Initiative launches to tackle inequality in the charity sector

An initiative is launching to investigate how charities can improve their power structures to better tackle inequality, racism and prejudice.

The Power & Integrity (PI) initiative will examine how charities are run and to what extent they are tackling inequality in their own organisation.

The move has been taken to address an assumption within charities that the inequality in society, which they have been set up to combat, is not prevalent in their own organisation and among their leadership.

The initiative is being hosted by the NCVO and has been co-founded by Alex Cole-Hamilton, a former head or ethics and compliance at Oxfam.

“From our sector’s work on tackling societal inequality, we know that systemic power structures, such as colonialism, patriarchy, and racism intersect and underpin unjust societal ‘norms’,” said Cole-Hamilton.

“These power structures influence how we experience society, work, home, and even how we see ourselves. Unchallenged, they fuel discrimination, exploitation and exclusion, further skewing society in favour of existing privilege.

“Until recently, the prevailing assumption among non-profits has been that inequality exists in society, but not within our own organisations or sector.”

She says that assumptions in the sector that charities have “inherent integrity” means they are not effectively tackling inequality in their organisation.

Problems include “many aspects of integrity management being shoe-horned into the most relevant teams”.

“As a result, safeguarding, equality, anti-corruption, sustainability, etc, often continue to work in silos,” she added.

“Unfortunately, this piecemeal approach hinders our ability to see where our organisations reflect wider societal inequalities. It doesn’t always highlight the harm we cause. And it prevents us from fully understanding how we can improve.”

The PI initiative is being launched on an open-source basis and will be hosted by the NCVO for an initial period of up to 18 months. The intention is to later launch PI as an independent non-profit organisation.

The NCVO is among a raft of charitable organisations in recent years to take action to improve equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI).

In 2020 the NCVO’s leadership admitted that it was a “structurally racist organisation”.

NCVO lead consultant Dan Francis added: “We are delighted to be working with Alex and the Power & Integrity team on this vital issue.

“As an organisation which has experienced failings and challenges similar to the issues being examined, we are happy to be able to host the group’s work and share our learning with them. We hope to learn from their work too and we believe PI will help support continued efforts for an equitable and inclusive NCVO and wider charity sector.”

Another charity to take action to improve their EDI processes is advocacy charity POhWER, which announced this week it is adopting a zero-tolerance approach to racism aimed at staff from beneficiaries. This followed concerns from staff that racist abuse was not been tackled.

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