This piece was originally published on Foundant Technologies' website; we have cross-posted it with their joint permission. See the original post here.
This past year has brought countless challenges, lessons and opportunities. It also shed light on vast inequities in our society that we can no longer ignore. We understand more than ever that change is needed, but many organizations don’t know how to begin and what to do to affect meaningful change.
Like so many of your organizations, Foundant wants to more actively participate in the pursuit of justice, equity, diversity and inclusion. To focus our work and give us direction, we created an internal team, now known as the “JEDIs.'' The JEDI team conducted an in-depth assessment of our needs and the organizations available to meet those needs. The decision about who to hire to guide us through this work was not taken lightly. After conducting a search, Foundant hired the Montana Racial Equity Project (MTREP), a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization that advocates equity and justice for historically marginalized, disenfranchised and oppressed peoples in Montana. Not only does MTREP bring the necessary expertise and lived experience, the organization is also based in Bozeman, Montana, providing a shared understanding of local dynamics.
MTREP began this work by assessing Foundant’s internal culture through an organization-wide survey and a series of one-one-one interviews. After receiving the results of this assessment, Foundant will work with MTREP to develop social and racial equity education for team members, and create and implement a strategic plan to help us to continually improve and carry the work forward in perpetuity.
While Foundant is still in the early phases of this process, our team is clear on one immediate goal: elevate the voices of our clients that are already doing this important work to help others begin their own journey.
During our follow-up conversations with clients who are already engaging in this work, we heard common themes that emphasize the importance of defining terms, normalizing mistakes and sharing ideas with each other - providing actionable ideas no matter where your organization is on this journey.
Defining Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
The clients we spoke with shared a desire to define terms and establish common language to better engage their fellow staff members, stakeholders and communities in this work. The acronym “DEI” has become ubiquitous, particularly in the past year. But, what exactly does this mean and how does this differ from equity, inclusion and justice (EIJ)? MTREP explains that organizations must first establish a racially equitable culture that does not limit a new person’s ability to contribute before seeking to increase diversity. Diego Zegarra, vice president of equity and inclusion at Park City Community Foundation, agrees, explaining, “We are focusing a bit too much on diversity without necessarily thinking about inclusion, which speaks to who has power in the room.”
Kim Konikow, executive director with North Dakota Council on the Arts, also addresses the fact that demographics vary greatly for different parts of the country. “Here in the midwestern northern plains states, we look at it as opening perspectives and trying to be more inclusive. It's not about diversity as much as it is about inclusivity. It’s a way of doing things that promotes accessibility.”
Normalizing Mistakes and Showing Up Imperfectly
Many are scared of doing the wrong thing, saying the wrong thing or causing more damage. However, change isn’t possible without having the conversation. “We need to change the narrative to a culture that values learning and normalizes mistakes and showing up imperfectly,” explains Diego. “When the CEO or executive director shows up vulnerably, it gives license to a lot of folks to do the same.”
MTREP acknowledges that talking, learning and engaging in conversations about race are not easy, but stresses that we must become comfortable with the uncomfortable if we want to address and dismantle racism.
Sharing Practical Ideas
If your organization is just starting this work, it might be comforting to know that you are not alone. Tobi Bruhn, executive director at Foundations Community Partnership in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, explains that while some organizations are already doing great work, many are at the starting point, particularly small and medium-sized organizations with fewer resources. Tobi reminds these organizations that they don’t need to reinvent the wheel and create brand new programs. “Learn from other people’s trials and errors. Take a successful program and figure out how you can implement it within your community or organization.”
Collaboration has always been key within the philanthropic community. This has never been more true as we face this great need for change, uncertainty or fear about how to begin and limited resources.