The feelings of sadness, anger, and exhaustion of the Black community in the US are immense and profoundly felt—and they echo around the world. While the violence, oppression, and murder plaguing people of color, and in particular black people, has gone on for centuries—with activists putting their lives on the line for change—progress has come in increments, with back slides along the way. With the global “pause” brought on by coronavirus, and the increasing prevalence of video evidence of violent, systemic racism, 2020 has become our call to action.
Now, more than ever, it is important to recognize and acknowledge privilege, while working to dismantle the systemic edifices that sustain it. And perhaps even more important is understanding that, in this moment, listening to and amplifying the voices of people of color must form the foundation of our way forward; we must commit to not speaking on behalf of black, minority, and vulnerable populations across the globe, but listening to and supporting the process of co-designed solutions. With the small team at Solidaridad North America, and in collaboration with the larger Solidaridad Network, we consider the ways in which we can stand in solidarity with the black community—both during the intensity of this moment, and importantly, beyond.
Racism in the global development space
The sustainable development sector, and in particular global development work, must join the difficult conversations taking place around the world to confront the ingrained racism and inequities in existing models of development. With much of modern development initiatives stemming directly or indirectly from the colonialism of the early twentieth century, there are within our own organizations inherent power imbalances in streams of funding, government debt, hiring practices, pay schemes (national versus international candidates, for example), and methods for scale and replication.
More specifically across global supply chains, in which Solidaridad is actively engaged, the cards are stacked heavily against people at the Base of the Pyramid—who are overwhelmingly people of color in low-income countries. There is unequal access to information, markets, and fair pricing. Others, such as artisanal small-scale miners, are excluded or marginalized due to legalities or the informal nature of their work, not to mention the many compounding layers of oppression related to indigenous communities or tribal relations, gender, disability, LGBTQ, and others. There are limited, if any, opportunities for these voices to contribute at the decision making level; we need to increasingly let communities set their own agendas, rather than have it decided for them by (primarily white) donors in higher income countries.
What we have done
At the heart of Solidaridad’s mission is a commitment to equity, inclusivity, and self-determination for people who have historically been underrepresented in our global power systems, especially markets. Since our founding in 1969, the perspective of the worker has been central to our mission, with an empowerment-driven, market-focused lens looking at how smallholder farmers, factory workers, and artisanal miners can drive change and represent their own interests. Additionally, Solidaridad has committed to continuously assessing and addressing issues of inequality within our work.
In one example of our commitment, we made the decision to shift our organizational structure very intentionally to ensure local autonomy in decision-making. Our network structure encompasses 8 Regional Expertise Centers across Africa, Asia, Central America, Europe, North America, and South America. Regional Expertise Centers are led and staffed locally, with each Regional Managing Director making up the Executive Board of Directors for the Network. Along the same lines, our nine-person Executive Board is intentionally diverse—not only in skills, expertise, and personality, but in race, gender, and age as well, with five people of color and four women sitting on our leadership team.
There is simply no reason to pass over national talent in leadership positions. While international team members can make valuable contributions in work and cross-cultural exchange, the decision making authority and leadership within the global development arena must be locally led. Closely related to this is the issue of pay equity. With huge gaps in pay between foreigners and nationals doing essentially the same work in low and middle income countries, this is an easy place to create meaningful and immediate change. Pay inequity can be addressed through greater transparency, and use of transparent pay scales. Additionally, supporting local or regional offices to determine and implement their own fair pay scales, applying to all within that office, will not only reduce inequities, but contribute to staff retention and commitment. International organizations must not take advantage of high unemployment rates and low wage standards to perpetuate inequality.
It is with this lens that we feel moved by the current movement for Black Lives Matters in the US, and in the spirit of listening to and learning from Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, and we commit to doing better, and not letting complacency allow another back slide of progress.
Our commitment going forward
While the context in the US is unique, specific and requires a laser-focused response with targeted actions, we also recognize many of these painful emotions in the communities we work with around the world. So, while we consider what we can do here in the US, we also look to our teams globally to critically examine power imbalances in their own regions and countries. Throughout our global team, we commit to doing our part to actively shift the power dynamic. We don’t have all the answers, but here is where we, and other organizations in the development space can start:
- Intentional Engagement: We will actively seek out and engage in conversations around racism, discrimination, and inclusion through events, research, field-level data, and human resources efforts. Just this week, we are scheduled to attend SPECTRUM, a three-day virtual event on access, inclusion, and impact across capital markets (we’d love to see you there!).
- Continuous improvement: We will reevaluate and create new opportunities for listening within our own teams—asking how might we create safe spaces, in both human resources and programming, for people of color to contribute ideas, bring challenges to the table, or call out issues? We will, and encourage other organizations, to make a conscious effort to achieve this.
- Diversifying networks: We will expand our network to actively seek out partnerships with organizations and donors that are led by people of color, and committed to erasing inequalities. We will also recognize where our expertise ends and partner with others who bring deep knowledge and experience of related topics to a partnership, such as race, gender, and disability.
- Diversifying boards: Solidaridad has benefited in multiple ways from the network structure outlined above; this commitment to locally led leadership has also allowed us to build a racially, gender, and age diverse Executive Board. Organizations across the development space should ensure a minimum 50% black and minority representation on their board as the standard—not the exception. We will continue to strive to achieve this at all levels of our structure.
- US programming: Assess opportunities for impact in our own backyard. Racial inequality in food systems within the US is dramatic and we have knowledge and expertise, based on our global initiatives, that we can bring to the table to help address this. We commit to exploring opportunities where we can contribute to creating change within the US, as well as continue to do so in our work globally.
- Insist on meaningful representation: The US and Europe hold many events discussing, celebrating, and making decisions around global development work, however there are often limited opportunities and budgets to actually invite and involve professionals from the countries being discussed. We commit to advocating for others to use their budgets, and allocating our own budgets, for greater representation of people of color from low and middle income countries at these events. We need to challenge our donors and partners to also do better and stand up to those who won't.
Right now is a rare opportunity in history to capitalize on widespread, raw emotion for dramatic, tangible, and lasting change. Like many others, we’re moved by the commitments being made by our peers in the non-profit space and by many companies; but worried that much like the commitments we have seen made to sustainability in the past, that words will not be backed up by action. And, like others, we are afraid of the fleeting nature of our media attention and desires to “get back to normal.” Black Lives Matter and we ask our partners to join us in fighting racism through tangible actions, and holding each other accountable
This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.