A Democracy Accelerator / Dictatorship Decelerator, the Freedom Fellowship program works to support and grow democracy worldwide while undermining dictatorship in specific countries. Following a year-long pilot program we conducted in 2017 in partnership with the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) for the country of Ecuador, we are working to establish a 2-year formal program in order to meet a deep need for support and acceleration of democratic action for activists working within closed countries.
After working in the democracy advocacy space for more than ten years, our partner, HRF, has identified the critical and unmet need for a concerted effort to coordinate activists in dictatorships and help them build cohesive movements. In 2017 Sky(lark) Strategies developed a pilot program for activists from Ecuador who were in HRF’s network. The pilot was determined to be a success by HRF’s, Sky(lark) Strategies, and the activists’ post-program analysis, and we are now eager to take the impact to scale.
Democracy activists in dictatorships have very few resources available to them and often operate alone or in ad-hoc groups. Our partners at HRF have been bringing activists from dictatorships together for ten years at their Oslo Freedom Forum (OFF) conferences and they often hear from attending activists that simply gathering with, learning from, and finding ways to support one another are among the most important activities for them at OFF. The efforts at OFF are effective and useful for the activists, but of limited impact as it is only an annual meeting and does not always gather the same activists. The Freedom Fellowship takes this work to the next level, creating a long-term, facilitated space for effective strategies to emerge, training the activists in skills that are currently not core to their organic expertise, coordinating efforts, and allowing for the sharing of best practices. The Freedom Fellows will support each other long term and be supported by professional tacticians, strategists, and ancillary experts. By moving from individual activist efforts to a collective effort and constantly increasing the reach and coordination of the work, activist efforts are strengthened and movements are grown. The Fellowship will provide a deep and sustainable approach to activist coordination, and we anticipate that the outcomes will create dramatic ripple effects throughout each country where it is implemented.
Large scale, long term impact will be seeded by galvanizing collective efforts and this work will pave the way for expansion into the potential power vacuum inherent in the inevitable collapse of the dictatorships where the program is implemented. With this work, we anticipate that we will shorten the lifespan of the current dictatorship, poking holes in its fabric, and augmenting the foundation of a democratic civil society. The work of human rights defenders in dictatorships is slow, patient, ambiguous, uncomfortable, and fraught with danger and risk. These courageous leaders have taken upon their shoulders a huge responsibility and in turn, they require support. With the Freedom Fellowship we are answering this urgent global call.
We know that the model we propose will work effectively as it was piloted in 2017 on a smaller scale. After the success of our pilot program with a cohort from Ecuador, we are eager to reach more countries while providing a much deeper level of support to the activists.
The Freedom Fellowship will build country-specific cohorts of democracy activists and address the most pressing needs of the activists we work with: building a cohesive strategy; training in key areas such as fundraising, communications, and security; and fostering collaborative efforts to amplify the impact of each individual activist.
We plan to build and run two activist cohorts each year, training and supporting human rights defenders, helping them push to the next level their efforts to fight dictatorship and accelerate democracy while learning to be more effective in their countries. The Freedom Fellowship will help human rights defenders become more targeted in their work and deepen their effort to educate the people who don’t know what’s going on in their country, support those who wish to dissent, pressure oppressors, and give a voice to the voiceless.
Each cohort will be focused on geography and/or other uniting aspects of the activists’ work. For year one we will build two country-specific cohorts to accelerate democracy in two countries and facilitate an enhanced, unified process of working together in an organized, concerted way, for 12 months. Human rights defenders from each country will join their peers, start collaborating based on a joint vision, and share information to accelerate the impact of their respective work and become stronger together.
Year two will include two additional countries, or, if the need presents itself during the Freedom Fellowship’s first year, one geography focused cohort and one cohort built around the needs and power of certain kind of activism such as journalists or women. In year two we will also continue supporting the two cohorts from year one and we will expand upon our efforts in the first year, as outlined below. Our intention is to continue this program on an ongoing basis, adding two more countries each subsequent year.
We are currently looking for seed funding to establish and partially fund the first two years of the program and build additional support.