Reflections on the ‘Home Truths’ report on racism in the charity sector – part 2

Members of NCVO’s equity, diversity and inclusion group share their initial responses to the recent report from Voice4Change England and Acevo on racism in the charity sector. This does not replace a more formal response from NCVO to the specific recommendations but forms part of an ongoing conversation about what equity, diversity and inclusion mean for both NCVO and the charity sector.

Jarina Choudhury

Why is talking about race so difficult? I am really intrigued by this problem. What does it conjure up for people? Is it about lack of vocabulary, fear of using the ‘wrong’ vocabulary, fear of losing face, humiliation – what is at the heart of the problem?

Civil Society Futures spent time exploring this and one of their findings was that we now live in a post-racial society – which seems laughable given the current demonstrations and frustrations expressed by  the Black Lives Matter movement. Isn’t the lack of willingness to address race in the charity sector going to be much more damaging and far-reaching than making some mistakes along the way? Why isn’t learning and doing better as we go held up as an attractive and better proposition? While there is a refusal to accept there is a problem, there will never be any hope of resolution.

Charities that look upon themselves as above or to having transcended racism are dangerous. Charity leaders have earnest intentions and charities themselves are held up as striving for equity and justice. It is because of this they are presumed to be free of racism. But as the report shows, this is not the case. Guess we’ve been busy talking about ‘safeguarding’ in government terms since 2012 and ignored the fact that racism affects mental health and wellbeing, both of which are related to safeguarding.

Let’s make the time for uncomfortable discussions – there is no point talking about race without mentioning racism. That’s why there is a report on race in the first place. These are great opportunities for learning and self-development, let’s all find the courage to seize them.

Rebecca Young

I have never had rose-tinted spectacles about the charity sector because I have seen the negative impact of paternalistic approaches in my life. But it is only in recent years when I have had the opportunity to work with more BAME colleagues, that I have begun to understand the way charities and people like me are shaped by and perpetuate racism. I am not immune from racism just because I believe in social justice, and the same goes for the organisations I have worked and volunteered for. I have benefitted from the white privilege and power of the policy profession.

We all have a role and responsibility, no matter what our role is in an organisation, to tackle racism in all the forms it takes. For me, that starts with trusting BAME colleagues who have been brave and generous in sharing their experiences. Don’t explain away or dismiss their experiences. Don’t assume that racism doesn’t exist if they are silent, or you haven’t seen it or heard it. I am committed to using my voice and position to support BAME staff and hold my organisation to account.

Sarah Vibert

I am reading this report as NCVO comes to the end of the first phase of our own EDI work. Through this – and in particular because of the leadership and work of BAME colleagues at NCVO – I’ve come to recognise a truth that even six months ago I found very difficult to confront.  Institutional racism permeates all part of our society, that includes charities, and it includes NCVO.

I recognise that it’s no good for me to say – as I have done in the past – that I don’t like racism or talk about it in an abstract way in which I attempt to distance myself from it.  I forced myself to read this report as a mirror; I am part of the problem and I must do more to recognise, challenge and dismantle the power and privilege that I have benefited from.

So most importantly, moving from words to actions. Firstly, I acknowledge that as a white leader in the charity sector, unless I am actively dismantling racism, I am complicit in it. Every day I will do the ‘little big things’ that will make NCVO – and the wider sector – a more inclusive place to work and volunteer. I will continue to learn about racism and anti-racist leadership practice and encourage others to do the same. I hear the frustration from my BAME colleagues with the slow pace of change and I will not leave the work to them.  I will make sure that NCVO responds in full to recommendations made in this report and sets out in detail how we will build them into our own action plan on EDI.

Sara Gvero

Like the rest of the sector and wider society, NCVO needs to work to address institutional racism within the organisation. Following the work led by the BAME network and the EDI working group, the mental health network has taken its first step in creating a space to dissect and address the role of racism and white supremacy in our wellbeing. We wanted to share some of this work here as well as reflect on the report from ACEVO and Voice4Change.

In response to the recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery in the United States, the network decided to act to address the impact that these events were likely to have on the wellbeing of BAME members of staff. We posted two messages in our internal channels, where they could be read by the whole organisation. The first message aimed to highlight resources of support for colleagues who experience racism, such as links to specialist mental health support and resources to engage in black self-care. Mental health is deeply affected by racism and other forms of social injustice and for this reason, we focused our second message on taking tangible action.

We invited white colleagues to support their BAME peers by offering practical support, especially in relation to workloads, actively supporting anti-racist causes (for example by donating or signing petitions) and interrogating themselves on their role in upholding systemic racism. Crucially, we invited white staff to read and share books and articles written by BAME authors, and to follow the social media accounts of BAME public figures, to learn about their experiences of and beyond racism. For white people, part of dismantling racism must be opening their eyes to the complexity of people’s lives and expanding their anti-racist reading list beyond materials that allow them to uphold their saviour position. A good place to start is the online magazine Gal-Dem, which ACEVO and Voice4Change also mention in the report.

For white voluntary sector workers, it is crucial to keep working on understanding how they benefit from and contribute to racism, and we intend to keep sharing resources and promoting actions aimed at addressing this internally. We invite those who are reading this blog to do the same and have included links that can be used to question their own privilege and learn how to become an effective ally.


This sits alongside a blog from members of NCVO’s BAME network: Reflections on the ‘Home Truths’ report on racism in the charity sector – part 1


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