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It’s certainly not the most exciting industry, but as a friend and known veteran of the third sector reminded me a couple of weeks ago, the UK’s third sector, made up of civil society organisations like social enterprises and charities, is responsible for more of the country’s GDP than its agriculture output. They both stand at under 1% with agriculture representing 0.61% and the third sector representing 0.9%, but that reframing of my awareness of the sector helped me come to terms with something else I have been reckoning with as we worked to redesign our strategy in light of COVID to ensure we could continue making a significant impact while ostensibly scaling down our operations until our organisation returned to its normal capacity. The conclusion was, the third sector matters; under 1% of the country’s GDP is responsible for bridging the gaps drastic government cuts to local services have made over the past 10 years. So what happens when the sector that is responsible for doing such transformative and necessary work is not itself representative of the population at every level? The least represented groups suffer from misrepresentation, inadequate and insufficient support and inappropriate methodologies (chicken boxes anyone?).
We’ve spent the past few months reworking a picture of the future of the UK’s Black community. Factoring in things like the effect of COVID and continued cuts to social services funding in low resourced areas where most people of colour and especially Black people live in the UK, we decided one thing we could do to help redress the balance is to create a fund. Hence Common Call. It is the UK’s first grant fund dedicated to Black-led social enterprises and charities. We are providing grants between £1K and £3K in addition to strategic support and access to experts for the further development of organisations that are also committed to the development of Black communities in the UK. The second thing to do, in recognition of the diversity and even more particularly, the inclusion problem that is rampant within the third sector, is support organisations to build spaces that support the entry and retention of Black talent into the third sector.
It remains true that Black people are the most willing of any racial group to engage in volunteering within their local community when surveyed according to the Office of National Statistics, yet in practice, Black people are highly underrepresented within the third sector, in volunteering roles but also in mid-level and senior-level leadership positions. Retention is very low as many Black staff leave organisations within the first three years. Racism is deeply entrenched within the third sector with 70% of the sectors racialised population reporting to have either experienced racism directly or have been privy to a colleague’s experience of racism within the third sector. The problem is well documented with extensive research detailing problems such as microaggressions in the workplace, inability to secure promotions even when comparable work has led to promotions of non-racialized staff in a similar time frame, as well as a preeminence of piecemeal and light touch solutions that aim to mask, rather than seek to solve, the deeply entrenched race problems within charitable organisations.
As we settle back into life in a pandemic and re-engage with the status quo in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, we are now more than ever in search of tangible, effective and long-lasting methodology to either avoid the outcome of business-as-usual, that is the outcry of the disenfranchised masses that took to the streets, or better yet, solve the underlying problems that, for many organisations, have previously been masked by half-baked diversity and inclusion strategies like changing the pictures on the public-facing aspects of organisations, such as their websites and social media platforms to “reflect the society in which we operate”.
For those of us that choose to lean into a belief that the old days must be done and a new day must come, a new policy and practice must also be put into place. That, of course, is anti-racism. Engaging in the discussion and practice of anti-racism is a transformative experience for those that have been subject to racism and those that have perpetuated or benefited from the subjugation of people of colour within a system or sphere of life and experience. As Ibrahim X Kendi, the author of the seminal text How to be Anti-Racist writes, “The only way to undo racism is to consistently identify and describe it — and then dismantle it.”
The dismantling of racism within an organisation is dependent on every member of the organisation to do their part. Organisational culture, like any other formal society, is underpinned by a clear set of rules and a less clear set of acceptable behaviours that are governed by each individual stakeholder within the organisation. When all is said and done, each individual, through their interaction with others within the organisation weaves a tangled web that takes up space and constricts the movement of people that would seek to create new patterns and shapes for the benefit of themselves and by virtue of that, the whole. To dismantle racism within an organisation each individual must recognise the tangled web they have woven, meaning the part they have had to play in forming, propping up or perpetuating a culture that is not anti-racist.
Anti-racism is everybody’s business. It is active and must live and breathe within the organisation as clear cut as, and impenetrable as, the exclusive culture that has been allowed to permeate in your business landscape whether that masked itself as a Boy’s Club, Upper-Class Club, White Club or any other demographic exclusivity that could, by virtue of its very being, dissuade a hopeful beneficiary from seeking help, or a great applicant from submitting their cover letter and CV in hopes of making your organisation better.
Anti-racism is about power and policies. From the individual and interpersonal, we move to the institutional and structural aspects of racists ideology that underpins the working of much of our society. These are some actions that can be undertaken within any third sector organisation within the next year:
We are doing what we can and will continue to do so as an organisation that is committed to ensuring Black people are supported to achieve and empowered to succeed across the UK.
Bayo Adelaja | Chief Do-er | This is how I got here