Theory of Change



The development of the theory of change was a participatory process involving the NHRF Secretariat, its Board, NHRF local consultants, and a selection of grantee partners. It is a living document that represents our theory of how change is created and driven forward. It articulates expected outcomes and their preconditions that, together, form pathways of change that lead to the overall goal. We understand these processes to be non-linear, interconnected, interdependent, mutually reinforcing, and occurring simultaneously or separately. The theory of change will guide our work as a partner and grantmaker by informing the support we provide to human rights work to achieve the defined outcomes and overall goal. It is one of the key elements used in our monitoring, evaluation, and learning processes. We will regularly review and refine the theory of change as we assess if our interventions are bringing about change and if the pathways of change are accurate and realistic.

Download our Theory of Change

Resource the source of change: Leadership at the grassroots level


The NHRF primarily supports small- to medium-sized organizations and movements that represent and work with marginalized and vulnerable individuals and groups experiencing human rights injustices. Some initiatives are nascent, and others are more experienced and professional. Our goal is to directly reach communities and people experiencing injustice, so we prioritize support for initiatives that are led by the communities or people themselves or to those who are working in direct connection with and for them. The NHRF operates from the belief expressed by the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, “There is no strict definition of human rights defenders because they can be anyone who acts at any moment for any human rights. … A human rights defender can be a man, woman, lawyer, student, an NGO’s employee, a doctor or any person from any profession, of all ages, nationalities, religions, etc.” Therefore, the NHRF often refers to supporting human rights defenders (HRDs) in our work as we view all grantee partners working in the front lines for human rights as HRDs.

The NHRF has always instilled the essentiality of human rights initiatives and efforts being led by those experiencing human rights injustices, who are empowered with the expertise, agency, and knowledge of the most effective methods for not only defending rights but also uprooting systemic oppression. Human rights work transforms power relationships and dynamics and it is inherently political. Its focus on systemic change requires a long-term commitment and an understanding that holding one’s ground and preventing changes that erode human rights will be necessary in some contexts.

Our core values

PUTTING HUMANS FIRST IN HUMAN RIGHTS WORK — Those experiencing human rights injustices are always at the center of our work, and we support their leadership in the struggle and when claiming their rights. The NHRF is uncompromising in practicing this principle, which in its application, has proven to have a multidimensional meaning — putting resources into enhancing grantees’ security, connecting grantees with relevant and strategic actors or organizations, building relationships to deepen our understanding of grantees’ work and its importance are some examples.

MUTUAL TRUST & ACCOUNTABILITY — Respect, transparency and a sense of mutual accountability between the NHRF and grantee partners helps build trust in our partnerships. It lessens power imbalances, reduces barriers to communication, and enables the NHRF to provide more meaningful support to partners.

SOLIDARITY & CONNECTION — Solidarity is an essential component to influencing change at all levels as we believe that change is not as simple as a top-down or bottom-up process. It is a long-term process involving historical and cultural roots, multiple actors from across the spectrum of sectors, opportunities, and (un)predictable fluctuations. Consistency in solidarity by placing the power and belief in the people claiming their rights and supporting their human rights agendas is essential. Connection through strong partnerships enhances our ability to respond to the needs of grantees as they adapt to ever-fluctuating environments.

EMPATHY & COMPASSION — Solidarity cannot be genuine without empathy. Empathy drives solidarity and action. Our belief in equality and that human rights must be realized for all drives our empathy to act and support those experiencing human rights injustices.

COURAGEOUS SUPPORT — The NHRF was mandated to be a courageous global actor that is willing to take measured risks with its funding so that we can reach innovative, remote, nascent, and/or other types of projects, movements, and organizations operating in challenging and complex contexts that typically find it difficult to secure funding. We invest in the resources needed to be able to continue to support courageous human rights work courageously.

DIVERSITY & INCLUSION — We understand that diversity and inclusion, to the fullest extent of their meaning, are essential to creating transformative and sustainable change. The NHRF therefore strives to support not only a diversity of human rights work and organizations but also organizations that are diverse in the composition of their personnel and target groups.

FLEXIBILITY — Flexibility allows us to provide direct support to organizations with varying capacities that might otherwise be missed by other donors. Practicing this principle helps us meet the needs and capacities of grantees by being a dynamic and adaptable partner.