By Caroline Walker, Chief Executive
Last May the death of George Floyd triggered a global reaction. The movement for black lives and anti-racism suddenly gained the attention of many of those who had been complacent up to now. This included the charity sector as a whole, and many conversations have developed out of that tragic incident, including how structural racism manifests and how it affects non-white people within the charity sector.
Together We Learn is in an interesting position within this discussion as we are comprised of two organisations – one Ethiopian and one British. We are an international development organisation, working within a sector that has been described as replicating colonial power imbalances, but serving a country which has never been colonised. We know that our greatest strength is our Ethiopian team, yet our UK team has little Ethiopian representation.
It is important to say that, reflecting on how Together We Learn can work against structural racism, I speak only on behalf of the UK team; we respect diversity and equal opportunities across the organisation, but the primary questions we address here concern our practices in the UK. We will consult with our Ethiopian team throughout and expect changes here to positively impact our Ethiopian colleagues, but we only speak for ourselves on this journey.
In July 2020, following George Floyd’s death and the Black Lives Matter campaigns, we began to think seriously about questions of racism, diversity and inclusion, and duly prepared a statement to set out what action we were taking. The release of our statement was delayed by the announcement of our merger in September. It is a delay that I am grateful for because, though our statement was on hold, our intentions were put into action. We established a Diversity, Equality and Inclusion committee including board members and staff and began to meet monthly and the first lesson was quickly learnt. In these meetings we began to see that the conversation itself was a vital precursor to effective action.
We have begun by reading and by sharing what we see and learn from others, which has allowed us to take a step back to consider the greater picture and to truly understand the nature of the problem, before deciding what actions are appropriate for us. We are still on this journey, but we wanted to let our supporters, school links, sponsored families and volunteers know what we are doing.
We recognise that structural racism is an issue in the UK charity sector.
We realise that there is more that we could and should be doing to be anti-racist.
We also recognise that diversity is not only race, it must consider gender, sexuality, social class, religion and ability. We are working on this too.
Although we are a small organisation and our time is stretched, we are making time for this process because we realise that it is important. As with all organisations, we are learning and trying to make changes. We want to develop new policies and practices on Diversity, Equality and Inclusion that will be more than an exercise in policy writing and that will change the way we work for the better. We want the policy to be a living document so that we learn from mistakes and correct them as we go.
To improve some of our practices, we are looking for sponsors so that we can offer paid internships for young people from the Ethiopian diaspora in the UK, and funding for professional training for our team in Ethiopia. If you or your company would like to support our efforts, please get in touch with me to discuss – [email protected]iopia.org.
We will continue to keep you updated about our progress and we welcome comments and feedback from all of our stakeholders along the way.