28th Jun 2022

The Coronavirus pandemic and global activism around Black Lives Matter have highlighted inequities and injustices in society. Philanthropy is not immune from challenge – something recognised by the Community Foundation. Its renewed focus on addressing diversity, equity and inclusion runs across grant-making, research, governance and advice for donors. 

“We had started a conversation about philanthropy’s role in addressing diversity, equity and inclusion in October 2019. And we’d committed to doing more to address racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of prejudice and discrimination,” explains Rob Williamson, the Foundation’s CEO. “But, with the virus, our actions became more urgent given its disproportionate impact on Black and Asian communities, on people living in poverty, disabled people and those with mental health problems.”  

The Foundation used its knowledge of local charities and community organisations to target support where it would reach communities most affected. One such organisation was CREST (Compact for Race Equality in South Tyneside). The organisation aims to promote and foster racial and community harmony through assisting members of the borough’s growing communities from diverse ethnic backgrounds. “CREST beneficiaries face variable barriers ranging from race and health to social and economic inequalities,” says Shamiso Machaya, the Interim CEO. “To continue delivering activities within the Coronavirus pandemic, Black Lives Matter, Brexit and during the adversity of losing our founder, Shuley Alam, has been a challenging act that needed a radical shift from existing practice.” The Foundation provided funding, including a grant from its Growth and Resilience Fund that supported CREST’s core costs during unstable times. “All the prevailing implications encountered this year were made easy by the grants received from the Community Foundation”, Shamiso adds. “Every little bit of support helps the organisation to respond to individual and community needs thereby allowing them to transition from adversity to normal sustainable ways of life.” 

The Foundation is also maintaining a longer-term lens through its policy and research. In October 2020, it published a special Third Sector Trends report on diversity in the leadership of charities and community organisations. It found that among both chairs and chief officers, disabled people, and Black, Asian and ethnic minority groups are under-represented. The report explores why some people might feel excluded from leadership roles, and what might attract more to come forward. And it raises the challenging question of whether organisations always cast their nets as widely as they should.

Then, in March 2021, the Foundation published reports on how philanthropy can better address diversity, equity and inclusion as part of its Vital Signs series. These look at the experience of women, physically and learning-disabled people and the Black, Asian and ethnic minority, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender communities. The reports draw attention to levels of sexual violence and domestic abuse within the region, to long-standing health inequalities, and the wider impacts of how well people feel their lives are valued. The Foundation has also taken time to look at its own practices. After listening to its membership, it published a new Diversity Equity and Inclusion policy. And, in July 2021, the Foundation became one of the first UK charitable funders to publish benchmarks for the diversity of its staff and trustees against which it will assess how well its people reflect the communities they serve.  “None of this means our conversations are over,” Rob Williamson stresses. “But we hope what we are saying and doing shows not only our commitment to tackling inequalities and injustices, but also inspires others to do the same.” 

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