We believe that, for too long, development actors have chosen to either ignore or downplay crucial issues related to racism, sexism, power, voice, access and opportunity within their own organisations. Actors from the Global North still hold most of the power. They remain the decision-makers and gatekeepers of resources, despite commitments to place people and communities at the centre of their work. We see inequity across the sector as a serious issue that does not receive sufficient attention and requires more than cosmetic changes to address.
A more equitable development sector where organisations in the Global North walk their own talk, accompanied by a shift in power from North to South. Whereby people and organisations with lived experience, close to the realities of their context, are calling the shots and have the resources to implement the solutions to their own problems. Where imbalanced relationships have been transformed into equitable partnerships that recognise historical injustices and prioritise holistic well-being and dignity.
It is time for the UK development sector to hold a mirror up to its own ways of working. Our broad theory of change is that by shining a light on the extent and effects of inequitable practices – and the change that is possible when equitable approaches are adopted – development organisations will be encouraged and supported to improve the way they work. Publishing the results would create an incentive for change, and allow organisations to learn from each other’s experiences.
The Equity Index was inspired by a group of women who came together in 2018 to start an anti-racism book club in London, UK. Many of the book club members work in the international development sector and would not have met were it not for the sessions, reading classics including Natives by Akala, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge, and How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi.
On 1 January 2019, Alex Martins sat down with fellow book club member Lorriann Robinson and talked through the idea of a public index that would encourage the Northern international development sector to turn inwards and focus as much on its own practices and behaviours as on its work ‘over there’ in the Global South.
The idea developed slowly throughout 2019 and was shared with a wide range of people from across the development sector, both Southern and Northern. In March 2020, a diverse group of international development experts came together to form an official Advisory Council, 14 members strong and growing.
The Equity Index officially became a Community Interest Company on 1 May 2020 and was launched publicly in June 2020 after receiving our first grant from the Joffe Charitable Trust.
Where to from here? Our next step is to hire a full-time Managing Director to lead The Equity Index as it launches and begins to grow. If you are interested in this role, or in providing organisational development funding, please get in touch. We will also recruit a formal Board to govern our activities and ensure accountability for our work.
Before outlining our specific commitments to equity, it is important to define what we mean by being an “anti-racist and feminist organisation.”
Drawing on the definition from Dr Ibram X. Kendi, being anti-racist entails expressing anti-racist ideas and supporting anti-racist policies through our actions. Being an anti-racist organisation to us means opposing racism, including structural and institutional racism, in the international development sector in the UK and beyond, and making specific commitments to hold ourselves to account (see below for details).
Being a feminist organisation to us means that we seek to redress gender inequities in international development for all women in an intersectional way, recognising the diversity of women’s experiences depending on their gender identify, race and ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, disability status and more.
As part of our pilot indicator assessment project, The Equity Index has included the following indicator: I-2.1 Has the organisation made a measurable public commitment to promoting internal equity in all forms that is intersectional in its approach? This document outlines the way in which we will adhere to the same standard. We make the following four commitments.
1. We will run an equitable recruitment process to hire the core team that will run The Equity Index post-pilot
We will follow Lorriann Robinson’s guidance on improving representation in organisations, including:
We will also seek advice to set specific targets for groups that are historically underrepresented in the UK development sector, including People of Colour and people from the Global South, as well as other minority and minoritised groups, including people with disabilities and LGBTQ+ communities. We will also place strong emphasis on lived experiences of inequity in the development sector. Setting these targets up front is, we believe, a crucial part of achieving equity in the sector - it is most often under-represented groups that are shut out of power structures and decision-making in development. The composition of our pilot project team and Advisory Council is as follows: 47% white, 53% People of Colour, and 47% people of Global South origin.
We will also commit to ensuring that the majority of partners or suppliers that we work with have an equitable representation of People of Colour and other under-represented groups in their leadership and expert teams (drawing on Hannah Ryder’s blueprint for Black Lives Matter in the development sector).
Once the team has been recruited, we commit to reporting on our composition annually against the following categories: race and ethnicity, Global South nationality, and gender. In doing so, recognising that we are a small organisation, we will ensure that we protect the privacy of our staff.
2. We will run an equitable process for appointing independent Board members
We will follow the same guidance as above - the Board members will be appointed after the core team is in place. We will set specific targets to ensure intersectional representation of all underrepresented or minoritised groups (a term that recognises social processes of power).The number of Board members will be driven by considerations of full representation, rather than predetermined.
3. We will put in place a robust complaints and feedback mechanism
We recognise the importance of having layers of accountability to ensure that The Equity Index itself is held to account. We commit to putting in place an anonymous complaints mechanism that is visible and easily accessible. Indicatively, we will appoint two representatives on the Board who have a mandate to address and be an independent voice to raise concerns, including around equity. We will seek to follow best practice when creating this mechanism, drawing on guides such as this one by Accountable Now.
We will also highlight the role of an independent body, in our case the Community Interest Company Regulator, as an avenue for raising fully independent concerns or complaints about the conduct of The Equity Index.
We also commit to radical transparency about any concerns raised about our conduct (anonymising any identifiable data about the person who has raised the concern or complaint). Internally, we commit to at minimum yearly anonymous staff surveys to ask how equitable the culture feels to them, and what steps can be taken to make it more equitable.
4. We will ensure that the income generation portion of The Equity Index does not conflict with the core mission of the business, which is developing and maintaining a transparent index across the UK development sector.
In practice, this means that The Equity Index will not accept paid work from organisations that will be assessed and ranked as part of the index. Instead, it will seek to generate independent income from clients that operate either in the UK but outside of the development sector (for example impact investors), or outside of the UK.
These commitments will be reviewed and updated as required once the core team has been recruited. Subsequently, we commit to revisiting these four commitment areas twice a year, or at a frequency to be determined by The Equity Index’s leadership, wider team, and Board once recruited.