A bird flying in the sky

Choosing the liberty to fight for freedom

As a consultancy company focused on generating positive impact, we do not operate in a void. Context is key. It gives us the key on to how to speak, which gestures to use, how to address people, which tools to apply, and how to contribute to generating that impact. Doing it with or without freedom is something completely different. And how privileged and empowered we are when we have that freedom.
Continue Reading Choosing the liberty to fight for freedom

Choosing the liberty fo fight for freedom

25th April 2024
By Rasa Sekulovic and Cláudia Pedra
Stone Soup Consulting

As a consultancy company focused on generating positive impact, we do not operate in a void. Context is key. It gives us the key on to how to speak, which gestures to use, how to address people, which tools to apply, and how to contribute to generating that impact. Doing it with or without freedom is something completely different. And how privileged and empowered we are when we have that freedom.

Freedom and consultancy work are, therefore, deeply intertwined. Maybe it doesn’t seem so obvious, but we’ll try to unravel how and why. To understand this, let’s start by a beginning. There are several entry points, as we know. We choose the 1974 April revolution in Portugal, the country where Stone Soup is legally registered.

Until 50 years ago, Portugal was living under a dictatorship that went on for 48 long years, with daily censorship, severe oppression, political detentions, and forbidden words whispered in cafes – one of them was “freedom”. In 2024, with several generations born and matured since April 1974, the word is undeniable and the repression of 50 years ago is now perceived as an old historical affair, left in the past with other relevant but distant events. As consultants who are focused on systems change, we find this quite alarming. Taking freedom for granted, makes us loose perspective of all those who try to control and manipulate it. One may disinvest in ethics, principles and values, in civil society, in education and critical thought, in justice and democracy. One may slowly decrease awareness on human rights, convincing people they are indeed a barrier to progress. People end up leaving important decisions in the hands of the chosen few, unchecked, paradoxically waiving rights that many generations of people worked so hard to achieve. They start by generating fear, so the right to privacy goes away quite easily, and pile up with other invisible threats slowly eroding all universal human rights, until a point where not even dignity remains. Something that we see too often all over the world.

The role of social consultants

As consultants we have independence and freedom to influence strategies and investments by major development actors and philanthropic players. What is really at stake here, and which phase of the Gandhian “battle of Right against Might” are we currently in? And how do we stay on course throughout this journey of re-conquering space for freedom while often witnessing regressive trends and developments? Human rights are indeed used as a fuel to feed the engine of humanity at its core, while drawing on the lessons from historical gains and pains, some small victories that have set the ground for major triumphs.

Inspired by the Portugal’s Carnation Revolution, we are also acutely aware of the rise of the current dictatorships and oligarchies in many parts of the world, bringing in some major perils and threats for inherent human rights and freedoms to enjoy these rights. Battles are waged on different fronts: defending inclusivity, stepping up gender equality, tackling climate crises undermining the very survival of planet and humankind. How does it all affect and mould roles of consultants as rights’ defenders in highly volatile times? How big is the risk of failing to restore balance between “Rights and Might”, by conducting business as usual, or paying lip service to those who can afford it?

Sharing a similar space-shrinking fate with civil society actors, can we strengthen our contribution towards reinforcing the legacy of free thinking and conscious choices? Or should we, perhaps, revisit and reassess the potential to influence decision-making heavy lifters and movers towards upholding progressive and rights-based agendas? Flash-light alert keeps on blinking: do we unintentionally end up taking liberty to take freedom for granted – trapped in our own, seemingly undisturbed freedom of choice?

The liberty of freedom

 As we know, although powerful in its essence, freedom can also be fragile. It may change with a single coup d’etat or a presidential decree. And some freedoms had been earned too recently to be fully consolidated. In a globalized world where slavery was abolished only 200 odd years ago, and in Mauritania officially only since 1981 (little over 40 years ago), it is no wonder that millions of people are still trafficked every year, treated as the merchandise whose legitimacy was fought so hard to abolish. Traffickers may not openly sell slaves in markets anymore, but they use the internet, and rely on the ruthless greed of those who benefit from such transactions. In a world where freedom is taken for granted, human rights are considered less important than security: why would human dignity be at the forefront?  

So why are we raising all this when speaking of consultancy engagement? Because we may argue that consultants have an important role to play as human rights defenders. Why us? Because we can, and therefore we must. Because we have the liberty of freedom to do so. As consultants we focus on positive and lasting impact, so have this rare opportunity to see the best of humanity. To witness solutions designed daily to address some of the most appalling social problems. We see innovation, impact, the interconnection between robust social and environmental solutions. Thus, we also have the responsibility. The responsibility to shape impactful solutions, bridge gaps and share good practices. We do so, under the responsibility that freedom brings. The fact that we are free to promote human rights makes us accountable to do so, one project/ solution at a time. We may not always be able to fight directly against systemic racism or gender discrimination, but we can bring up difficult issues and tackle them at the level that we are addressing it. We can also lead by example, involving persons from all backgrounds and walks of life in the discussion on the systems that can further prevent violence, promote their rights, and protect them against harm. Even when in a respective region or country, it is not so common to listen to those who are not in decision-making positions, not of the right colour of the skin, or in the highest social strata. Through participatory processes we can deconstruct stereotypes and prejudice and give voice to those who are rarely heard. We can promote universal human rights, even in places riddled by cultural relativism or in places where human dignity is just another nice phrase on the paper.

We cannot take freedom for granted

Going back to Portugal, and the 50 years since the revolution, it is important to understand that it is now a completely different country. Post April 1974, freedom was put at the forefront in the Constitution, bringing fundamental and universal human rights together, and assuring that democracy and human rights would be at the backbone of the State. Over the years, we witnessed a huge increase of civil society actors that have helped shape public policy and design solutions to deal with the devastating systemic social and environmental problems. We have witnessed an increase of cross-sectional and cross-sectorial partnerships, not only between government (local and national) and NGOs, but also with the corporates. Companies are now not only perceived as those who work for the profit of their shareholders, but as important actors that can have a dedicated role in implementing those important solutions. This includes B Corps, such as Stone Soup, a community that grows daily and is increasingly proactive.

So in this post-dictatorship, with all this flourishing and engaging ecosystem, can we afford to take freedom for granted, just because the Constitution speaks of it and there are laws in place to uphold it? Absolutely not. That is what those that are still raising the fear levels, crying wolf about problems that do not exist, want. Systemic discrimination is still there. People are considered too young or too old to give an informed opinion, women are still left out from leadership positions despite their talents, minorities are disregarded because they represent only a few, and institutions are still led by middle aged white men that could never fully comprehend the plight of those underprivileged groups. So what to do? Be freedom fighters and human rights defenders in all professions, in all organisations, in all walks of life. Be coherent in your personal and professional lives and live up to your words. And that is why consultants are or should be human rights defenders.

Stone Soup