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#AntiRacismInAction: Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise | S2 Ep5

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By the BFELG: #AntiRacismInAction: Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise sector, features Chine McDonald, Director Theos, Catherine Witherington, Chief Executive, Voluntary Action Doncaster, and Maddy Desforges OBE, CEO, NAVCA. The Episode is co-produced by BFELG and FE News, and co-anchored by Gavin O’Meara  (CEO and Head of Digital, FE News) and Stella Ngozi Mbubaegbu CBE, BFELG Director.

BFELG  uses * ’Black’ as an inclusive definition to refer to people from ethnically diverse backgrounds who share a lived experience of  the effects of racism.

Today’s livestream, Season 2 Episode 5 #AntiRacismInAction focuses on the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise sector. Introducing the Episode, Chine McDonald, Director, Theos, shares what Anti-racism means to her: It’s about 3 things – Looking, Listening, and Learning – being aware of the behaviours and practices that oppress people of certain races, not making assumptions (assumptions are the enemy of diversity and inclusion), not being passive, being courageous and getting comfortable with discomfort. It’s also about taking steps out of our comfort zone and recognising that Anti-racism is a journey.

There are around 169,000 charities in the UK and over 80% (136,000+) are small, with an income of less than £1m. Many of these charities struggle with attracting Trustees. It has been reported that there are over 100,000 Trustee vacancies in the UK.

Drawing on a range of data sources, Racial diversity in the charity sector: Principles and recruitment practice (2018) , a publication by ACEVO, (the Charity Leaders Network) and the Institute of Fundraising, reports that the charity sector as a whole ‘is failing to reflect the racial diversity of the individuals, communities and geographic it serves’:

  • Fewer than one in 10 voluntary sector employees (9%) are from Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups (a lower proportion than both the public and private sectors  (both at 11%) and a lower proportion than the UK as a whole (14%)
  • There is less racial diversity at executive and non-executive leadership level in charities
  • Of the largest 500 charities by income, only 5.3% of people in senior leadership teams were from an ethnic minority background
  • Chinese and other Asian ethno-cultural backgrounds are virtually non-existent, making up only 0.3% of charity leaders in the largest 100 charities by income
  •  ACEVO’s Pay and Equalities survey 2018, found that only 3% of charity CEOs were *Black
  • In respect to boards, the Charity Commission’s 2017 research into board effectiveness, found that 92% of all charity trustees were white
  • Only 9.6% of trustees in the top 100 charities by income are from a *Black background.

The ACEVO report highlights that despite repeated attention being drawn to the issue, figures on racial diversity in the charity sector have remained relatively static for a number of years.

Today’s guests, Cath Witherington and Maddy Desforges, explored the unique opportunities and challenges faced by this broad sector in respect of ethnic diversity, and the success factors in seeking to address these, their respective organisational responses to ethnic diversity, and the steps being taken to move forward on this agenda. As custodians of their community legacies, they also offered their personal reflections about how best to harness a shared commitment towards Anti-racism in the sector.

Cath Witherington is the first Chief Executive of Voluntary Action Doncaster, a relatively new Voluntary, Community, and Faith (VCF) Sector Cooperative providing a strong voice and representation for the VCF Sector. It offers infrastructure support and a point of access for commissioning and partnership working to a diverse group of organisations serving the needs of local residents. Voluntary Action Doncaster also supports and matches volunteers from both business and residents to opportunities across Doncaster.  Voluntary Action Doncaster is the first voluntary  sector, BFELG Affiliated Organisation.

Cath has worked across the public, private and third sector with experience of being self-employed, working in SMEs and large public sector organisations as well as being a Governor of an FE institution.   Most of Cath’s career has focused on FE and Skills. She was the Department for Education’s representative on the steering committee of the Black Leadership Initiative (BLI) which won a Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service.

Maddy Desforges is the CEO of the National Association for Voluntary and Community Action (NAVCA), the only national membership body specifically for local sector support and development (local infrastructure)  organisations in England. Local infrastructure organisations help to make places be, somewhere anyone would want to live, work and visit.

NAVCA members (Voluntary Action Doncaster is a member)  support around 200,000 local charities and voluntary groups across the country, helping them to thrive and deliver essential services within their communities. NAVCA speaks about the value and contribution of local infrastructure to policy makers and decision takers, emphasising the impact of their members,  and the vital role they play in building and maintaining strong, resilient and thriving communities. Alongside its members, NAVCA is part of the movement for local social action.

NAVCA  sees racism as a pandemic. The organisation is committed to challenging oppression and prejudice and aims to promote both diversity and full access to opportunity in all areas of its work and structure. Rising to challenge of the continued structural inequalities and racism in our society and within our organisations and institutions that was highlighted in 2020, and also recognising its unique voice and role within the local voluntary sector, NAVCA set out to address these issues – to be  demonstrably Anti- racist; and to work closely with members to be actively Anti-racist.

With candour NAVCA’s Equality and Anti-Racism Statement of Intent acknowledged that as an organisation, they have not been as active as they could and should have been in addressing systemic issues of inequality in their own structures and work, and as part of the movement of local social action have little to no data or understanding of how effectively NAVCA members promote diversity or support inclusion locally. 

So in 2021, NAVCA established an Anti-Racism Group whose purpose is to create a space to raise, discuss and challenge racism where they see it– be that across central and local government, the public sector, the media and the voluntary sector – including in their own organisations, other local infrastructure organisations and those they support. The Group is made up of members, staff and trustees and provides insight, support and challenge to help develop the approach and action plan to become an actively Anti-racist organisation.

The Statement of Intent includes the development and implementation of an equity and Anti-racism action plan. This will be led by Maddy as CEO and will sit alongside NAVCA’s business plan, be embedded in business processes, with reports on progress to every meeting of the Board of Trustees, which will retain overall responsibility.

NAVCA also plans to conduct a member-led race disparity audit of its network and will develop a framework for action in working with its members to address issues identified through the race audit. This ambitious member-led, system-wide approach has enormous potential to transform the sector.

Watch Episode 5 for the full discussion and to hear the guests Catherine Witherington, Maddy Desforges, and co-hosts  share their dream scenarios for #AntiRacismInAction.


Stella Ngozi Mbubaegbu CBE, Black Further Education Leadership Group

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