The Tea Leaf Center is a social enterprise research and training consulting firm which conducts research and M&E consultancies and provides training on research and M&E to civil society organizations in Southeast Asia. We seek to shift the balance of power in international development and research toward local organizations, communities and individuals directly impacted by the issues they are working on. In addition to regular consulting work, our researchers and trainers provide free or reduced cost training and research mentoring services to local non-profit and community-based organizations.
AREAS OF WORK
Building the research capacity of local civil society and community-based organizations.
Support to early-career researchers from Southeast Asia working in civil society
MEAL services focused on creating more effective empowerment and more equitable partnerships
What is ‘Local’?
At the Tea Leaf Center, we define ‘local organizations’ as organizations, formal or informal, that are rooted in the context in which they work, and/or are directly impacted by the issue they are working on. This might be:
geographic – for example, a community-based organization comprised of members of one village or an urban settlement;
issue-based – for example, land rights defenders from diverse parts of a country who work together on advocacy and research; or
identity-based – for example, an organization led by and for people with disabilities, working within the country or other geographic area where its members are based.
What’s in a name?
All across Asia, people come together to have a cup of tea and talk. They talk about their lives, their communities, and their countries. These conversations spark new ideas. Entire movements are born in tea shops across the region.
We are The Tea Leaf Center because we take the passion and inspiration of these conversations into the real world. That’s why we support the shift of ideas from abstract, tea shop discussions to research projects that result in knowledge to help the community to lead its own change.
VISION AND VALUES
We envision a world where grassroots experience is valued as much as a prestigious education. Where researchers of all backgrounds work together and learn from each other in an environment of understanding and mutual respect. Where policymakers at all levels have access to and use research rooted in the needs and perspectives of affected communities. Where local organizations take the lead in designing and implementing internationally-funded projects. Where international partners provide financial and technical support in a truly empowering and sustainable manner.
We believe global challenges need locally-led, evidence-based solutions.
We value …
We work toward …
dignity and equity for all people
a fair, just, and sustainable world.
The Tea Leaf Center was founded on four guiding principles. We believe research should be ethical, connected, accessible, and empowered.
Ethical research considers and mitigates potential harms to participants and researchers, ensures that the benefits outweigh the risks, and is designed to be context-specific. Holistic ethics covers not only issues of consent and confidentiality, but context-specific security of participants and researchers, preserving participants’ dignity, and the resilience of researchers through self-care and mutual support to deal with trauma and burnout experienced when researching difficult subjects.
Connected research informs and is informed by other research, perspectives, and people. We help to ensure local civil society, academics, and independent researchers are connected, share their work, and support each other. The Tea Leaf Center aims to support this value by providing a platform for researchers to connect, identify potential collaborations, and share knowledge through our network. We also engage with visiting researchers and hold events to share ideas and build collaborative partnerships.
Accessible research produces outputs that participants, their communities and others can easily find, read and understand. This means user-friendly presentations of key findings in formats that can be easily understand and used. We value accessible outputs by encouraging and supporting our network to create more user-friendly outputs, and working with researchers to develop activities and strategies to return their findings to participants and communities that informed the work.
Empowered research means local organizations are able to conduct their own research to a high standard, reduce reliance on external consultants, and improve the credibility and reliability of their research. We support this through mentoring local organizations. Our mentorship program can be done at the same or at a lower cost than hiring a consultant. We work with local staff to train and guide them through the research process. This better reflects their priorities and understanding of the local context to be able to lead their own projects in the future.
We don’t seek equal partnerships. Local organizations are on the front-line, therefore they have a greater right to drive research and interpret data than we do. They take the lead, and we help from behind as needed.
We have clients, not beneficiaries. We provide professional services and are accountable to our clients, who set the terms and boundaries of the partnership. All clients are treated equally, and all clients are charged equitably. We have a sliding scale based on an organization’s ability to pay for our services, and occasionally offer support free of charge when a client cannot pay. We also seek grants to provide services for organizations and individuals who cannot afford to pay for them directly.
INCOME STREAMS (2020)
Where does it go?
free research support,
writing course scholarships,
discussion events and panels,
academic conference assistance,
CONTRIBUTIONS TO PRO BONO WORK
To date the Tea Leaf Center has provide research support as well as low cost or free trainings estimated at more than $27,000 USD.
Our services are divided into three main Areas of Work:
1. Building the research capacity of local civil society and community-based organizations.
The Tea Leaf Center provides research capacity to organizations through customized training and mentorship. We work with client organizations to identify areas where they need support in their research, writing and related skills, and design a program of training and practical implementation to fit their needs. We prioritize long-term partnerships in order to increase the impact of our work.
The Tea Leaf Center specializes in research mentorship. We have worked with secondary-school aged girls in Myanmar to do peer research on the impact of the coup on girls’ education, and with members of Myanmar civil society to research topics including volunteer groups’ humanitarian response to COVID-19 and coup-related humanitarian needs; challenges faced by migrants returning to Shan State after COVID-19; and other topics.
We have also developed an ‘Ethics in Context’ training module that focuses on how to apply principles of research ethics to diverse contexts, with special attention to research that involves vulnerable and/or marginalized populations. We have led this training with community-based health and education organizations on the Thai-Myanmar border; with researchers in Thailand conducting remote research with activists and other high-risk populations in Myanmar; and others.
2. Support to early-career researchers from Southeast Asia working in civil society.
The Tea Leaf Center provides support to early-career researchers (ECRs). In many cases, there are only two paths for local ECRs to take, (a) years of academic study or (b) working abroad in the private sector and INGO fields. In order to support and help build the skills of locally based ECRs, the Tea Leaf Center has conducted a number activities that such as fellowship programs, conference support, networking opportunities, and building a community of practice.
3. MEAL services focused on creating more effective empowerment and more equitable partnerships.
The Tea Leaf Center provides MEAL services to international and local non-profit organizations, focused on projects that support empowerment, capacity-building and equitable partnerships. Through this work, we seek to give evidence-based, practical recommendations for partners to improve their relationships and the effectiveness of their empowerment and capacity-building work.
We prioritize projects that have a strong component of empowerment/capacity-building of:
- Activists or human rights defenders;
- Vulnerable, at-risk or marginalized communities; and/or
- Local organizations or networks (however formal/informal)
And clients that show real commitment to improving relationships with local partners and quality of empowerment initiatives. This commitment may be demonstrated on an institutional or individual level.
Our MEAL work has included evaluations of projects to empower and build capacity of indigenous communities and human rights defenders in Bangladesh, the Philippines, Indonesia, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam; and empowerment and capacity-building of civil society organizations in Myanmar, Thailand and the Thai-Myanmar border working on issues including migration, natural resource management, hate speech, digital literacy and access to justice.
SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS
Our work targets the following sustainable development goals in order to contribute to a better and more sustainable future for all.