing, more efficiently attain our mission to counter the injustices, relieve the suffering, and bring peace and joy to the people we serve. 


Whats Next?

One last and brief thought about this "Whats Next" thread---that builds on the connection between security and self care in another conversation.

In the humanitarian sector, which overlaps in many ways with the human rights/activist sector, many donors are requiring that prospective "fundees" (not sure thats a word!) demonstrate security plans, systems, measures for their staff. Increasingly, security can represent a 1% of overall budget line item. Many of us who are deeply involved with staff support in both the humanitarian and human rights sectors are pressing for a similar approach: 1 percent of budgets should be devoted to  staff support or self care.  In one public statement, the former OFDA director made the link between security and staff care and proposed the idea that donors might consider requiring a staff care line item.

One of the issues that often challenges self care is that appears to be a "soft science"--whereas security is considered a more tangible or "hard science." I am sure I don't need to say this for this group, but the two are inextricably linked. When security is an issue, self care can become more difficult--resulting in anger, isolation, burn-out, depression, etc etc. When people are burned-out, depressed, apathetic, numbed, stressed or traumatized--they can be more likely to take risks. Risks are costly to organizations.

Just a few closing thoughts to chew on!

compilation of wisdom and resources

For a next step I agree with the suggestion that someone prepare a document organizing the material from this dialogue into a document that can be shared.  Just today I made a self-care presentation to attorneys working in non-profits who do Legal Orientation and Know Your Rights presentations to immigrants detained in federal and private prisons. At the end, I provided the link to this dialog, but realized that it is not really user friendly to someone seeking practical help in an accessible format.  I realize it would take a lot of work for someone to create the document we're describing, but the value would be substantial. Perhaps it could be funded through newtactics itself.  One mode of organization could be to compile and synthesize the comments made by each person,along with their bio and contact information, thereby retaining the specificity and context of each person's contributions and also allowing readers the opportunity to contact the contributor(s). 

I am glad to have had the opportunity to meet and learn from all of you, and will likely be contacting some in the future.  Thanks to Kristin and newtactics for conceiving of and organizing this dialog. This is an area of activism that is growing rapidly, with powerful benefits to all.  In my presentation today I emphasized the importance of supportive relationships with colleagues and friends who understand what we are doing.  this dialog itself provided that to me and has been strengthening and empowering - in itself a model of what we're working to create in our own organizations and spheres of activism. 

New Tactics will write a summary & possibly a wiki

Hi David and others,

Thank you for your suggestions for how we could create a meaningful resource from this rich dialogue. I work with many amazing interns, and I will ask a few of them to help write a summary of this dialogue. That will be ready in about one month - and once it is finished I will email everyone and post it on the dialogue page.

I also really like Deborah's idea of creating a wiki on the New Tactics site that the featured resource practitioners could continue to update (and allow it to be viewed in a printer-friendly format). I'm going to continue thinking about this idea and expirementing. I think this could be a great way to summarize all of our dialogues! Thank you again for the great suggestions, everyone!


Amazing interns, indeed - that's great! Finding great people who have a genuine interest in contributing their time and talents seems like another kind of protective factor for doing this work - fresh energy, new ideas, and a desire to volunteer. It's fantastic to have those resources. Thanks for making that available to all of us in the form of a summary, Kristin.

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