Founded in 2002, JASS was built on long-standing relationships of political trust and  solidarity, grounded in shared ideas about how change happens.  We joined together across five continents as activists, organizers, popular educators and scholars, connected by years of experience in common struggles for social justice and human rights. 

From our origins as a “learning community” to our current place as an influential global women’s rights organization supporting women’s movement-building in 27 countries, JASS reliance on our circle of colleagues and our deep roots in and knowledge of social movements for justice and dignity, remains constant. What is our story?

JASS-Builders Collage - History of JASS

Beginnings: 1980s – 1990s

Inspired by our interest in popular education and revolutionary change in Central America, several of us connected while working in Nicaraguan community development programs.  We continued collaborating on US campaigns for peace and justice, and international women’s rights initiatives, expanding our relationships with activists, development practitioners, and scholars around the world. The dynamism and ideas generated by these collaborations inspired us to create a more sustained learning community.

First years of JASS:  2002 - 2005

A core team of three worked to forge and strengthen our emerging community of associates across regions, seeking opportunities for joint learning and achieving financial sustainability. Using a fee-for-service model and propelled by the success of A New Weave of Power, People and Politics (2002), JASS provided strategic planning and advocacy training to like-minded international development groups to cross-subsidize work with grassroots activists and movements.  With colleagues from the Institute for Development Studies (IDS), Action Aid International and the Association of Women’s Rights in Development (AWID), we developed research, learning, and training partnerships, including the pioneering effort, Where’s the Money for Women’s Rights, with AWID.  Together with IDS and Action Aid, we developed thinking about global economic power and economic literacy, critically reviewed and contributed to rights-based development, produced publications like the series Making Change Happen and Women Navigate Power, and contributed to critical thinking about social change evaluation, networks and policy advocacy.

Turning point: 2005-2006

In late 2005 we began a reflection process to assess our first years. Although JASS was recognized for the quality and innovation of our training and analytical tools, the context demanded more. The dominance of one-size-fits-all technical solutions and policy prescriptions seemed no match for the crisis of democracy, inequality and backlash against women’s rights we were witnessing around the globe.

“Being in JASS is like building a helicopter while flying at 20,000 feet.  It can be too exciting.” - Hope Chigudu

In the face of these realities, women activists and scholars were at the forefront of challenging injustice. Upon reflection, JASS decided to shift into a more pro-active role,  focusing exclusively on strengthening women activists and organizations with political approaches to women’s empowerment, leadership, organization and movement-building. This massive organizational shift meant rebuilding both the structures and work of JASS over a challenging and precarious 2 year period into 2007.  Our male associates agreed to step into a different role as allies and board members. Gradually, grants focused on women’s rights replaced our fee-for-service funding with larger development agencies.

Dina Lumbantobing

Imagining and Retooling Women’s Movements: 2007-2008

JASS launched Imagining and Rebuilding Women’s Movements for the Future,” with a series of “Movement-building Institutes (MBIs) in Mesoamerica (Panama: 2006), Southern Africa (South Africa: 2007) and Southeast Asia (Indonesia: 2007; Thailand: 2008).  Each institute was led by local associates in conjunction with the core team.  Participants traced the history of women’s movements in their region, and applied JASS’ power framework to analyze the changing context, assess their strategies, and define a common plan for building skills and alliances.

Taking Off, Growing Roots:  2008 to present

The Institutes’ momentum and women’s demand for JASS’ processes and analysis of power happily surprised us.  Committed to developing an organizational model appropriate for movement-building, we scrambled to consolidate regional teams, structures and programs that reflected and responded to issues identified by women themselves.  Drawing on Institute analyses, associates specified agenda priorities: Mesoamerica --political repression and violence; Southern Africa -- HIV/AIDS and health rights; and Southeast Asia -- economic rights. 

Trying to keep our structures flexible and frugal, we slowly increased full-time cross-regional staff and supported the growth of regional teams simultaneously.  Keeping our structures lean and mean while continuing to facilitate growing alliances and increasingly complex political work stretched us to the breaking point until our program proposals found multi-year funding, particularly from Dutch government and Comic Relief in the UK.

"It is early days yet. The ways in which JASS works and the kind of organizing they try to do are slow, painstaking and very participatory…. JASS is an important organization whose time has come." ~ Everjoice Win

As of 2012, JASS has a full and part-time staff of 23 women working virtually in over 18 countries and from 4 different offices in Washington, DC; Phnom Penh; Mexico City: and Cape Town.  The regional hubs are growing roots and gaining autonomy while the crossregional team continues to support and transfer knowledge and responsibilities to the regional teams, as well as facilitate the linking between regions for learning, media, fund-raising, publications, and joint global advocacy.  As part of our evolving structure, we draw on a stellar board made up of experienced activists, academics, researchers and popular educators, renowned in their fields.  As JASS moves forward, we face the challenge of “landing the helicopter” and publishing the knowledge we’ve gained from practice about the dynamics of movement-building, women’s rights and social change.