Working on tech and human rights during a pandemic: what challenges are organisations facing?

Madeleine Maxwell

In May, we hosted a community call as part of our work exploring ways of supporting a more equitable and resilient tech and human right ecosystem. We brought together a group of passionate, talented individuals, from a range of organisations using technology to further human rights in Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, North America, Southeast Asia and Europe.

The conversation was centred around the challenges and support strategies that have emerged in this sector in the past several months–with Covid-19 and the change and uncertainty that the pandemic has brought with it at the top of everyone’s mind. In this blog post, we share some of the top takeaways from the conversation.

When small groups discussed current challenges in the context of the covid-19 pandemic, three major themes emerged: 

1. Missing face-to-face spaces: Groups highlighted the gap left by in-person events being cancelled and the inability to gather with communities. This has an impact at an organisational level when teams struggle with highly collaborative work, such as strategic planning. It also has an impact at the community level, as those people who aren’t online or don’t feel comfortable participating online are excluded from services or activities. Finally, it has an impact at the ecosystem level, as new collaborations that are usually sparked or catalysed through in-person gatherings don’t take shape.

2. Lack of flexibility from funders: While some funders have been sensitive to shifting needs and priorities of their grantees, others have not. Groups shared that some funders expressed an assumption that all of the organisation’s work could just be shifted online, without recognising that this isn’t responsible, effective or feasible for all services, and also assumes that everyone the organisation works with has access to the internet. Interviewees suggested that funders relax their emphasis on deliverables and project work and recognise that this time may be better spent on maintenance – refining or organisational strategy and planning, or strengthening infrastructure. In addition to this increased flexibility and sensitivity, groups were calling for the following shifts in practice from funders:

  • More transparent and accessible funding application processes 
  • Additional funding for basic support of staff’s wellbeing
  • A recognition that smaller organisations are likely to be the ones who will be hit the hardest during this crisis and a clear articulation of how funders are preparing to support them.
  • A commitment to maintaining support of organisations whose work is not explicitly related to covid-19

3. Deepening mutual support across communities: Groups reflected on the role we can each play in this current moment, and going forward–recognising the privilege that comes with working with technology, whilst resisting the expectation that all of our work happens online. Could we do more to support conversations about the risks and impact of emerging technology during the pandemic, especially amongst Human Rights Defenders, LGBTQI organisations and journalists? Could we support each other as we continuously revise our priorities, to ensure we’re doing the things that are urgent, but not forgetting important things that will make recovery easier, or possible? Could we be doing more to support other organisations as they transition to working online?

During the next few months, we will continue to share our learning as we work on this project. If what we have shared here resonates with you or contradicts your experience, we would love to hear about it. We can connect you with others experiencing similar challenges, keep you posted on future opportunities to participate in a community call as well as our research findings. Feel free to reach us at

Thanks for reading, and stay safe. 

Photo by Boris Stefanik on Unsplash.


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