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The Journey toward Racial and Ethnic Equity Starts at Home (Spoiler: It Never Ends)

Guest Blogger
Silhouette of people walking on U Bein Bridge in Amarapura, Myanmar
Silhouette of people walking on U Bein Bridge in Amarapura, Myanmar (Photo credit: Boyloso, Shutterstock)

Indira Kaur Ahluwalia is President of KAUR Strategies and Founder/Chair of CREED. Susan Reichle is President & CEO of the International Youth Foundation and a CREED Core Team Member.

Disclaimer: This article was submitted to WorkwithUSAID.org as a guest blog post. The views expressed by WorkwithUSAID.org guest blog contributors do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States Agency for International Development or the United States Government. 

In April 2022, USAID unveiled its first Equity Action Plan “to advance equity with underserved communities, including racial and ethnic equity, in our policies, programs and partner base.” Furthermore, the Plan “serves as a starting point for longer term equity planning.” The Agency’s Equity Action Plan provides inspiration and a strong model for other organizations, large and small, many of whom are already taking action to advance racial and ethnic equity (REE) across the development space. 

If the goal is to advance equity across the development space, we at the Coalition for Racial and Ethnic Equity in Development (CREED) believe change must start at home by focusing on developing racial and ethnic equity (REE) within our own organizations in the United States. For some time now, U.S.-based international development and humanitarian organizations have been examining our own approaches, policies, practices, and cultures through a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) lens. During the global pandemic and particularly after George Floyd's killing, as voices in the United States and around the world called out social injustices and systemic racism in myriad forms, the need to turn self-awareness about building racial and ethnic equity into action became even more urgent.

In 2021, CREED formed to provide a community of learning and practice where U.S.-based international development and humanitarian assistance organizations can support one another and hold each other accountable for advancing REE under our own roofs.  

As we learned during the design and launch of CREED, and as our signatories confirm, the journey to advance racial and ethnic equity at home is both aspirational and individualized. Even as this journey is only just starting for many in our sector, we recognize that each signatory’s plan for how they operationalize REE is based on a host of differentiating factors, including its mission, size, and revenue, as much as its political will and past challenges.   

The REE Pledge offers a practical “roadmap” for organizations at any stage of their journey toward achieving racial and ethnic equity.

When we designed the REE Pledge, we knew signatories would expect a roadmap that could be personalized. Central to CREED’s mission, the Pledge is how organizations that are committed to advancing racial and ethnic equity signal their commitment to action and accountability. Encompassing five components—Policies and Systems; People, Leadership, and Organizational Structure; Organizational Culture; Accountability; and Communications and Transparency—the REE Pledge offers a practical “roadmap” for organizations at any stage of their REE journey. 

Each component supports our signatories, offering standards and practical guidance, recommendations, and indicators to help them achieve significant REE milestones. 

  • Policies and Systems: Commitment and accountability to REE in U.S.-based organizational policies and systems.
  • People, Leadership, and Organizational Structure: Racial and ethnic diversity across the organization regarding roles, responsibilities, and compensation parity.
  • Organizational Culture: All staff feel respected and valued, and experience physical and psychological safety in the workplace.
  • Accountability: Demonstrated implementation of REE commitments, measurement of progress in concrete ways, and regular reporting both internally and externally.
  • Communications and Transparency: Leaders speak credibly and openly about REE goals, progress, and outcomes internally and externally.

Each pledge component provides illustrative guidance and suggestions for how to plan, implement, and measure the process of advancing REE. Organizational leaders and teams can use the roadmap to decide what makes sense for them to prioritize, where and how they can begin instituting policy, systemic, and cultural changes, and when and how to measure and report outcomes—all based on their respective organization’s needs. In other words, it’s designed to be personalized and to help transform good intentions and ideas into practical actions that can be measured. 

The REE Pledge also offers different signatory options. Signatories can sign the pledge as Member Signatories (implementing partners who sign the pledge and join the CREED learning community), Affiliate Signatories (others in the ecosystem who sign the pledge but don’t join CREED), or Allies (those who support the principles of the Pledge but do not sign it). Each option entails different eligibility and engagement requirements based on what best supports an organization’s current process and progress. So far, 85 organizations have signed the REE Pledge as Members Signatories, one as an Affiliate Signatory, and seven as Allies, with all 93 signaling their commitment to racial and ethnic equity.

Member signatories are supported in a variety of ways, including through regular meetings which may feature guest speakers and/or signatories sharing their REE expertise and experience. Additionally, our Learning Series has been designed to share approaches on how to operationalize each pledge component. Our newly updated Learning Hub will continue to build by sharing research and key takeaways from our Learning Series. By having a platform to regularly discuss challenges, strategies, setbacks, and success stories, we’ll gain valuable insights that will inform how we can make progress during our own REE journey.  

Whether it’s a first step, or the next in a long series of steps already taken, the REE journey is one that never really ends.

There are no quick fixes, and the work is as personal as it is systemic. Just like any other critical organization imperative that impacts belonging, efficiencies, and results, the REE journey needs board and leadership ownership, investment, expertise, and clear milestones. By taking responsibility as a community of learners in this journey, we can strive to reach the next substantive milestone, and the next, and the next.  

We hope you’ll consider joining us. Let’s advance racial and ethnic equity, together

Click here for more information about CREED and how you can become involved in building racial and ethnic equity in development, or join this AidKonekt-sponsored virtual event on August 23. Visit the WorkwithUSAID.org library for additional resources to support your organization’s diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility efforts.