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 Put your ideas out there into the world!

00:00 / 38:13

A conversation with
Thomas Coombes

Also available in

Laura María Calderón Cuevas

Véronique Lerch

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The guest of this episode has let his curiosity and constant questioning about the best way to have an impact on human rights guide his career. This less usual path led him to focus those last years on Hope-based communications because he strongly believes in our shared humanity and the need to stand in solidarity. “Hope is the idea that we can make change happen, and that human rights are too important to not be pursuing those goals. I suspect a lot of other people in our field, have this sort of this negative mindset (…) But actually, because if we never actually talk about what we're trying to achieve, it's less likely to happen. And so it's actually really important that we start to think about it.”

His compass in his work is made of his family history and the values he inherited from his families. “It was very clear to me actually, from a very young age, before I even knew what human rights were that I would work in human rights, quite simply because my family are Holocaust survivors. And I just always knew that I wanted to work to honour their legacy. Basically, if there was to be any meaning and what happened to my family, it was that it wouldn't happen again. And not just to Jewish people, but to any human beings.” 

His entry point into the human rights world was through communication. This is the skill he thought he could contribute to the work of other actors. He insists that “communication is part of social change, work and human rights work. Just the work of raising awareness, letting people know that a violation is happening is traditional or basic communication. But strategic communication seeks to change people's minds, to change how they think, change their attitudes, and their behaviour.”

Thomas challenges everybody to think about “what it does look like to do human rights?”. He wants to bring across the idea that everybody can do contribute to human rights. 

The first blog post he wrote about hope-based communications includes some family pictures and touches on the ideas to find a community:

His advice to younger graduates:

  • Learn a skill that is useful to the cause. “If everyone in the human rights movement is a human rights lawyer, then we are going to lack other skills” (e.g. digital marketing, social listening, visual art, graphic design, etc.).

  • Put your ideas out there into the world. Other people will gravitate to you and your ideas.

  • Build communities around something powerful, like a value or certain way of thinking. “This idea, however, cannot be fully formed. You have to give space for other people to be part of evolving it and growing it themselves.”

How you can apply hope-based communications to your work

Anat Shenker-Osorio's human rights messaging guidance

Seeing Hope: A visual guide for communicating human rights

Why the future of human rights must be hopeful

How to talk about people on the move with humanity


About the Lemberg human rights connection

East West Street by Philippe Sands

Postcolonial literature

If I Survive You - Jonathan Escoffery

When We Were Birds - Ayanna Lloyd Banwo

Some books and authors about hope, psychology and neuroscience

McRaney, David, How Minds Change: The Surprising Science of Belief, Opinion, and Persuasion

Nussbaum, Martha, The Monarchy of Fear: A Philosopher Looks at Our Political Crisis

Rutger Bregman, Humankind

Klein, Ezra, Why we are polarized

Sikkink, Katherine, Evidence for Hope: Making Human Rights Work in the 21st Century


Abou the music that gives him hope

Jazz: Roy Hargrove

Hope-based playlist:

More about the work of Thomas

Follow the hope-based substack along with the other channels:

Follow Thomas and hope-based communications (@hopebasedcomms) / Twitter


It comes down to the idea of just standing in solidarity with other people just because they're human. To me, that is what human rights is all about.

Thomas Coombes


Thomas is a human rights strategist and global communications expert who has developed an approach called Hope-based communications to help civil society groups find new ways to talk about their work. Thomas left his role as Head of Brand and Deputy Communications Director at Amnesty International to focus on Hope-based communications because he believes progressive movements need to work together to promote shared values. He spent 15 years working in political communications for the Berlin-based anti-corruption NGO Transparency International, the European Commission in Brussels and the global PR firm Hill & Knowlton. He is a mix of Irish, British and French and lives in Berlin.

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