Introduction to REDI Collective
REDI is a community Interest company with a network based in Linkedin. The Racial Equity Diversity and Inclusion Collective works with people of colour and ethnic minorities working in UK International Development.
We support people of colour working in International Development, allies who wish to take action, and with organisations who are willing to address systemic issues within. We have worked with Devex and British Expertise to facilitate discussions on race issues in our sector. We meet on a monthly basis with EDI champion from UK based International Development organisation to share challenges and progress.
Why do we need to have a discussion about racism in the aid sector?
The aid sector, as the offspring of colonisation has inherent power imbalances. Although there are many academic and opinion sources that can be quoted to argue this, this article sums up some of the issues.
This reality is perpetuated through programme design and delivery as well as within the aid organisations as microsms of wider society.
What are the practical implications of racism in the aid sector?
Aid is commercialised and businesses who win work in the UK aid sector are led by white leadership teams who implement programmes in the Global South. These processes are often uninformed by local actors and the needs of beneficiaries are secondary, hereby perpetuating the power imbalances.
Charities and International actors that should be dismantling systems of oppression and exploitation are behind the curve with very few people of colour in leadership roles, leading to unsustainable interventions and blind spots that could be avoided by valuing lived experiences and being led by local partners.
How can aid actors be actively anti-racist?
Firstly Anti-racism means taking active stands, engaging in difficult conversations with leaders.
Secondly, by dispersing power from UK-based organisations and build leadership capacity in the Global South so that our teams reflect the diversity of the communities we serve. This means we have to be intentional about localisation.
Thirdly, by requiring diversity within the leadership of UK-based orgnisations and the leading roles for programme implementation. This could be monitored by ethinicity reporting not just across the organisation but within senior leadership teams.
How does the language used by aid actors relate to discussions around racism and power dynamics?
Language use maintains a North- South divide and paternalistic attitudes when in fact the relationships are much more nuanced. There are people of colour, migrants from the Southern countries and grandchildren of Empire, all working within aid organisations. We have found that language disempowers and ‘others’ local and national partners by perpetuating a ‘white saviour’ narrative where knowledge and resources must be exported to ‘recipients’ or ‘beneficiaries’.
What steps should the UK Government take to address racism in the aid sector?
UK government should look internally within its own organisation and assess the culture, the diversity & inclusion, and how it can be a role model for aid sector suppliers.
It should take specific preventative and remedial actions in its programme design and performance assessment. Take concrete measures to critically examine the practices and objectives of its programming and include southern partners in the conversation.
How could a systematic approach to tackling racism help to strengthen relations between aid delivery organisations and the communities where programmes are delivered?
Our members have reported that covid-19 has led to more opportunities and even necessity to work with local delivery partners. Many implementing partners and local employees have demonstrated their abilities to take on leadership roles and work with greater autonomy. A systematic approach to racism could help build on this: where progress is driven together, innovation is shared and implementation of objectives happens in partnership.
Rather than requiring that partners adopt a western model of programme delivery which strict adherence to numerical indicators, progress could be based on indigenous knowledge and rooted in local culture with a focus on sustainable outcomes that survive the project lifecycle.
How diverse is staffing within international aid organisations? Does this change at different levels of seniority?
Racial diversity may be seen in more junior roles and in international project offices but decision-making power is concentrated amongst white leadership teams.
Our members report that diversity figures can be skewed by including staff in majority ethinic countries for projects, but this isn’t reflected in the UK-based operations.
Experience, anecdotes, comments and inputs from our members
What actions have international aid organisations taken to promote diversity and inclusion and what impact have these had?
Some have made statements of solidarity and expressed their intention to tackle racism internally, beginning with employee engagement surveys and appointing working groups with champions to review the outcomes and key issues raised.
Stronger organisations or those willing to direct resources to improving their practices have appointed D&I leads with time allocated for billable work and committed to greater transparency in reporting e.g Ethnicity Pay Gap reporting. Other activities mentioned by our members include:
Impact has been limited by:
What actions do international aid organisations still need to take to promote diversity and inclusion?
They need to increase their transparency of D&I practices e.g. making policies available on external websites, prioritising local implementation of programming.
They need to value and invest in the knowledge and expertise of marginalized and minoritised groups at the corporate level.
They need to be the change they wish to see and grow organisations more reflective of the countries they work with, engaging in more equal, less extractive partnerships.
What actions should donors such as the FCDO take to promote diversity and inclusion in the organisations they fund?
Firstly, there is a need to recognise the colonial legacy that UK aid has with the entrenched prejudices that come with that history.
Secondly, raise awareness amongst FCDO staff through training and include D&I responsibilities within Terms of Reference for Team Leaders. It must go beyond a box-ticking exercise and address the underlying factors that have enabled power imbalances between aid actors and implementing partners in the Global South to persist.
The FCDO must keep the spotlight on this issue until wide-spread, concerted efforts are being taken to address this issue at all levels of the sector.
Introduce practices and procedures to tackle this problem to which improve involvement of local partners. Preferential attitudes have hindered progress in tackling this issue, as well as sustained disparities and most recent cuts to aid expenditure. Local partners and staff from diverse backgrounds need to be empowered and involved more directly in aid delivery.
Race, power and privilege are sensitive topics that require nuanced discussion and a commitment by those engaged to educate themselves. Although we welcome an inquiry that looks into such an important issue, our members would have wanted the discussion to begin at, ‘What can be done about racism? Rather than ‘Does racism exist in the aid sector? We believe that this topic will require further engagement across multiple channels: