Human rights and community development – an opportunity for integration and alignment

3rd October 2017

Human rights and community development – an opportunity for integration and alignment

3rd October 2017
Smiling woman with red hair sitting in a restaurant

Human rights and community development – an opportunity for integration and alignment

Human rights standards have become increasingly well-defined in recent years. Codified in international, regional and national legal systems, they constitute a set of performance standards against which organisations and governments can be held to account. In the context of community development and social investment, human rights management plays an important part.

“Human development and human rights are close enough in motivation and concern to be compatible and congruous, and they are different enough in strategy and design to supplement each other fruitfully,” according to the Human Development Report 2000.

Human rights and social development share a preoccupation with necessary outcomes for improving people’s lives, but also with better processes. It is now generally understood that poverty is a result of disempowerment and exclusion. Poverty is not only a lack of material goods and opportunities, such as employment, ownership of productive assets and savings, but the lack of physical and social goods, such as health, access to quality education, freedom from fear and violence, social belonging, cultural identity, organisational capacity, the ability to exert political influence, and the ability to live a life with respect and dignity. Human rights violations are both a cause and a consequence of poverty.

Economic growth alone is not enough

Growth alone is not enough. Growth without equity and without social inclusion will not reduce poverty. “Equity has an instrumental logic (redistribution can make growth easier and poverty reduction faster) but also has intrinsic value in a fair global society.” – Simon Maxwell, ODI working paper 243).

Economic growth is a means, not the goal, of social development. It can also be instrumental for the realisation of human rights. However, economic growth must be achieved in a manner consistent with human rights principles.

A human rights-based approach to development is a conceptual framework for the process of human development that is normatively based on international human rights standards and operationally directed to promoting and protecting human rights. It seeks to analyse inequalities which lie at the heart of development problems and redress discriminatory practices and unjust distributions of power that impede development progress.

Mere charity and philanthropy are not enough from a human rights perspective. Under a human rights-based approach to social development the strategies, plans, policies and processes of development are anchored in a system of rights and corresponding obligations established by international law. This helps to promote the sustainability of development work, empowering people themselves— especially the most marginalised—to participate in public policy formulation and hold accountable those who have a duty to act.

With human rights in mind, social development programmes and social investors can help to address and promote a more sustainable approach to development, for instance:

  • By undertaking social impact assessments and risk analysis prior to funding any significant development programme or initiative with provision for participatory monitoring and evaluation throughout.
  • Through strengthening access-to-justice components within development policies and programmes, starting with strengthening capacities for data collection and analysis, monitoring and evaluation, and ensuring accessible avenues (formal and informal) for redress when rights are violated.
  • Human rights education and redress mechanisms can be set up as part of development projects, to raise human rights awareness and provide an open and constructive means of channelling grievances and resolving disputes.
  • By encouraging and funding social justice organisations and related civil society organisations to help mediate conflicts, assist people in their interactions with government and facilitate dealings with bureaucratic processes, such as acquiring identity documents or registering for social assistance and grants.
  • By protecting and ensuring the rights of those who cannot speak for themselves or defend themselves, for instance vulnerable children and orphans or abused women, or creating opportunities for disabled people.

A human rights-based approach to social development requires a greater understanding of social systems and the political dimensions of development. In this case, social programmes can be aimed at removing entrenched patterns of discrimination or poor governance, and at addressing them. This can for instance be accomplished by ensuring greater access to quality education or healthcare, or by allocating resources to produce social change, funding awareness-raising, promoting advocacy, social mobilisation and empowerment over more traditional capacity-building and service delivery programmes.

In addition, new alliances and partnerships may be needed to address human rights challenges, finding a workable balance between constructive engagement with national partners and, where needed, principled advocacy.

Good development programmes require stakeholders (including social investors and development agencies) to be accountable for specific results. A human rights-based approach goes further by grounding those accountabilities in a framework of specific human rights entitlements and corresponding obligations established under international law.

To ensure accountability, a human rights-based approach to development starts by identifying specific obstacles and challenges in a development context. This research and analysis of an investment portfolio or focus area sets a baseline for formulating development strategies to remove them.

But for accountability to be effective, it needs to be demanded. Therefore, a human rights-based approach to development also requires an analysis of the capacities needed for rightsholders, especially the poorest and most disadvantaged, to claim their rights effectively.

Accessible, transparent and effective mechanisms of accountability are called for at national as well as local levels. Ensuring accountability can be difficult in practice, particularly where national capacities are weak or governments are unwilling to act. There are no ready answers for all situations, but effective strategies can be supportive and could include:

  • Raising awareness of rights and responsibilities, and developing the capacities of government and civil society organisations to execute their duties. This may include involving a wide range of stakeholders in analysis, programme planning, implementation and evaluation.
  • Building relationships and creating partnerships between rightsholders and by working together.
  • Providing incentives for better performance through educating people about their rights, creating broader alliances for social change in society, promoting transparent budgeting and building capacities for budget analysis, supporting advocacy for information and statistics necessary to monitor the realisation of human rights, building capacities for policy analysis and social impact assessments, encouraging media freedom, and building the capacities of community stakeholder groups.
  • Strengthening the capacities of national human rights institutions, including their capacity to monitor the realisation of economic and social rights.
  • By publishing and reporting transparently on human rights-based development practices, by using qualitative data (such as opinion and perception surveys or findings), and by engaging with experts and reporting for instance on progress and contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Social investors can state their intent and support of and contribution to human rights-based development.
  • Ensuring that monitoring and evaluation take place on an ongoing basis throughout the life cycle and life stages of development programmes. Measurement processes should be participatory, involving all stakeholders as far as feasible, allowing them to assess and contribute to progress as well as any revisions required. This should be linked to evaluation reports and reporting processes as well as staff performance systems.
  • Ensuring that development programmes are coordinated with other development partners, agencies and social investors.
  • Ensuring that social development priorities and programmes are aligned with national and local development priorities (NDP and LED strategies)
  • Undertaking social impact analysis, including gender analysis, throughout the course of the programme.
  • Making impact results available to all stakeholders.

Next Generation specialises in sustainable development, social innovation, human rights and stakeholder management, and social investment and development. We have assisted numerous companies to develop, implement and measure human rights-based development programmes.

Related Articles


The success of social innovation doesn't depend on just one thing... That's why we have a targeted approach and method to ensuring real, widespread and inclusive development and economic growth. Learn more about how we do what we do;...


With over 20 years in the world of social innovation and transformation… we’ve learned quite a bit… And we believe that knowledge is a social currency that is best shared. Visit to learn more about social...


Next Generation Consultants makes some exciting predictions about what could be shaking up the social investment and development industry sectors in the year ahead, taking a closer look at the future of social enterprises, new...


Next Generation Consultants imagine the world the way it could be… and then we get to work. We partner with companies across Africa, focusing on sustainable development through social innovation to realise the dreams made possible...


For the past 15 years, Next Generation Consultants has published an annual guide on the trends and forecasts for the social investment and development sectors in Africa. We’d like to share some findings from our report for 2018 in 3...


Some people say success can’t be measured… We’re not those people. Our published book, The Investment Impact Index, explores our matrix for quantifying and qualifying the impact of social investment and development. It not only...