Founded in 2003, JASS (Just Associates) was originally an informal community of practice of activists, scholars, and popular educators from 20 countries who were loosely connected by political experiences with social movements, popular struggles for liberation and global women’s rights organizing. We shared a commitment to solidarity that crossed international borders and a passion for building people- centered democracy. Since then, we have weathered surprising surges and contractions, dizzying growth spurts and demands which stretched us to the limit, developed feminist movement building methodologies and produced critical analysis and knowledge that has shaped the field.
The 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.
The early years: 2002 – 2005
Concerned by the depoliticization of rights and justice work, JASS’ founding as a fee-for-service network was propelled by the demand for the political tools in A New Weave of Power, People and Politics (2002) – a manual of how-tos drawn from the experiences that connected our community of practice. Two staff and volunteers activated this network to provide strategic advice and training in rights-based strategies and participatory approaches to international NGOs, donors and movements across the world. The impact of these initiatives was amplified by our close collaboration with the Institute for Development Studies and further publication of insights about power analysis.
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 2006, we came together in Bangkok, alarmed by the growing backlash against women’s freedoms across the world, and agreed to reorganize and go “back-to-basics”. JASS transformed into a women’s organization dedicated to the work of feminist organizing from the ground up in all of the places we were located.
This massive organizational shift meant rebuilding both the structures and work of JASS over a challenging and precarious 2-year period into 2007. Over this period, JASS shifted into a more proactive role, focusing exclusively on strengthening women activists and organizations with political approaches to women’s empowerment, leadership, organization and movement-building. 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.
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 the collective 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.
Today, JASS has 42 full and part-time staff – activists, scholars, and popular educators –from the contexts where we organize. They are supported by an international multidisciplinary network of advisors and associates around the world.