This summer, I had the incredible opportunity to intern for Human Rights Watch (HRW), an international human rights watchdog organization. I spent eight weeks working for their Children’s Rights Division at the organization’s headquarters in New York City. My main assignment for the summer was to fact-check and proofread components of a report surveying the state of access to and security of education across the world, with a special focus on a collection of countries experiencing grave attacks on education due to armed conflict.
Along the way, I also was able to conduct press-monitoring for divisional news releases, attend meetings within HRW and with other NGOs, and conduct informational interviews with over a dozen individuals working in the field of human rights.
During my time at HRW I learned so much about effective leadership both explicitly, through conversations and reading works by staff, as well as implicitly, by observing the interactions and relationships to which I was exposed. One of my main takeaways is the importance of partnership.
Thus far, most of my education has focused on leadership within a closed environment or a singular group. While fostering effective leadership within an organization is incredibly important, some of the most powerful work, especially within civil society, is borne from the cumulative efforts of NGO coalitions and networks. By tapping into the collective pool of knowledge, energy and influence of effective partnerships, the potential for change is multiplied.
However, these partnerships can be particularly difficult to navigate, especially when there are often cross-organizational differences in priorities, status and resources. I learned that an important skill in leadership and in preserving partnerships is knowing when to step back and to allow others to take the spotlight. This is especially pertinent when it comes to taking credit for successes.
Moreover, collaborative relationships are all about give and take, about balancing extraction with the added benefit you give to your partners. For example, HRW often turned to capacity training to empower partners in order to offset the time and resources spent on working with HRW. These strategies help to build trust and set the stage for sustainable, long-term collaboration.