Anti-Oppression Allyship in Global Development

The events of the past year have brought new attention to long-standing inequities in American society. More people have risen up to resist the deeply entrenched systemic racism in our country.  More people are stepping up to call racism by its name and take a more active role in opposing and dismantling it.

For those of us who work to address global challenges, lessons for anti-racist allies are equally applicable to our global development work. Renewed focus on addressing systemic racism in the US provides opportunities for transformative thought and action by American foundations working in the international arena.

International anti-oppression allies resist all structures of oppression, regardless of the category used to sort, “otherize,” and discriminate against any human being (including race, ethnicity, class, caste, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability and so on).

As privileged North Americans working in global development, now is the time to recommit to work as international anti-oppression allies, to own our privilege, and to listen, learn, and take responsibility. We must recognize:

Our privilege is a threat.  An international anti-oppression ally recognizes that our work often replicates, justifies, and props up oppressive structures operating inside our own organizations and through the programming we fund. We are not saviors.

Our privilege is also an asset.  We have an intimate understanding of the way power works to open doors, elevate voices and bridge what inequity has divided. We can use our leverage to bend systems and processes towards justice.

Getting Started

This is big stuff.  Where do we start?  As an evaluator, I’m keen to understand how my own practice and perspective needs to change and how I can support the transformation of evaluation itself to become a tool “for and of equity” as called for by the Equitable Evaluation Initiative.

Community conversations spur learning and commitment. The Funder and Evaluator Affinity Network (FEAN) recently released its Call to Action series spotlighting innovative ways to tackle challenges in philanthropic evaluation. “Evaluation is so White,” drafted by FEAN’s Evaluators of Color Action Team provides exciting answers to the question, “What will it take for evaluators of color to flourish in the evaluation ecosystem?” That paper called out the systemic barriers evaluators of color face, and that diminish and deplete the entire field.

So, how can we leverage insights and energy in the US to reconsider and reimagine the way we support change overseas?  FEAN’s Global Challenge’s Call to Action outlines steps towards building a robust and inclusive evaluation ecosystem to enable philanthropic evaluation’s contribution to global transformation. The brief includes timely and practical recommendations for strengthening shared identity, leadership and member engagement, funding and supporting policies, the knowledge base, and identifying exemplars of practice.

Moving forward

Real and sustained change is only possible if members of the communities that philanthropy seeks to benefit have meaningful roles in making decisions that affect their lives. “Nothing about us, without us” is true of philanthropic programming.  Funders, evaluation firms, and the field’s infrastructure organizations – each have an important role to play in cultivating an ecosystem that is more inclusive of diverse perspectives and lived expertise. People whose lives foundations seek to improve should hold positions of influence in the organizations that fund, implement and evaluate programming.

According to the Global Fund for Community Foundations, an ally goes beyond funding programming and hiring local evaluators to ensure that “local people have control over the resources they need to enable them to build the communities they want.” Movements like #ShiftthePower and community philanthropy are reshaping our understanding of what just engagement looks like. Organizations such as The Share Trust, Network for Empowered Aid Response, Thousand Currents, and Radical Flexibility Fund are demonstrating how to nurture and finance local solutions for local people with global implications.

Opportunities abound when it comes to harnessing existing assets and expertise, developing connections across practitioners, and leveraging existing infrastructure to build capacity. Now is a critical window of time to seize these opportunities given the scale and complexity of the challenges we collectively face.

Continue the Learning & Conversation

In this spirit of collective action, FEAN is partnering with GEO on a webinar series highlighting the learnings from its new Call to Action resources. The first of these is scheduled next week on Thursday, June 17 and will focus on evaluation for global transformation and strengthening evaluator collaborations and knowledge-sharing. The second session on Thursday, July 15 will focus on actionable strategies to make evaluations more useful to philanthropy and to help evaluators of color thrive.