TORONTO, Feb. 6, 2012 /CNW/ - In 2012, Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) celebrates its 10th birthday - and there is much to celebrate.
JHR is Canada's leading media development organization. In ten short years, it has grown from the germ of an idea, concocted over MSN messenger in 2002 by two young Canadians, Alexandra Sicotte-Levesque and Ben Peterson, to a truly international media development initiative operating in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and five sub-Saharan African countries: Liberia, Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi and Ghana.
Last year, JHR faced one of its biggest transitions yet: co-founder Ben Peterson left the building. He has been replaced as executive director by magazine journalist Rachel Pulfer. Under new leadership, the organization has several great new initiatives lined up for 2012 that we are keen to share with the world.
1. We're working harder than ever … to engage Canadians
JHR has done an excellent job of delivering innovative development programs overseas. Last year, our Sierra Leone project was recognized by independent United Nations evaluators as among the top ten best-managed projects ever to be supported by the United Nations Democracy Fund.
The sad part is that, according to our surveys, focus groups and (ahem) donor base, hardly anyone in Canada knows what we do, or understands or cares why we do it.
Perhaps this isn't surprising. Much of our funding comes from elsewhere - Australia, the European Union, the United Kingdom. Most of our work takes place far from Canada's shores. And in the era of News of the World-style phone-hacking, it's hard to grasp how a bunch of journalists could play a valuable role in development. All of which makes it doubly hard to show why what we do is worth Canadians' support.
To change that, this year we're doing the following:
Kicking off new partnerships with Shaw/Global Television and the CBC, and sponsoring an award with the Canadian Association of Journalists. These programs will send a small number of elite Canadian journalists to participate in month-long training programs, helping out our core staff on projects overseas.
Aside from being a source of superb training talent for our programs, these initiatives will help show Canadian journalists the immense challenges facing their counterparts in sub-Saharan Africa. In so doing, Canadian journalists will put their hard-earned journalism skills to work for a great cause - while, we hope, having a great time.
Our other big new focus this year is building community around the organization. Grant funding comes and goes, but a core staff of management talent should be eternal. Critical to supporting that team will be building our membership program. Members are monthly donors. They get first-mover information on new volunteer initiatives and opportunities at the organization, access to our e-newsletter, and discounts on tickets to JHR's 10th anniversary party. If you donate more than $50 a month, you'll get free access to all JHR events, and the chance to go on a trip to a JHR project at the end of the year. More details soon at www.jhr.ca
2. We plan to do more development work in Canada
JHR's vision is to expand awareness of human rights all over the world. So why do we only work in Africa? Good question. While not meeting quite so acute a need as some of our international programs, there are plenty of human rights injustices and inequities to focus on at home. That's why in 2012, JHR intends to pursue a strategy to fulfill our mandate in Canada.
We're currently piloting a media development initiative in Northern Ontario, based out of Thunder Bay. This is designed firstly as a version of what we do overseas: build capacity amongst Aboriginal journalists to tell stories that foreground rights issues. It is also intended to help build bridges between Aboriginal media and mainstream Canadian media. The driving force behind this program is Robin Pierro, a documentary filmmaker and JHR alumni trainer. "After returning home from Ghana, where I witnessed first-hand the profound impact this kind of work has, I felt strongly about the fact that we needed to be doing similar work in Canada," Pierro says. "People have a tendency to look beyond their backyards for problems to fix and this project is really looking at how the media can be developed right here at home. It has been very exciting to be behind something that is taking JHR in an entirely new direction." Interest from Aboriginal journalists, mainstream Canadian journalism organizations, community organizations and municipal authorities has been strong to date, and we are now seeking funding from several foundations.
Through our ever-growing student chapter organization we are also building our profile. "JHR student leaders are some of the most inspiring and compassionate youth in Canada," student chapter coordinator Ken Zolatar explains. "In 2012 - 2013 we are harnessing our energy to focus on two major issues in North America - gender-based violence and at-risk youth." With dozens of partnerships, hundreds of volunteers and thousands of hours dedicated to giving voice to the voiceless across North America, JHR has big plans to continue to improve human rights awareness in our campuses and communities.
3. We will continue to refine our model overseas
In development circles, JHR is known for the excellent work we do in Africa. However, there is always room for improvement.
This year, our focus is on creating sustainable exit strategies for our Sierra Leone, DRC and Liberia projects. This effort will emphasize the following five activities: curriculum development, training-local-trainers, building links between local stakeholders, civil society organizations and media through media training for NGOs, the police and security services, building the capacity of local universities and press unions to truly support an independent media sector, and building out our training for media managers initiative.
We don't ever bank on receiving funds from donor agencies. Mandates come and go, as do project managers, and with them goes agency support for our work. However, given a phenomenal record of success from our youth program over 2010-2011, supported by the Canadian International Development Agency and tracked through numbers of program participants finding work in their industry, as well as through active curriculum development initiatives and innovative new partnerships with local media organizations in-country, we hope to continue the program in Ghana, while expanding it to Tanzania. This effort is being led by Kathryn Sheppard, our international programs coordinator, who says "Our current IYIP program has been nothing less than success. It would be great to have the opportunity again to engage Canada's best young talent, building on what has been achieved and expanding into new territory." We are also looking to pilot a project in one of either the Middle East or South Sudan.
Lastly, we are engaging both top journalists and lawyers on a project to refine our trainers' curriculum. The curriculum will then be tested out overseas through university partnerships with the University of Liberia in Monrovia, Liberia; the Africa University College of Communications and Ghana Institute of Journalism in Ghana; St. Augustine's University in Tanzania; Fourah Bay College and LLICSL in Sierra Leone; and IFASIC and the University of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
For further information: