There is no single definition of equity in the context of international development. We use the term to refer to a general process of ‘levelling an unequal playing field’ in the development sector through a fairer distribution of resources and more equitable partnerships. If global equality is the desired end-goal, North-South equity is a means of achieving this. Equity, which centres fairness and accounts for existing power imbalances, goes beyond formal policies to scrutinise internal procedures and working mechanisms to assess how truly equitable organisations are with regard to their team members and partners.
Inequity in development manifests across several dimensions, including but not only:
You can read more about these dimensions and why they are important to achieving equity here.
We consistently ask ourselves the same question. It is often said: what gets measured gets done. And in international development, we have not measured inequity between the North and South – so it is often ignored or swept under the rug. We want to change this, and though we know an index will not solve the problem, it would be a start. We are inspired by the work of other leading development indices that have helped to drive progress and improve development practice across a range of fields, including, for example, Publish What You Fund’s work in driving up transparency standards among development donors. While we recognise the potential for ‘index fatigue’ in the sector, we are confident that The Equity Index will fill a crucial ‘gap’ in the development system. We are complementary and additive for three main reasons:
Absolutely. That is a crucial part of our vision and mission. The Equity Index will strive each day to uphold its own values of being an anti-racist and feminist organisation. In order to be accountable, we will practice radical transparency, sharing all of the same data we ask of organisations that are ranked in the index, as well as regular updates about our progress and the challenges we face. We will adopt a collaborative leadership model, ensuring that we practice equity in our own decision-making structures. Our intention is to recruit a Managing Director of The Equity Index from (but not necessarily based in) the Global South, and someone that has lived experience of inequity. We will also ensure an equitable balance between Global South and North in the rest of our team composition, bearing in mind race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, and more.
The short answer is no – but we believe shining a light on organisational policies, practices and partnerships will help move the dial in the right direction. We believe that measuring equity in an open and transparent way will raise awareness within and between organisations about the negative consequences of inequity, including the fact that development projects are less likely to be effective and sustainable over the long-term. Publicly releasing the results of the index will create an incentive for organisations to tackle inequity and be held to account for their progress. But the idea is not to name and shame – achieving universal, or North-South, equity is a long journey, and we aim to foster a race to the top, rather than a race to stay away from the bottom. The index could also contribute to a wider spirit of collective learning and improvement, bolstered by the opportunity to compare efforts against similar types of organisations.
It is also important to note that equity is not the same as justice – we see our role as working within the existing development sector in order to make it more equitable. We do not believe that our work will be sufficient to create the kind of long-term change we believe is necessary, but hope The Equity Index is part of a much larger solution to ultimately creating a more just world.
Excellent questions. In order to test whether the fundamental model of The Equity Index works, we have decided to start with development organisations based in the UK. Our team members and Advisory Council, who are representative of both the Global South and North, have direct experience of working within various parts of the UK development sector (INGOs, consultancies, media organisations, and more) and therefore are well placed to develop equity indicators and an advocacy strategy that are well grounded in the British context. Once the model and overall design is well established here, there is immense potential for other countries to adopt The Equity Index approach, tailored to their own contexts. The model could also be adapted to suit Global South contexts, especially for countries that have significant ‘aid and development’ programmes. Apart from through our team members, the voice of Southern stakeholders from a wide range of contexts will also be present through extensive and ongoing consultations to input into the development of the index’s external indicators.
Our pilot is funded by a grant from the Joffe Charitable Trust. We will continue to seek grant funding alongside developing revenue streams that will enable our long-term financial sustainability, including consultancy, research, and training services.
We believe that imagery used in international development can often reproduce inequities, particularly when images of people from the Global South are used without their consent and in ways that reinforce power imbalances and inequities. Instead, we have selected imagery of treelined paths to represent the fact that achieving equity is a long journey, and that the path to getting there is often winding or hidden. The important thing is to stay the course and make our way through the forest.
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Cover photo by Isabella Jusková.