Centering equity in cross-sector collaborations

blogimage_CenteringEquityEquity is a value that can guide efforts in many issue areas, and it often becomes an imperative for those living and working in disinvested communities that aspire to a higher quality of life and better education, employment, and health-related opportunities. Equity has often been relegated to a marginalized position in policy-making agendas and collaborative efforts, however, contributing to the persistence of some of the most deep-seated inequalities in our country. By ignoring equity as a key consideration in efforts to solve deep-seated social issues, practitioners are allowing disparities to remain invisible and unaddressed.

Practitioners, funders, and researchers came together in New Orleans recently to participate in a plenary session organized by the Collective Impact Forum called Equity Matters in the Collective Impact.” The plenary session encouraged practitioners to make equity a centerpiece of their collective impact work. Angela Glover Blackwell, the founder and CEO of PolicyLink, delivered a keynote address and spoke eloquently about the need to center equity in collaborative efforts. She spoke of an experience that brought to light the key policy decisions and outcomes that can result from prioritizing equity in collaborative efforts. Leading the Urban Strategies Council through an intersector collaboration in Alameda County focused on infant mortality rates, Blackwell’s team disaggregated data by race and gender to highlight the disparities in infant mortality rates that existed in these communities. Her team found that disinvestment in public health disproportionately affected African-American community members. Leaders from the county Asian and Latino health centers agreed that health-related funds needed to be disbursed, not equally among the health centers, but in proportion with the need of each community, resulting in a higher portion of the funds allocated to community based health centers that served predominantly African-American community members. Additionally, church leaders recognized that they were centrally located in the communities with the highest needs and stepped up to participate in connecting residents with each other and to have local churches serve as spaces for community gathering and support.

Panelists William Buster, Director of the Mississippi and New Orleans programs at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Ashleigh Gardere, Senior Advisor to New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Blackwell, and Steve Patrick from the Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions, who moderated the discussion, deepened the discussion on the appropriate approach and considerations funders and practitioners need to follow to “place equity squarely on the table”:

  • Emphasize the disaggregation of data to make disparities more visible.
  • Invite a wide array of community actors to the table in the initial design stages of an initiative to involve these partners in key decisions and ensure partners’ buy-in.
  • When working in historically disinvested communities, take time to understand the racial history and its ever-present effects on community members’ collective memory. Recognize that community members often have had limited decision-making power over matters that affect their communities.
  • Understand that racial equity cannot be achieved in a grant cycle timeline or in an election cycle timeline. Funders need to help build civic capacity and infrastructure for the continued work needed to realize long-term gains.
  • Community members, policy makers, and business leaders alike should leverage the deep knowledge base that individuals have built during past efforts at effectively addressing issues in their communities and combine that knowledge with new tools that have emerged.

In their closing remarks, panelists reminded attendees that major demographic changes are on the horizon. Blackwell estimated that by 2044, the United States will be primarily composed of people of color. Making equity a centerpiece of collaborative work allows practitioners to think critically about the sustainability of their communities in light of these demographic changes and to imagine how they can “lift up…systems to fully tap the potential of the nation.”