How IFF is Putting Equity into Practice – Part Two August 17, 2023

We like to use the word “journey” when we talk about becoming an anti-racist and anti-oppressive organization. The problem with using that word in this context is that it implies that there is an end and that the path will be linear. In part one of this blog, we reflected on some of the ways IFF has put equity into practice, however, the work continues with peaks and valleys.  

As part of their training, From White Supremacy Toward Liberation: Building Shared Analysis to Transform Institutions, the team at Crossroads takes participants through an assessment tool that equips organizations to determine where they fall along the continuum toward becoming an anti-racist organization. There are characteristics listed under each stage. For example, in Stage 3 an organization is said to have “a growing understanding of systemic racism as [a] barrier to effective diversity and inclusion efforts [that] results in the making of official policy pronouncements regarding multicultural diversity and inclusion” BUT remains “[oblivious] to continuing patterns of white control, heteropatriarchy, and white supremacy values such as competitive individualism, binary thinking, secrecy, and scarcity are exhibited by key stakeholders in the institution.” 

When done honestly, this is a humbling exercise. There are parts of IFF that are still very much in Stage 2, and there are aspects of IFF that are deep in Stage 4. Our work is to be transparent about that spectrum, identify the organizing strategies necessary to move forward, and be accountable to sharing out where we have succeeded and where we are still learning.  

This is one of the reasons why training is so important, because we must be intentional about how the trailing and leading edges of our organization are journeying along together. Imagine a rubber band stretched too far; it snaps back. This can cause particular harm to our staff of color, who often take it upon themselves (or are assumed to) to operate at that leading edge and feel that they do not have the full weight of the organization behind them and therefore carry the responsibility of being accountable to the nonprofits and communities we serve when we fail to live into our stated values.  

IFF began our equity work in 2018 and in 2020 our board adopted a new vision statement that reflected our commitment to becoming an anti-racist and anti-oppressive organization. And yet in 2023, it became clear that we lacked a shared definition of equity, diversity, and inclusion. We cannot effectively address what we misname or do not understand what we are trying to achieve with any given strategy. Not everything is equity.  

“Equity in practice” is a concept that our staff still wrestles with being able to identify. Equity is the process of ensuring that our practices, policies, and programs provide equitable outcomes for our staff, our partners, and the communities we serve. Equity is choosing to eliminate barriers (and not just those structured around gendered or racialized lines, but also barriers to access to information and transparency in decision making) and overcome past inequities.   

Equity in practice looks like noticing when and where we have the power to make a different choice and being intentional about our decision to eliminate barriers. Just as important as what we do, is the “how” we do it. How did we show up in a way that removed a barrier for our nonprofit partners, our team members, and our communities. Everyone on staff, from those that are client facing to our back office support, need to see themselves as effective agents of equity in practice. 

We also needed to step out of a task orientation around this work. Equity is not a box to be checked. It is a way of working that needs to be fully operationalized and embedded in what we do.  

Our lack of baseline data and processes for ongoing measurement and evaluation has made defining impact, setting goals, and measuring progress challenging in this work. Setting a goal around increasing access to capital to BIPOC-led organizations, for example, is not a viable goal without historical data on the race and ethnicity of our portfolio to date. While our more than 30 years of working with nonprofits has given us a deep understanding of their needs, we must always be interrogating what assumptions we are making, particularly when it comes to interventions meant to serve BIPOC-led nonprofits.  

We have had the privilege to receive funding from private foundations and the CDFI Fund to address historical inequities in access to capital and real estate. This has given us the flexibility to create bespoke loan products, targeted loan pools, subsidized real estate supports, and programmatic responses that have resulted in transformational change for many nonprofits. But bespoke and siloed efforts are not the way to move toward systemic change. We need to make sure that these efforts are data-informed and rooted in what these nonprofits say they need, and we must think about how we can connect the dots and create offerings that operate together along the continuum of a nonprofit’s lifecycle. There is no equity without listening, learning, and iteration. 

This is long game work. With the recent Supreme Court affirmative action decision and other external efforts to undermine EDI and anti-racism work, our ability to make equity in practice a part of our organizational DNA is critically important. What we know is that the pattern of white supremacy throughout history is one of acts of racism and acts of resistance. Our work is to be ready to pivot and respond to any “snap back” of white supremacy, rather than to be paralyzed by any feelings of “I thought we were further along.”  

Click here to learn more about IFF’s commitment to being an inclusive, anti-racist and anti-oppressive (ARAO) organization.  

Categories: Thought Leadership

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