Anti-racism in aid – Three levels of change

Reflecting on conversations we’re having with individuals and organisations on their journeys, we’ve noticed three possible stages of change.

Stage 1 – Understanding racism in aid, and becoming comfortable with talking about it

We have found it both sad and energising to see so much being written about racist incidents in our sector.

Sad – because it strikes a nerve; energising – to see so many aid workers courageously speaking up.

The articles help broaden and facilitate our discussions – starting the change process.

Examples of first-hand accounts include (but there are many more):

Andres Gomez de la Torre’s blog post on International Civil Society Centre summarises nicely:

If we feel called out, fragile, guilty or uncomfortable with this discussion, there are plenty of resources and voices that we can use to educate ourselves’

A large proportion of people and organisations we are speaking to are at this stage.

Stage 2 – Gathering the evidence base across your internal and external environment

Some organisations are digging deeper – gathering systematic information, engaging their staff at all levels, finding examples of what works from other industries, looking to find ways to heal, and seeking additional external support to help facilitate their change.

Recent feedback on the Aid Works/Thomas Reuters Foundation survey on racism in the sector suggests that we need to look at policies, recruitment methods and equal opportunities between international and national staff. We absolutely agree.

We’d recommend also that you consider reviewing the history of your organisation, and conducting in-depth focus groups and key information interviews (i.e. an systematic evaluation).

Emotions can run high in this stage, and those individuals and organisations making progress know it’s not about them personally, but about the issue of racism. Those making progress have become comfortable talking and listening about racism.

A smaller number of organisations are undertaking this stage with a systematic approach.  

Stage 3 – Transformational change created through common understandings and a transparent shift in your organisation’s approach

Fewer organisations are currently here.  

This stage is the hardest.

This stage requires a shift in organisational understanding and a way of ‘being’. It involves short-term operational changes, and long-term strategic changes – changes in your organisation’s values and cultural norms.

Why is it important to shift the culture? Ben Horitz famously says in his book ‘What you do is who you are’:

‘Because your culture is how your company makes decisions when you’re not there. It’s the set of assumptions your employees use to resolve the problems they face every day.’

At this stage you can get distracted with competing organisational priorities, and the findings from stage two could easily be diluted.

There’s an excellent blog post on culture Ben Horowitz on Culture: “You have to move culture. You can’t dictate it.”​ – warning not from the aid sector!

Here’s also a useful link on updating your strategic plan.

What next? We are here for you

If you want to:

  • Talk confidentially and need a mirror (Stage 1);
  • Need a neutral party to hold a workshop for your team or discuss an approach for your assessment (Stage 2);
  • Need a coach to help you through your transformational change (Stage 3); or
  • Just want a chat.

We are here for you.

We don’t have your answers, but we can help you with your journey. 

Contact us info@aidworks.org.uk