Thomson Reuters Foundation: Why We Invested, One Year Later

Across the world, it’s estimated that more than one billion people lack secure property rights — the formal recognition and protection of the right to use and have property. Without legally recognized documentation, these one billion people face the risk of wrongful eviction and forced displacement. And for far too many, the lack of property rights ultimately leads to crippling cycles of social and financial instability — creating a ripple effect across economies.

Property rights sit at the heart of nearly every global development issue we face today. So why isn’t this an issue at the top of every global development agenda?

A lack of awareness is perhaps the most critical challenge facing property rights advocates. Global development issues such as food security, healthcare, education, and gender equality evoke empathy and connection — people can readily imagine the impact on their lives without these foundational rights and, for the most part, don’t need to have the issue explained to them.

The same cannot be said for property rights, at least for those in the developed world. We benefit every day from property rights without even recognizing it: our home or apartment is still standing when we return each evening from work; we sign up for utilities, credit cards, loans, and more using our home addresses; and we trust that our loved ones will be taken care of thanks to wills and inheritances.

Those of us in the property rights community are partly to blame for this lack of awareness. We use arcane language laced with technical and legal jargon, making it inaccessible to the mainstream public and policymakers. What’s more, when we do share stories related to property rights, it’s usually about a horrific event — a violent demolition of slums, forced eviction of native residents, displaced persons after armed conflict, or a natural disaster — with the devastating outcome often overshadowing the root problem and rarely spotlighting a feasible solution.

We need to shine a bigger, brighter, and more easily understood “light” on property rights. And we need to scale solutions across cities, countries, and continents. Until then, the number of people at risk will continue to grow.

That is why last year we invested in the Thomson Reuters Foundation and its launch of Place, the first digital media platform dedicated to under-reported property rights issues. We believe professional journalism and storytelling are key to raising social consciousness and driving action.

Backed by one of the world’s most trusted news organizations, Place’s skilled journalists provide an in-depth look at the human impact of land conflicts, gentrification, deforestation, extractive industries, and more. Their storytelling is helping property rights evolve from a research topic to a rallying cry. And, most importantly, these journalists highlight what’s working — the success stories that are helping solve this complex global issue.

One year after we made our investment with Thomson Reuters Foundation, we are impressed with the results. Place has produced more than 500 original stories and 86 videos and is visited by tens of thousands of people every month. Its articles are distributed over the Reuters wire, which has a daily reach of more than 1 billion people. Place’s property rights stories involving topics ranging from slums to Tanzanian ‘witches’ to Pokémon Go have been published by The New York Times, Quartz, The Wall Street Journal, and The Guardian, and they have resulted in land policy changes by governments from Kenya to Romania.

We look forward to supporting the growth of Place as this groundbreaking platform continues to raise awareness for property rights, and, most importantly, to drive action for more than 1 billion people around the world.


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