By Kate Newman, Floresca Karanasou, Willemijn de Bruin and Alastair Spray

Last week, on 20 July 2022, INTRAC hosted a webinar on Shifting the Power through Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning which was attended by over 200 participants.

Presentations by the panel members and subsequent breakout sessions yielded rich discussions which, among many other things, touched on equity, diversity, and inclusion – especially within organisations based in the global North. Towards the end of the session, we, at INTRAC, were challenged on our own ethnic diversity. With one of the participants leaving the following message in the chat:

This was a great event and I very much appreciate the conversation and the diversity of the speakers. Many thanks to INTRAC for putting it together. In seeing the last set of speakers from INTRAC, I also wonder how diverse INTRAC is in terms of racial and ethnic representation.

This was a very valid comment, given that all staff members who were feeding back on the breakout session were of white Western background. At INTRAC we have been reflecting on our whiteness in recent months, noting that while historically we have had a more diverse staffing body in terms of identity markers this is not currently the case. We are concerned about equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI), not only because of its implication for our own culture and practice, and the types of knowledge and ways of thinking we might be inadvertently privileging, but also because this could limit our ability to achieve our core mission of strengthening civil society.

Our internal reflection around our own power and privilege have led us to take concrete steps, starting with building a more diverse board, and to that end we are delighted to now count among our board members experts in civil society drawn from five different countries, representing a broader mix of ethnicities than we had previously. Diversity at this level is complemented by our global network of consultants, who we work regularly with in our consultancy, training, and advisory work. Key to INTRAC’s strategic vision is strengthening this network, and shifting the power so that its members are influential in determining INTRAC’s strategic approach and decision making.

But we know that this is not enough, we also need to focus on our own staff make up, and actively work to build on our work to strengthen civil society actors in different contexts, to understand how we can use our own power and privilege in actively anti-racist ways. This means building links with movements calling to shift the power and to decolonise aid; as well as creating space and processes for our own ways of learning and unlearning. We started this journey last year, by setting up an EDI working group, and developing an organisational agenda on EDI. This led to us earlier this year asking INTRAC Trustee, and Co-Director of Global Mentoring Initiative, Smruti Patel to lead a session for us focused on our own power. Willemijn de Bruin reflected on the session in this blog and concluded that she is willing to feel uncomfortable about her own position of power, which will hopefully help her in her efforts to support shifting the power.

We followed this up in June 2022 with INTRAC staff jointly reflecting on a series of papers on white gaze, white privilege and white allyship. This was a starting point for a wider discussion on shifting the power inside INTRAC; focused specifically on the issue of race/anti-racism. This led us to identify a series of actions, responding to our commitment to building a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive culture inside INTRAC, thinking through our own behaviours, assumptions and practices, including how and whom we recruit; what language we use and how we communicate, as well as how we can use our relationships and reputation to establish different ways of designing and delivering advisory support, and unpacking what we mean by quality throughout our consultancy processes.

We are aware that we are near the start of our own EDI journey, but we are committed to it. We have much in place already that will help us on this journey – namely our network consultants, partnerships and senior level commitment from our organisational leadership and board. But we also have much to learn and unlearn, and we hope that by sharing where we are publicly, the wider community around us will help guide us and challenge us as we deepen our understanding and strengthen our practice.

The INTRAC EDI working group was formed last year (for more information see our August 2021 newsletter) and has drawn upon various staff members since its inception. Currently it is comprised of the authors of this blog.

We recognise that EDI goes far deeper than improving your recruitment procedures. Creating an inclusive work culture takes some considered introspection about where we are not doing enough and why we haven’t changed things before. Genuine progress will take honesty and being willing to feel uncomfortable and do things differently. As has been said, we are still early in our journey, but this does not mean that change is a long way off. To say that we don’t have the resources, or put it off to next year is to say that we don’t value this change. We must prove with our actions, not just words, that we do.

Alastair Spray

The blogs in INTRAC’s ongoing series on shifting the power through MEL are available here:

“Reimagining monitoring, evaluation, and learning through African folklore” by Gervin Chanase, “Abuse of power? How M&E systems really operate” by Rod MacLeod, and “To what extent does feminist MEL shift the power?” by Elanor Jackson and Kanwal Ahluwalia