At the start of each program year, the Asia Religious and Ethnic Freedom (Asia REF) consortium convenes an annual learning event with USAID, consortium partners (Freedom House, Search for Common Ground, ABA ROLI, Pact, and Internews), and local partners implementing projects as part of Asia REF. The annual reflection process provides an opportunity to come together and foster a culture of continuous learning and collaboration. It is an opportunity to “step back” and identify the emerging opportunities and challenges both internal to the program in its support to local partners, and external in the wider context in the region. The following recommendations were collected through this process to inform donors and implementers working on religious and ethnic freedom (REF) projects.
Intersectionality of REF and Other Rights
- Recognize the intersectionality of freedom of religion or belief and other human rights (FORB), including its interconnections with gender discrimination, access to justice, livelihoods, governance, community engagement, cultural preservation, freedom of expression, etc. in program design.
- Regional events, such as youth camps, can be highly effective for fostering connections and building relationships for diaspora spanning across many countries. Linguistic diversity should be taken into consideration when designing such initiatives.
- Recognize the impact of intersectionality, including sexual and gender identities and economic background, on an individuals’ access to resources and rights when designing programs.
Adapting REF Project Approaches to Local Contexts
- Be flexible in how project language is formulated, taking into consideration any local sensitivities and risks, and ensuring usage of non-adversarial language.
- Foster networks for peer-to-peer learning and support to navigate operation challenges, in particular for nascent organizations or when there are changes in the operational environment.
- Identify entry points and common good issues to explain why customary laws can sometimes be discriminatory, going beyond rights-based language.
- Create space for women to discuss their experience with REF, since they cannot always share these concerns in public spaces.
- Find strategies for engaging people who promote regressive laws and restrictions on FORB. Although it can be difficult, there is a need to engage them.
- Engage with individuals holding opposing views through facilitated dialogues, particularly those who wield power or influence over media channels.
- Work on shifting policymaking, from top-down to bottom-up approaches, so that laws and policies are created by the publics’ demand for such legislation.
- Develop campaigns humanizing religious minorities’ image to combat hate speech and disinformation.
- Validate project designs with target groups to ensure a realistic understanding of local contexts and challenges.
- Incorporate adequate inception periods in project timelines to allow for time to onboard partners, review and adjust project designs jointly, and conduct capacity assessments and develop strengthening plans.
- Co-create standard operating procedures and communication protocols, where discussions on formal and informal communication channels can take place, focusing on ground safety for both partners and the community.
- Address the challenge of “acronym soup” and INGO/donor language by breaking down complex terminology for better understanding, share existing resources and glossaries. Go beyond explaining acronyms by including the approaches and concepts behind them.
- Establish a feedback mechanism to address issues like harassment, power abuse, and ethical concerns, ensuring the active participation of local partners and participants.
- Avoid micromanagement and promote flexibility in allowing local partners to plan and decide on the best implementation methods, reviewing work plans and timelines collaboratively.
- Simplify procedures to streamline collaboration and reduce bureaucratic hurdles. Ensure that procedures are delivered to all partners and set joint expectations from the beginning, communicating the reasons behind procedures, and demonstrating how to access resources and training to build the necessary skills for overcoming bureaucratic hurdles.
- Provide guidelines to partners to ensure adequate budgeting for support staff and use of ‘indirect’ budgets where available.
Partner Capacity Strengthening
- Support the translation of resources that are adapted to local contexts, recognizing the diversity of cultural and linguistic landscapes.
- Facilitate peer-to-peer exchanges between partner organizations to share experiences and strategies for implementing, particularly in highly sensitive topics or restrictive environments.
- Recognize that partners do not always know what they do not know when designing mentoring and peer-to-peer sessions.
- Be cognizant of different learning styles and tones/framing while providing capacity strengthening opportunities. Adapt to the needs of the partner.
- Create an environment that fosters shared collaboration, allowing local partners to easily inquire about the skills and knowledge gained from post-training experiences.
- Conduct consultations with partners about applying lessons learned, ensuring a practical link between training and implementation.
Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning (MEL)
- Ensure reporting mechanisms allow for reporting on project implementation while removing sensitive and identifying information, such as participant data disaggregation. Even reporting to donors, which might be considered internal to the project, can be very sensitive for partners working with highly vulnerable groups such as religious and ethnic minorities.
- Recognize different definitions of “success” for projects, recognizing that modest achievements in one context can represent significant strides in more intricate environments, and integrate these definitions into project MEL plans.
- Create localized indicators through discussions with community leaders, emphasizing a community-driven approach over an expert-driven one.
- Use different modalities to gather information: online surveys, key information interviews (KIIs), focus group discussions (FGDs), and other formats for information collection from experts, such as online discussions as opposed to formal FGDs.
- Integrate learning activities into the project design to create safe spaces for implementers to share challenges and experiences to capture learning. Support the right to “fail” and foster a culture where challenges are seen as opportunities for growth.
- Encourage the capture of unexpected outcomes and provide guidance and tools for that purpose, including MEL training with a focus on processes and procedures, templates for periodic reports, and the sharing of meaningful successes with the consortium.
- Expand beyond the conventional perception of learning products, acknowledging that these might encompass not only standard briefs or reports but also more dynamic formats such as video clips, multimedia websites, webinars, and other interactive content. In particular these creative formats can be an effective means of capturing and sharing learning without identifying individuals in contexts where there are safety concerns for participants.
Safeguarding, Safety, and Security
- Provide resources or a referral system to access emergency assistance resources for local partners and participants to enable a quick response as their engagement in this programming can expose them to additional risks.
- Provide capacity strengthening and resources for partner organizations to ensure safety, security, and safeguarding. Providing adequate resources is a key aspect of ensuring implementation of safety, security, and safeguarding policies.
This report is made possible by the support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the sole responsibility of Search for Common Ground and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.