Let’s talk about privilege and access to opportunities in the development sector

With the death of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor sparking a global movement on racial justice during COVID-19, conversations on inclusion; who accesses these spaces, and what privileges have been accorded to certain groups have been extensive. Many institutions have been challenged to look into how inclusive they are; but how is the international development sector responding to this? Has the sector been inclusive enough? If not, how can this be changed? This article has been inspired by Blessing Omakwu, who calls for intravism which involves internal efforts to change organizational structures and thus, make them more inclusive and equitable.

Why this conversation matters

There have been a number of studies that show racial bias in the startup/tech scene in Africa, one such study revealed that only six percent of startups in Kenya that raised over a million dollars were local founders, does the development sector working in Africa also have a similar unconscious bias when it comes to supporting African leaders and organizations?

Staff Surveys Reveal Widespread Racism at the United Nations Research already shows that just 3 percent of Charity CEOs are from black, Asian, and minority ethnic backgrounds indicating that perhaps, the development sector isn’t as inclusive. This has also been echoed by Global health executive, Angela Bruce-Raeburn who has called on the aid sector to acknowledge that “diversity” isn’t as inclusive as it sounds. Nasra A. Ismail, deputy director of the Somalia NGO Consortium, also acknowledges this adding that; “We have many, many groups that are not represented in the space that we would like, ultimately, to shape the policies and the work that we do in the NGO sectors.”

Can this be fixed?

Addressing these biases and gaps in the sectors requires developing and creating internal policies that ensure organizations are walking the talk. This means that they do not only advocate for inclusion in the external policies and in the regions they operate and advocate in but also in their internal policies. One concrete way to achieve this is by developing awareness of implicit and explicit biases within talent and human resources departments in the aid sector.

The development sector should therefore understand that it is unacceptable for them to promote inclusive policies without having internal social inclusion policies. This also calls for organizations to reflect and be willing to have an uncomfortable conversation on how inclusive their processes are as one quote goes; “ if you think your organization is diverse because you hire black people in your Africa offices, think again.” 

Our Gameplan

We are calling on the many organizations working in Africa to look at their senior leadership teams and boards. While we understand, privilege can be uncomfortable to talk about, it is an important conversation to have.

This reflective exercise is needed in the development sector to understand who they work with, for example; do you offer opportunities to qualified candidates not in your circle or do you prefer working with established partners, that is, the usual suspects? As Abhina Aher, associate director HIV/AIDS Alliance notes, “Without diversity in the workforce, programs themselves are unlikely to be inclusive.” 

So, it is easy to talk about diversity but what does that really look like today? Here at inclusive Africa, we are committed to developing models, toolkits, and drive system change for more inclusion in Africa. Join the movement!