Global Justice Through Small Grants: What the COVID-19 Grassroots Justice Fund Did Right


To meet the challenges the world faces today brought on by systemic injustices and the ongoing health crisis, we need to put people at the center of justice.

This guest blog, published on the occasion of the Global Week for Justice 2021, demonstrates how small grants can contribute to global justice in the midst of a pandemic. Grassroots justice organizations led the efforts to respond to both the public health emergency and the underlying global justice crisis, with innovation, hard work and a commitment to the communities they work with. The COVID-19 Grassroots Justice Fund made flexible, rapid-response grants available to grassroots justice groups. Some of the beneficiaries share their stories in this blog.

Our Justice for All guest blogs are written by justice leaders from around the world and across sectors, including grassroots, civil society, national and international. Their contributions highlight the ways in which people-centered justice creates meaningful change and helps us move from justice for the few to justice for all.

A blog by the Legal Empowerment Network

The COVID-19 pandemic and the measures taken to contain it have disproportionately affected marginalized communities across the globe. The increase in gender-based violence at home, the diminishing of human rights in prisons, livelihood and economic losses for under-resourced communities, and inability to access crucial information on safety and rights, are all signs of a global justice crisis beneath a public health emergency.

Grassroots organizations have led the efforts to respond to both of these crises. They innovated, adjusted their ways of working, and continued to support the communities they serve, even as uncertainty of their own futures grew due to restricted mobility and funding shortages. After asking members, the Legal Empowerment Network found that financial support of less than $10,000 would be sufficient to implement changes in majority of the organizations.

The COVID-19 Grassroots Justice Fund was created in response to this need. The Fund is on track to mobilize US$1 million and distribute flexible, rapid-response grants to around 60 outstanding grassroots justice groups by early 2022. In its first round of grantmaking held in 2020, the Fund was able to aid 33 organizations in over 20 countries. These organizations have already seen the impact of financial support. Some of them shared their stories with us:

LET STATION, North Macedonia

A health promoter sharing information on vaccination with a community member. (Photo credit: LET STATION)

Work for grassroots organizations such as the LET STATION in North Macedonia became extremely challenging with COVID-19 protocols and restrictions. Their field-based work was driven by personal meetings and physical contact, and had to be suddenly stopped. Funding opportunities also significantly reduced. Amid this, the rural communities they serve were hit hard and LET STATION’s interventions were especially needed in such a time.

The COVID-19 Grassroots Justice Fund enabled them to provide essential services the community needed. They built out the work of community health promoters-–local field activists working in informal education, field activism and assistance in health rights. Supported by this grant, the organization established a 24*7 telephone line “Ask a health promoter” for accessible consultations on COVID-19 and health rights.

The rate of vaccination in marginalized communities is lower than the average, and community health promoters, supported by this grant, assisted a significant number of people to apply for vaccination.

Familias Diversas Civil Association (AFDA), Argentina

A legal empowerment seminar being conducted for rural communities in the Province of Jujuy during the pandemic. (Photo Credit: AFDA)

AFDA works to address the structural inequalities experienced by women, children, adolescents, and LGBTIQA+ persons using legal empowerment as their main tool. They provide legal advice and run campaigns for community empowerment. Mobility restrictions in Argentina coupled with limited functioning of the judicial system and state agencies meant that AFDA’s work volume quadrupled.

With support from the COVID-19 Grassroots Justice Fund grant, AFDA was able to build their online platform, the Community Legal Center. The platform provides online legal advice on violation of rights, and acts as a virtual information and training center sharing clear and reliable information. Given the high demand for such information, AFDA also organized webinars that reached five regions in Argentina and received high engagement. Even as restrictions have eased, the online Community Legal Centre continues to be a useful resource for children, adolescents, women and LGBTIQA+ persons for timely access to justice.

The Coalition of Volunteers for Peace and Development (CVPD), Democratic Republic of Congo

A training session for security officers organized by CVPD on risks of COVID-19 & the Mandela Rules on Detention (Photo credit: CVPD)

CVPD works on prisoner’s rights across three provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The pandemic was especially challenging for people in detention: the risk of spread was high as distancing and other preventive measures were not applied in prisons, remand centers, and custody houses. This was a direct threat to their fundamental rights to life and health. The COVID-19 Grassroots Justice Fund grant allowed CVPD to conduct research on the degree of protection of detainees against COVID-19. The report produced from this research led to strong mobilization and helped their national advocacy efforts. In response, authorities provisionally released some detainees — patients of diabetes, hypertension, and those accused of minor crimes.

With the help of this grant, CVPD was also able to organize training sessions with high-level officials on the risks of COVID-19 and detention, and on the Mandela Rules on Detention.

Grassroots Development Support & Rural Enlightenment Initiative (GDEV), Nigeria

A still from the call-in radio show focusing on poor inclusion of persons with disabilities in COVID-19 benefits. (Photo Credit: GDEV)

With support from the COVID-19 Grassroots Justice Fund, Nigeria-based GDEV began a call-in radio show on COVID-19 safety measures. They focused on sharing information especially relevant to people with disabilities to access resources and benefits. The platform was also used to speak about the poor inclusion of persons with disabilities in key schemes, such as the Federal Government-CBN Intervention Funds for households affected by COVID-19. The radio show garnered attention, and along with information dissemination, it became an advocacy tool to get disability rights incorporated in high-level discussions.

GDEV’s grassroots interventions were crucial as the injustices faced by people with disabilities have been exacerbated due to the pandemic. Besides public outreach programs, they also conducted training sessions with persons with disabilities and worked towards getting them access to the government’s palliative provisions (food and non-food items).

Braveheart Foundation, Myanmar

A paralegal using her electronic gadget to gather and file client information. (Photo Credit: Braveheart Foundation)

The Braveheart Foundation works on ethnic and citizenship rights in Myanmar. Their paralegals identify undocumented residents in Yangon region and Shan state, and individually assist them in the application process. Without documents, it is nearly impossible to access state benefits, which many under-resourced families depend on to survive the pandemic. Thus, paralegal services could not stop. While the organization wanted to move paralegal services online, they could not afford electronic gadgets.

With the assistance of the COVID-19 Grassroots Justice Fund, they equipped paralegals with tablets and trained them on relevant software and social media. The documentation process was moved online. They could then contact clients safely and efficiently. Access to digital resources has also allowed the Braveheart Foundation to publish short videos and reach a wider audience on social media. The transition to remote functioning has meant that the organization can continue to function in political and social uncertainty.

The past two years have been times of continued uncertainties and threats. However, these examples show that they have also been years of innovative mobilization and unrelenting commitment. The COVID-19 Grassroots Justice Fund, through its quick and flexible grantmaking, continues to make important work possible. The Fund is supported by The Ford Foundation, Korea International Cooperation Agency, and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. The non-funding partners are The Elders, The Fund for Global Human Rights, Justice For All, The Legal Empowerment Network, Namati, and the Pathfinders.

You can read more about the first round grantees here.