How to focus on equity in international development – starting with ourselves – Nikita Yasmin Shah

The concept of challenging power imbalances in the international development sector is not new. Yet, over the past year, more and more organisations have engaged in critical conversations and processes of self-reflection to better identify and understand the impact of colonial legacies and racial inequality in our work, in our organisations and our relationship with the Global South. As we re-imagine development, it is important to understand the multiple layers of equity and how they intersect. Equity is often confused with equality, but equity focuses on the deeply rooted power imbalances within the historical context, allowing a deeper understanding of why issues of inequality exist within a context.

This can often be challenging. Ensuring workplaces are equitable requires organisations to reflect on their internal structures and processes, while also reviewing their external partnerships and more. Equality is often a key objective of development assistance and equity is increasingly considered as well. Yet, the international development sector lacks a tool to understand and further equity within its own ranks. The Equity Index paves a way for organisations to centralise focus on equity, as we strive towards making instrumental changes in the international development sector.

“We believe that equity deserves a place at the heart of the UK’s international development agenda” – The Equity Index

The Equity Index is an anti-racist and feminist UK social enterprise advocating for greater equity across the international development sector, with a goal to demonstrate a new and impactful way of measuring equitable practice within and across development organisations. As equity has many layers, the Index will focus on measuring and tracking racial and gender equity, and equity in knowledge production, in funding, in collaborations and more.

The Index is currently in its pilot stage, developing preliminary indicators to measure equity in organisational policies, practices and partnerships. Agulhas was pleased to provide in-kind support from Nikita Shah to the Equity Index team, by conducting a comparative mapping exercise of the different ways in which equity can and has been measured, assessed and approached.

To inform the development of the indicators it was important to first understand the current landscape; who is working in this space, what are the gaps, and what can we learn from? During the initial research stages, the Equity Index team collated a list of indices and sources to review and learn from. Agulhas then helped to develop a comparator analytical framework which separated sources into two categories:

  1. Organisational indexes that have relevant components or indicators to cover different aspects of equity and;
  2. Other broader sources, including indexes and datasets, that measure indicators relevant to different aspects of equity.

We then collected information on the approach taken by an index or data source to measure equity-related or otherwise relevant concepts and mapped their indicators against the Equity’s Index’s model of internal and external equity. Additionally, information regarding the methodological approaches and different understandings of equity were included.

Through this mapping exercise, a number of key learnings were identified to help inform the work of the Equity Index:

“Firstly, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to creating an index, although many organisational indices in the development or social change sectors do share several common features. The traditional assumption that indices should rank organisations is not true in every case; different approaches to presenting results exist, and can be tailored to the type of change the index advocates. This means that apart from some shared features, there is no ‘orthodoxy’ that must be rigidly followed when creating an index.”

This is particularly helpful as it is important for organisations to be able to measure how equitable, both internally and externally, their organisations are. But this is just the starting point. For organisations that are truly committed to equity, this process will take time and continued work to improve, test, learn and adapt.

 “One of the key gaps in organisational indices that include personal characteristics is a more intersectional approach – the strongest focus to date is on gender, with other areas comparatively neglected. One of the more difficult aspects for organisations to capture qualitatively in indices is how to measure overall organisational culture, and the ways in which employees and partners experience power dynamics in working for or with an organisation.”

This is particularly relevant as organisations start to think about how they champion diversity and inclusion both internally and externally, while also demonstrating the social value of their work. The key element here is the power dynamic. As the sector thinks through how it might shift the balance of power from the Global North to the Global South, utilising an intersectional approach will be important.

 “As the saying goes, what matters gets measured, and what gets measured matters. But it is also important to note that an index focused on equity from an intersectional perspective may not be able to collect data and measure against everything that matters – just because it is not captured directly in an index, does not mean it is not important, and organisations should therefore not rely solely on indices to guide their internal change initiatives.”

The mapping has informed a preliminary development of indicators for the Equity Index, helping bring to the surface questions around how to best structure the Index and where there are gaps in knowledge to be addressed.

The Equity Index promises to serve an important purpose. The Index will support our sector in a number of ways; setting a standard and a horizontal baseline by which to measure organisations, helping individuals and companies to contextualise challenges around racial, gender and other inequalities, and identifying gaps in understanding where we need to prioritise and shift our focus in order to address these inequalities.

Agulhas’ hope for the Index is that it will allow organisations to be held accountable for the statements they post and the commitments they make, and to ensure that they learn from failure. This is essential. By doing so, not only can workers hold employers to account but so too can global partners. Accountability paired with transparency is key to progress being made.

To seriously reimagine what the international development sector could look like in the future, addressing inequality and inequity within our own organisations will be a stepping stone on this journey. We must utilise every tool at our disposal in order to do so – which is why we look forward to seeing what the next stages of the Equity Index’s journey will bring.

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