Asia Religious & Ethnic Freedom (REF)
Asia REF is an exciting new way to mobilize USAID funding to bolster religious and ethnic freedom. The Asia Religious and Ethnic Freedom (REF) Activity, an Associate Award under the USAID-funded Human Rights Support Mechanism (HRSM), supports efforts by local partners to expand freedom of religion and conscience in Asia and builds the capacity of local community partners to lead efforts for REF within their countries. The Asia REF consortium includes the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI), Freedom House, Internews, Pact, and Search for Common Ground. Through Asia REF, these organizations partner with local actors working on REF in Asia, and each project under the award supports local partners with funding and technical assistance. The Asia REF learning team, led by Search for Common Ground, is creating an iterative learning agenda for the award to track and integrate emerging and promising practices into projects across the life of the award.
Frequently Asked Questions
According to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), “Inherent in religious freedom is the right to believe or not believe as one’s conscience leads, and live out one’s beliefs openly, peacefully, and without fear. Freedom of religion or belief is an expansive right that includes the freedoms of thought, conscience, expression, association, and assembly. While religious freedom is a core human right international law and treaty recognize and a vital element of national security, critical to ensuring a more peaceful, prosperous, and stable world.”
Initial projects are a maximum of 14 months long in Asian countries, with a focus on South, Southeast, and Central Asian countries, with at least 60% of funds going to local organizations. All projects must secure support from the relevant USAID Mission in the course of proposal development.
Up to 10% of the project direct costs will go to the local partner’s capacity building, based on their organizational needs and strategy. These might include activities such as training staff on REF program implementation, board strengthening, strategy development, audit preparedness, resource mobilization strategies, improving IT systems, or other needs.
NGOs, religious organizations, human rights groups, civil society organizations, research firms, media companies, etc. You do not have to be already working on REF to implement a project through Asia REF, but you should have an interest in and strategic alignment with human rights programming.
Asia REF does not have a specific focus, but all projects should be grounded in human rights and expand religious and ethnic freedom. These might be activities related to advocacy; supporting government and other institutions to protect REF; countering exclusionary narratives and hate speech; promotion of tolerance of religious and ethnic minorities in social and communal life; preventing and responding to human rights violations, for instance, based on needs identified to promote REF in the target country of the project.
Projects should not prioritize broad, overarching training programs intended for mass participation, activities that overlap or duplicate other existing initiatives, or strategic religious engagement programs to promote interfaith tolerance as the end goal. Activities should lead to concrete outcomes related to increased availability and enjoyment of human rights and/or reduced violations of human rights.
Asia REF does not support activities that advance or inhibit the practice of one religion, belief, or non-belief. Activities should have a neutral effect on the exercise of religion and should not advance or inhibit the practice of religion or favor religious belief.
Depending on the thematic focus of the project local partner’s will be matched with one of the Asia REF consortium partners (ABA ROLI, Freedom House, Internews, Pact, and Search for Common Ground). Project design will be developed through a co-creation process with the relevant Asia REF consortium partner and respective USAID Mission. Local partners should be available and able to work together and contribute to the co-creation process.
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