Bertha's Theory of
Change for Fellows support

Bertha Foundation supports activists, storytellers and lawyers that are working to bring about social and economic justice, and human rights for all.

In 2012, Bertha Foundation launched its first bespoke program, the Bertha Justice Fellowship. The idea was to train the next generation of radical lawyers to hold those in power to account, all in service of the world’s most marginalized communities. This was Bertha’s anchor Fellowship program, and through it we have now supported over 320 Fellows and Alumnx around the world.

The Bertha Justice Fellowship program taught us many things about our approach to supporting Fellows and how to provide the best assistance we could. Several years later, when we launched the Bertha Challenge Fellowship, we had a different focus, but we’d gleaned some general principles to guide the Fellowship part of our philanthropy. Now in its second year, the Bertha Challenge has supported 34 Fellows across 21 countries. We want to introduce you to our Theory of Change for Fellows support and what we believe it must encompass. More importantly, we want to tell you the stories of the Fellows with whom we have had the privilege to work in solidarity, learn from and collaborate on joint projects with shared goals.

Fellows need to be rooted in communities, organizations and movements.

Bertha Justice Fellows are selected by a partner organization, and the Bertha Challenge Fellows apply with a host organization. The Fellowship year is a time for intense focus and learning that could not happen in a typical year without Fellowship-funded support. It is also a time for training and expanding knowledge and skills. That said, our Fellowship program is not time off or time out. We firmly believe that Fellows must be embedded members of their communities in order to create social change.

In our Fellows blog series you will hear more about Bertha Fellows like Richard in Zimbabwe, Maria in Colombia and Zsuzsanna in Hungary on their work with Communities, Organizations and Movements.

There is critical value in continuously connecting across an international cohort.

We create the spaces for convenings, webinars, learning exchanges and – most of all – informal and organic connections. Since our first convening in 2014, we have seen the power of bringing our Fellows together. Many Fellows connect through seeing the commonalities of structural oppression that play out across the world. They find connections that help them develop necessary critical thinking, and create friendships borne out of solidarity, purpose and passion for progressive social change. This can stem the isolation inherent in this difficult work, but also embolden and empower Fellows to amplify their work across geographies.

In our Fellows blog series you will hear more about Bertha Fellows like Yaşar in Turkey, Protus in Kenya and Shaima in Palestine on the connections they've made across an international network.

Fellows need resources to catalyze creative initiatives and learning opportunities.

Bertha’s Impact Opportunity Fund, Educational Exchange Fund and Connect Fund were all created with the understanding that so often, creative and intelligent people make connections and then have ideas for social change, but don’t have the resources to step outside of their daily work to implement those ideas. These grants are merely catalysts for those connections, and we have seen some of the most important initiatives implemented and networks created when Fellows are given the opportunity to think creatively and put their ideas up for testing. The measure of success is when these networks and initiatives live well beyond Bertha.

In our Fellows blog series you will hear more about Bertha Fellows like Job in Haiti, Mueda in Thailand and Sotiris in Greece on their creative initiatives and what they've learned during their time as Bertha Fellows.

Convening through issue-based and collaborative learning is fundamental.

Bertha typically funds the “tools” for social justice work through activists, lawyers and storytellers. However, within our Fellowship approach, we found that focus on a particular issue is grounding and generative for individuals doing their work. Convening on a shared issue creates room for open debate and dialogue, but also opens space for growth and creativity. The Bertha Challenge Fellowship is focused on an issue for a year, and this is intended to open space for concentrated and necessary issue-based work. Meanwhile, our Bertha Justice Fellows naturally self-organize around litigation and campaigns concentrated on such issues as torture, extrajudicial killings, war crimes, land and housing rights, corporate accountability, women’s rights and many others. We are actively in the process of creating more online and offline spaces for learning and exchange among our Bertha Justice Fellows.

In our Fellows blog series you will hear more about Bertha Fellows like Jared in South Africa, Rory and Elfie in Northern Ireland and Daniel in Mexico on their issue-based and collaborative work.

What you won’t learn from a quick read of these principles is how excited we are by the Bertha Fellows we support. We want to bring to life the work of Bertha Justice Fellows like Guadalupe Victoria Aguirre, based at Center for Constitutional Rights, who is working towards increasing police accountability and transparency in New York State, or Bertha Challenge Fellow Omar Radi, who is currently unjustly imprisoned after his investigative reporting exposed corrupt land expropriation by the royal family of Morocco. We want you to be connected to these journeys to better understand our enthusiasm for these individuals, their communities and the work they are doing throughout the world. We hope you are as heartened as we are by this work.

In fellowship and solidarity,
Laura Horwitz
CEO, Bertha Foundation


Photo 1: Elfie with Participation and the Practice of Rights campaigners and The Yes Men calling for affordable social housing outside Belfast Town Hall. Taken by members of the Build Homes Now campaign.

Photo 2: Omar (right) talks to Activist Fellow, Jared Rossouw (left), during a speed dating activity at the Bertha Challenge opening convening at 42 Acres in Somerset. Photo taken by Pearlie Joubert.

Photo 3: Bertha Challenge Fellows at the first Bertha Challenge Opening Convening. Photo taken by Pearlie Joubert.

Photo 4: Salween Youth Network International Day of Action for River. Image: Salween Youth Network.

Editorial Consultant: Karen Frances Eng

This letter was originally published in the Bertha Fellows book and some of the information in this story may have changed since it was first published.