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Winter reading list: Human rights and a fact based world view

What’s this? Our seasonal reading lists are collections of essential reads, assembled from recommendations by our expert speakers and our amazing team. They make for a great knowledge basis before our events, or awesome stand alone collections.

Why a reading list?

Exploring social problems can be really frustrating. (A confusing feeling to encounter when dealing with philanthropy - haven’t we been taught it should be all warm, fuzzy feelings?) There is a lot of information out there, and often, the closer you look at a topic, the more complex you discover it is. So where do you start?

Well, let's start by looking at the tools and approaches we use to understand social problems and find effective solutions. Let’s strive for a fact based world view. (Important now more than ever, eh?)

1. Everything you know is wrong.

Hans Rosling’s geniously simple ways of debunking massive misconceptions about the world, caused by false media representation and confirmation bias, has become a bit of a staple in international development discourse.

2. Ben's pick: What’s confirmation bias, you might ask?


Here is a 3 minute read on all sorts of cognitive biases, which will perhaps make you slightly more vary of your strongest convictions.

3. Patrick’s pick: For everyone who ever thought statistics were boring (and those who love it)


Patrick Ball, The Founder of the Human Rights Data Analysis Group - a.k.a statistician magician - a.k.a human rights investigation superstar, demonstrates the risks and potentials of data collection and analysis, and he does it better than anyone else we’ve come across.

This is not only a fascinating read; it’s also an extremely important statement on the importance of data that isn’t merely true, but representative. For everyone who wants to adopt a data driven approach to social problems, this is essential reading.

4. Regan’s pick: Human Rights defence is changing, and our donations should too


Support from international human rights communities and donors is often focused on remote work and foreign-led emergency relief, failing to protect localised community responses to human rights abuses. This is an important call for the international community to compliment current support models with long term movement building and grassroots empowerment. Again, the necessity of complex understandings of localised problems is highlighted.

‘Have we adequately analysed the changing dynamics influencing risk and contested civil society space, and adapted the policies and support to confront the new reality? Is the protection model of relying heavily on international groups and service providers insufficient and unsustainable, given the scale and severity of attacks on defenders? Should protection start closer to home?’

5. Dr. Srinivasan's pick: Are human rights 'real'?

What does the term 'Human Rights' actually mean, and who decides? In global politics, different stakeholders usually have very different conceptions of its meaning; which is subject to constant change, contention, and requalificaiton. But, as Dr. Srinivasan argues, Human Rights are mainly 'an evolving lanuguage of our time'. A language through which we understand the complex political relationships and power dynamics of our world, that enables us to contest, resist or support them.

6. What do we do now?

World Report 2017: Demagogues Threaten Human Rights

The rise of demagogues in the US and Europe brings with it a host of implications for Human Rights defence throughout the world, as highlighted in Human Rights Watch's comprehensive world report for 2017. This short article summarises the global developments of autocracies and populism in the year passed, and sends one clear message: 'The antidote is for voters to demand a politics based on truth and the values on which rights-respecting democracy is built.'

About the contributors:

Ben Clifford is the Growth Director at Founders Pledge

Patrick Ball is the Founder of the Human Rights Data Analysis Group.

Regan Ralph is the president & CEO of the Fund for Global Human Rights.

Dr. Sharath Srinivasan is the Director of the Centre of Governance & Human Rights, and co-founder of the Africa’s Voices Foundation.

Originally published on 3 February 2017

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