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Together is better in the fight against racism

It is still relatively rare for funders to collaborate both with other funders and organisations working on the frontline. Here, in an article originally published by Trust and Foundation News (the membership magazine of the Association of Charitable Foundations (ACF)) , Debbie Pippard of Barrow Cadbury Trust and Cathy Stancer of Lankelly Chase join with Andy Gregg of ROTA (Race On The Agenda) and Jeremy Crook from BTEG (Black Training and Enterprise Group) to outline the co-creation and progress of a new alliance fighting ethnic inequality.

Funder collaboration is an increasingly normal part of the way foundations work. Issues as diverse as migration, mental health stigma, early intervention, women and multiple disadvantage, and child sexual exploitation are being approached by funder collaboratives of varying shapes and sizes. It still appears to be a new idea, however, to explicitly set out with the aim of co-creating priorities and actions with those working in NGOs in the field – in other words a genuinely mixed alliance. This is the story of one such alliance, one between race equality organisations and funders.

It started with a call from the Big Lottery Fund, which led to a loose alliance of funders coming together over a shared concern about ethnic inequality and social justice in late 2015. This was a diverse group working on a wide range of issues – health and wellbeing, poverty, criminal justice, arts and heritage, education, extreme disadvantage. The common thread is a concern about the stark ethnic inequalities that are apparent in systems and communities. In the criminal justice system, just to give one example, Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities are over-represented in prison: approximately 25% of prisoners are from a BAME background, compared with being only 13% of the wider population. The situation is worse for under-18s: over 40% of those in secure youth institutions are from BAME backgrounds, up significantly from 25% a decade ago. Despite decades of activism and legislation it is clear that we are not born equal: race and ethnicity still have a substantial impact on life chances and experiences.

Collective dialogue

Rather than funders deciding on a course of action, in early 2016 the funder alliance began a collective dialogue with key race equality organisations, co-creating a number of priority areas. This was and remains a complicated thing – power dynamics are at play, there are questions of who is and is not at the table. Can expectations raised by the coming together of so many funders be met? Are funders really prepared to be open about their processes and to change their practice?

We haven’t resolved these issues but we are still in dialogue, being as open as we can be with each other, building relationships and reminding ourselves of our shared purpose when things get difficult. Our work has started to crystallise around two issues, and jointly we are exploring the development of a strategic communications project, and a co-ordinated response to the government’s Race Disparity Unit (which will synthesise data on racial inequalities in public services).

Hate given licence

The work of our fledgling collaborative was given an added urgency by the Referendum last June and the spike in hate crime that followed it. It is unlikely this represented a sudden upsurge in racist sentiment. Instead it seems that the rhetoric surrounding the referendum, and the post-referendum environment, has made people with racist or xenophobic views feel more comfortable expressing these openly. The election of Donald Trump and the rise of the far right across Europe adds to the sense of a continuing trend and to the importance of renewed engagement with this issue and solidarity with those directly affected.

In our collaborative, the race equality organisations reported on a growing unease and sense of threat felt by BAME organisations and communities. Funders were keen to identify some ‘quick wins’. Together we came up with ideas, which we offer as potentially helpful to others in the funder community who want to show solidarity with those affected:

  • Talk about inequalities, race and racism. Mention it on your website. Name it as an issue. Keep it on the agenda.
  • Talk to race equality organisations to find out what has happened post-referendum. Reporting mechanisms for hate crime are fragmented so it is not always easy to get a complete picture – supporting existing or new reporting mechanisms, or funding race equality bodies, is helpful.
  • Use your convening power to bring people together to discuss the issues highlighted by the referendum and subsequent events and to consider how to respond together.
  • Support work that brings people from different communities together in meaningful shared activity or in dialogue. Under the right conditions interpersonal contact is one of the most effective ways to reduce prejudice between majority and minority group members.
  • Review your own policies and procedures for unintentional bias against BAME organisations. Increasing your permeability might help with this – consider offering a secondment to someone from a local BAME organisation or inviting a review of your procedures.
  • Few trusts and foundations are leading by example: our senior management teams and boards lack diversity. Are there steps that you can take to improve this, or to bring diverse voices into your organisation?

Reviewing our practice

As well as working collaboratively with the race equality sector, the funder group continues with its own separate cycle of meetings, at which we discuss and reflect on our own processes and learn from each other. Members have responded in a range of ways. For example, some have undertaken equalities audits or reviewed our grant-making practices. Several of us have made ourselves more open to BAME organisations through secondments. We are learning to be comfortable saying we haven’t got it right and we want to improve.

All trusts and foundations that want to increase their contribution to race equality are very welcome to join the funder alliance, the funder/race equality sector collaborative or both. We don’t have all the answers but we think working in the spirit of genuine partnership, with all the joys and challenges it brings, is the right thing to do.

For more information contact Cathy Stancer or Debbie Pippard