An Activist? Me? My reflections ahead of a new EDI strategy
Sufina Ahmad reflects on her role as Chair of the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion panel while the #ChangeCollective prepares to launch their new strategy at Fundraising Convention 2019.
“I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.”
Angela Y. Davis, Scholar and Civil Rights Activist
It turns out I am an activist. I’m not sure why this came as a surprise to me in 2018, aged 29. The signs have always been there – I completed successful letter-writing campaigns to fix a broken pedestrian crossing on my walk to primary school and to clean up the alley near where my cousins lived. I complained to my Headteacher and Deputy Headteachers for their rampant Islamophobic comments – much heightened post 9/11 – resulting in public apologies in school assemblies. I have volunteered formally for causes I care about since I was 16, holding several different volunteering and campaigning roles throughout university.
Why then, between the ages of 21 and 29 did I stop thinking of myself as an activist? Honestly, I think it was because I entered the world of work. By working in cause-led roles in civil society and the public sector, to tackle inequalities, I have nurtured and placated the activist within me, without ever having to bring my own visible or invisible labels or experiences into the conversation. My ‘labels’ of being a British Pakistani, Muslim-raised, now atheist daughter of immigrants, and who knows what other labels! By avoiding these labels, operating as an employee, I thought it made it easier to deal with the constant narrative that things are not as bad as they used to be, and I thought that it made it less likely that I would end up an ‘ambassador’ for my labels – as if I alone am an antidote to people’s conscious and unconscious biases.
So, at 29 what switched the activist in me back on? It’s simple really - in February 2018, I took on the role of Chair for the Institute of Fundraising’s expert advisory panel on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI), alongside 19 other volunteers who are experts from different parts of the UK fundraising profession. The Institute is the professional membership body for UK fundraising, supporting excellent fundraising for a better world. The Panel’s role has been to take an intersectional approach to addressing the inequalities that are well-known and well-evidenced in the UK fundraising sector – namely chronic under-representation of LGBT+, disabled and black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) fundraisers at all levels, with women under-represented in senior roles.
Put simply, the Panel was tasked with supporting the Institute to design and launch an EDI Strategy for the fundraising profession, and next week we will do just that. On Wednesday 3 July at the Fundraising Convention 2019, we will share the strategy with you all. To have in one place a succinct but ambitious way forward for making the UK fundraising profession more equal, diverse and inclusive where everyone is the right fit is a huge achievement. I’m looking forward to seeing individuals and organisations champion this strategy and show that they, like the Institute, are committed to addressing the well-known and well-evidenced inequalities that exist in the fundraising profession.
'This strategy is ambitious, and rightly so'
This strategy is ambitious, and rightly so. It builds on the Manifesto for Change and provides richer detail on the principles, activities and changes that we must adopt and by when to ensure that individuals from all backgrounds are not only recruited into the sector but retained and progressed too.
It won’t be an easy or simple strategy to deliver. The things that matter most and have the possibility to create lasting positive change are rarely easy or simple. The Institute cannot achieve all that is outlined in this strategy alone. Indeed, in getting to this stage we have often reached out to others externally and we have always been inspired and thrilled by the quality of the support and feedback received. There are so many individuals and organisations I could list here, but you know who you are, and please know that we are so grateful to you all. A special mention is however owed to Amanda Bringans, Kath Abrahams, Peter Lewis and all the staff and volunteers at the Institute for the transparency, accountability and leadership they have shown throughout this process.
I am so pleased that the Institute has committed to setting up an EDI Committee as part of its formal governance structures, with responsibility for ensuring that the strategy is delivered. But this does mean that my role as Chair of the Expert Panel has come to an end. It has been an utter privilege to work with a panel of superstars from across the fundraising profession who absolutely hear, see and understand each other’s experiences.
Personally, this experience has shown me that you can be an activist and a professional. It has given me the confidence to realise that I can change things that I find unacceptable. I hope that it has given you the confidence to do the same and you will join the Institute and the #ChangeCollective on this journey. So now, I have a new label I like, and I chose – I’m Sufina, and I’m an activist.
The IoF will launch the #ChangeCollective’ Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy for the fundraising profession at Fundraising Convention 2019. We encourage Fundraising Convention delegates to join the launch event at 12:30 on Wednesday 3 July 2019 in the Conservatory at the Barbican.
Copies of the strategy will be available for download from our website.
Sufina Ahmad is Chair of the Expert Panel on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion for the Institute of Fundraising, and works in corporate strategy at the City of London Corporation.