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Stronger Foundations blog - The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step

This blog was written in response to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: The Pillars of Stronger Foundation Practice, a report from ACF's Stronger Foundations initiative which identifies and helps foundations pursue excellent practice. This contribution comes from Kenny Imafidon, Managing Director and Co-founder, ClearView Research.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI)… these three words are becoming more commonly used in our society and have become ‘buzzwords’ in the workplace. However, despite more conversations taking place in our society about diversity, equity and inclusion, the needle has not moved much across many sectors. No doubt there has been some progress in the U.K, but we still have a long way to go. We are far from having businesses, governments, charities, foundations etc., that are truly diverse, equitable and inclusive.

When we focus on charitable foundation boards in particular, we see alarming and troubling stats such as: male trustees of foundations outnumber women 2:1. Foundation boards are 99% white (this compares to 92% in the wider charity sector, and to 87% of the general population in the U.K). Almost 60% of foundation trustees are over 65 (only 3% of foundation trustees under 45). Almost three quarters of foundation trustees are recruited informally. Now, if this does not worry you, then I don’t know what will. It is also ironic how many foundations ask their beneficiaries or partners questions about DEI or other areas as part of their due diligence, but are failing terribly in this area themselves. The truth is a foundation should be able to say “yes” to the question of “based on a due diligence assessment of our own governance, would we fund ourselves?”

There is no person in any charitable foundation who can come across this report and read it in its entirety and feel as though there is not something they could do to change. This report puts an end to any excuses by charitable foundations about not knowing what to do around diversity, equity and inclusion in their organisation.

As an advisor to several foundations and as a trustee of a large foundation myself, I know first-hand how complex and challenging it can be to build a foundation that is a diverse, equitable and inclusive. One certainty is that any foundation that truly wants to go on this journey and succeed, has to put their money (and time) where their mouth is. You have to be committed to the journey towards change for life and not just the long-term. To truly deliver what is discussed in this report in practice comes with a heavy price that is worth its value x10 over. Cultural change is vital, not just strategic change.

We cannot pay lip service to these issues at board meetings and talk about them in our documents and strategies but not really invest the time and resources to understand and define what diversity, equity and inclusion means in practice in our own contexts [see more in recommendation 1 of the report]. A stronger foundation must “continually strive to learn and constantly challenge themselves (and enable others to challenge them) to do more.” A key part of the process for a foundation committing to DEI work is to ensure that senior leaders in their foundations champion these issues as a priority and never take their foot off the gas, as this work is ongoing. If nobody senior prioritises or champions real change internally, efforts can be stalled and progress can be made much slower. Board and executive commitment is crucial to this process.

This report speaks to many interesting and important questions that foundations should consider as they commit to DEI work and it provides great food for thought on what a foundation could or could not do and outlays the reasons why. So, whether you have already implemented most, some or even none of recommendations in this report already, this report by the Association of Charitable Foundations (ACF) provides guidance in terms of best practice and various actions that we could all make, to take a step in the right direction for our foundations. The report makes it clear that we all have a part to play to pick up the pace and bring about this much needed change in our foundations and embrace this challenging and uncomfortable journey. Things won’t change overnight but it will only be a matter of time, if everyone plays their part. We need much better diversity and representation in all our foundations, as this will benefit us all in achieving our social missions. I truly encourage everyone to take the recommendations in this report seriously and immediately put into action what is needed to achieve the low hanging fruit wins and the long-term wins. I also plead with trustees and those working in charitable foundations to have the courage to take their first steps or to continue to take steps on this journey of a thousand miles.

Kenny Imafidon
Managing Director and Co-founder
ClearView Research

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