Strategy brief: Driving culture change for human rights.

Imagine a world where all people live with dignity, equality, and justice. In that world, we are all safe and free in our homes, workplaces, schools, and streets–and we are all limitless in our potential. To create this world, we need to drive culture change. We need to invest in strategies to shift the limiting, damaging social norms that lead to discrimination and violence. Law, public policy, direct services, and systemic change are all important pathways to a just world. But only when we tackle the beliefs and values that drive attitudes and behaviors will we achieve irreversible transformation.

Now is the time. Human rights activism is not new. But now more than ever, people around the world are realizing their responsibility and power to end violence and discrimination–and standing together to do it. Innovations in the ways individuals and groups use multimedia, arts, and technology to drive culture change have created new possibilities for action. Collaborative efforts have grown and strengthened activist movements. A world built on human rights is becoming a shared vision. If we seize this moment together there will be no going back.

A world with human rights requires culture change. Building a world founded on human rights values requires us to address the deepest roots of the culture that enables violence and discrimination. This approach requires us to engage all parts of the ecosystems within which we live. Here, based on Breakthrough’s 15 years of work in this terrain, are 11 essential principles for powering culture change.

The Breakthrough solution.

  1. Be the change you want to see. Taking a position against injustice is only step one of cultural transformation. We must articulate a vision of the world we stand for and want to create, live that vision, and inspire others to join.
  2. Embrace multiple voices. Work with and learn from experienced activists and create entry points for new voices. By helping everyone find their stake in the issue, we can build a critical mass of people invested in building human rights culture.
  3. Reach people where they are. Use multiple strategies–community engagement, leadership development, policy advocacy, media, arts, and technology–to engage all kinds of constituents and create multiple pathways to action.
  4. Use the power of storytelling. Stories give voice to the ways cultural norms affect everyone and show us how we can change them. Partner with artists from multiple disciplines to bring stories into your work. Inspire compassion, connection and action.
  5. Speak to everyone’s highest selves. Replace shame and scare tactics with aspirations and solutions. Emphasize that everyone has the power to change culture.
  6. Prioritize intersectionality. Our gender, race, class, religion, sexuality, geography and other identities all influence our vision of the world we want to build. Intersectional approaches make messages inclusive and accessible, expand understanding of privilege, and enhance interconnectedness.
  7. Foster intergenerational collaboration. Emerging young leaders bring audacious vision and fresh strategy. Longtime activists bring perspective and experience. Encourage collaboration for an inclusive, high-powered constituency.
  8. Change the conversation with pop culture. News and entertainment media reflect and influence cultural norms. Help mainstream human rights values through your own social media, op-eds, videos, film, music and other forms of expression; encourage other creators and influencers to do the same.
  9. Forge game-changing partnerships. Cultivate relationships with a range of partners, including human rights groups, artists, celebrities, corporations, and other institutions. Deep collaboration across industries and capacities drives maximum reach and impact.
  10. Use and share research. Use existing public opinion data, conduct focus groups, and employ insights from cultural entrepreneurs. Measure impact and share results. In an emerging field, the more information we share, the more transformation we achieve.
  11. Be creative and bold. Creativity and play are essential to innovation. Work with artists and cultural influencers, experiment, take risks. New cultural norms demand big imaginative leaps. After all, we are dreaming into being a whole new world.

Download here: Strategy brief: Driving culture change for human rights.

More Resources


  • 10 Things You Can Find on the New U.S. Websit...
  • 13 Reasons to Make Violence Against Women Una...
  • 10 Ways to Be That Guy Online
  • 7 Ways To Be That Guy: Super Bowl XLIX
  • 9 Ways to Be That Guy on Campus
  • Culture Change: What Why How?
  • Strategy Brief: Inspiring Men To Drive Cultur...
  • Strategy brief: Driving culture change for hu...
  • 5 Athletes Who Are Actually #TBE
  • Listen Up, Sports: 7 Ways To Be Less Sexist
  • 7 Dude Comedians Who Are Funny, and Feminist
  • A Fresh Look At First Year
  • Changing Campus Culture Is Everyone's Job
  • All About Alums
  • YOU Can Be The MVP This Super Bowl Sunday
  • How Can Campus Culture Prevent Or Promote Sex...
  • Black and white chain link fence with out of focus figures playing on a basket ball court in the background.
    Know Your Norms: Sexual Scoring
  • College students dressed in navy and gold sports attire cheer on a school football game.
    Know Your Norms: Campus Traditions
  • Black and white chain link fence with out of focus figures playing on a basket ball court in the background.
    Disrupting And Transforming Norms: Sexual Sco...
  • College students dressed in navy and gold sports attire cheer on a school football game.
    Disrupting And Transforming Norms: Harmful Ca...
  • 16 Practices of Gender-based Violence in Coll...
  • Self-selection Can Positively Transform Greek...
  • Thinking Beyond Bystander Intervention
  • What to ask at your campus visit
  • What is Stealthing? Understanding Nonconsensu...
    Rebecca Goldfarb Terry