The CIVICUS Diversity and Inclusion journey continued

Diversity and Inclusion has become a hot topic within civil society in recent years. Knowing there is no ‘people power’ without true principles of diversity of inclusion, many in the sector are taking a step back and evaluating how this core principle is being integrated into programmes and operations.

The CIVICUS alliance sees the diversity and inclusion journey as one that civil society must embark on as a collective. Organisations may be at different stages of this fluid journey but we must encourage each other to push forward and engage in dynamic accountability. This area of focus is forever expanding so there is no end point that we are striving for, but instead we must ensure that we go beyond surface level commitments to tackle institutional structures from all perspectives.

CIVICUS has also had many moments of reflection over the past year in particular, on the principles of diversity and inclusion (D&I). CIVICUS also launched the Social Inclusion Toolkit in 2018 to help members assess their work on social inclusion.

December 2018

A delegation of CIVICUS members from across the globe convened on the 16 December 2018 in Montevideo, Uruguay at the Global Learning Exchange to i) discuss what diversity & inclusion means within the civil society sector, ii) identify obstacles that organisations and individual activists face, and iii) share best practices and tips. The exchange drew perspectives from a wide breadth of civil society geographically and thematically, with representation from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, India, Ireland, North Macedonia, Malawi, Mexico, Philippines, South Africa and Zambia. 

Each participant had unique perspectives and had tested different approaches to diversity and inclusion, they had the opportunity to share and learn from each other. This led to discussions on the need to continue this conversation with broader civil society, to further the positive learning exchange. After the exchange, this group kept in touch, and identified the need for a safe space to discuss diverse and inclusive principles within civil society.

At the Global Learning Exchange the participants brainstormed and created the following working definitions of diversity and inclusion:

Diversity is a free and safe space in which complex perspectives, differences and intersectionality are celebrated as strengths and opportunities for innovation, acceptance and collaboration. Trust is a key concept, between and within diverse communities and groups.

Inclusion is the action point of diversity, a dynamic and continuous process that works on multiple political, economic and social levels, and leaves no one behind. It works to build meaningful connections between groups, and sometimes unlikely allies, toward a positive outcome for disenfranchised populations. Tokenism and quotas vs meaningful inclusion as a complex system (there is no ‘one size fits all’) was emphasized

January 2019
As the conversation on D&I within the CIVICUS alliance took off, the secretariat decided to launch its own commitment to diversity and inclusion by publishing the CIVICUS Diversity and Inclusion Statement that went through each of the main functions of the CIVICUS secretariat and added how that function would commit to ensure diversity and inclusion.

April 2019
The conversation from the Global Learning Exchange continued into International Civil Society Week (ICSW), held in Belgrade, Serbia 8 – 12 April 2019. CIVICUS members held a session on the practicalities of D&I within different spheres. These discussions focused on the workplace, education systems, intergenerational collaboration and access to justice. The discussions in Serbia reinforced the need for deep dive dialogues as many excluded groups felt that civil society still only practices D&I on the surface level rather than pursuing meaningful culture shifts.

April – June 2019
CIVICUS members from the Global Learning Exchange, as well as interested members from ICSW and the Youth Assembly, then took these conversations online and contributed to a brainstorm document. Using an online google document, questions were posed on what kind of space was needed, what was the purpose, what were the long term objectives, what is the best way to run, is a structure necessary etc. Members then had the opportunity to enter their input and interact with each other’s input to add on and track the progression of the conversation. This method was a great way to capture everyone’s input without a note-taker’s implicit bias, and was also easy to find the points of intersection amongst everyone’s perspectives. These conversations led to launching an online platform in July 2019 (please see further below).

May 2019
CIVICUS facilitated a peer exchange learning experience for its AGNA members on incorporating diversity and inclusion within their organisation and networks. This workshop focused on unpacking concepts (ie. diversity, inclusion, intersectionality and power), looked at the benefits of diversity and inclusion within civil society, analyzed case studies within the sector, and worked on mapping all of the different areas within an organisation that could require a D&I strategy. This conversation led to the AGNA members present share the findings and importance of D&I at the AGNA Annual General meeting in June 2019 where AGNA decided that D&I was going to be a priority for organisations within the network.

July 2019 Launching DIGNA: Diversity & Inclusion Group for Networking and Action
Using the brainstorm document, the alliance pulled out the most agreed upon steps forward and circulated an informal concept note proposing concrete steps forward:

  • The Diversity & Inclusion Group for Networking and Action (DIGNA) will use facebook as its platform for people to interact directly.
  • A rotating advisory group (8-10 people) will help moderate this space, beginning with an incubation advisory group that represents each region.
  • The purpose of this group is:
    • The Diversity & Inclusion Group for Networking and Action (DIGNA) brings together change-makers and thought leaders passionate about strengthening an inclusive and diverse civil society – including CIVICUS members, civil society organisations, groups, and activists, and their allies. This working group seeks to understand, conceptualise and identify innovative practices on what diversity and inclusion (D&I) can look like within different thematic areas and operating models.
    • The group is a safe space where members can support each other to improve organisational structure and processes, ways of working and impact with a focus on D&I. Regardless of our fight against all the backlash and consequences of inequality and segregation, we will shine a spotlight and learn from positive examples and benchmarks from around the globe. This group encourages discussion and debate on D&I issues, is a space for sharing positive experiences and practices, resources and tools, and lessons learned, and offers a channel to request for help, support and collaboration, and post potential opportunities.
  • The group was launched in July 2019 and has already now amassed almost 1000 members interested in making civil society a more diverse and inclusive place.
  • In September 2019 the Incubation Advisory group met in Tbilisi, Georgia to analyze how the group was being received and how to plan activities accordingly.

September 2019 Launching the D&I Pilot Programme
In September the Diversity and Inclusion Pilot Programme was launched as 8 member organisations were selected through an open call to enter into a 9 month programme designed to help increase the organisations’ commitment to Diversity and Inclusion. Each organisation went through a stocktaking audit exercise where external consultants spent time in the organisation and provided recommendations on how to improve policies in place, create new policies, and how to address workplace culture to ensure diversity and inclusion are championed principles on all levels of the organisation. The pilot organisations have been working on action plans on how to address the recommendations and had a meeting in December 2019 in Manila, the Philippines with each other to share and learn from each other’s experiences.

November 2019
CIVICUS organized a training on Feminist Leadership for its AGNA members facilitated by a member of the DIGNA Advisory Group. This training unpacked concepts such as power, intersectional feminism, leadership and systems of oppression such as capitalism, colonialism and patriarchy. Through the understanding of traditional leadership, participants were able to identify how traditional power structures lead to exclusion and harmful cultural practices. Participants were able to identify areas within their organisation that could benefit from a Feminist Leadership approach that focused more on values and principles.

2020 and onwards!
There is so much coming up from the CIVICUS alliance surrounding diversity and inclusion that is to be excited about! Keep an eye out for engagement opportunities and reach out to with any questions or inquiries.

Read part one of the Diversity and Inclusion journey here

[Image Iain Merchant]