The words diversity, equity, and inclusion have the power to emit a range of emotions. Context, personal background, and field of experience are all factors that influence the lens in which we respond to these terms.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) encompasses the capacity people are able to operate within a system and the policies, practices, and programs that support that process. When I think about DEI, I think about my mother who has spent the past 38 years living in a system that was not built for her. A powerful five feet and four inches tall (allegedly), she lives in a home that was built with my father in mind. Long before my mother moved into what is now our family home, my father who stands six feet and two inches tall built our house with his brothers nearly five years prior, all of whom are no less than six feet and two inches tall. Gone were the days where my father and his brothers needed to stoop in the comfort of their own homes. The cabinets, counters, furniture, and closets were all built for their comfort with their height and reach in mind. What did that mean for my mother? Decades of stools, step ladders, and asking anyone within earshot could they reach something for her. Simple tasks I never thought twice about completing took her extra effort, thought, work, and time. This was and is her everyday reality.
As I reflect on my own work, I often think about how people operate within systems that were or were not structured with them in mind.
A story more familiar to many of us that also applies to DEI in the current moment: The Tortoise and the Hare. Much like the tortoise, a commitment to exploring and truly discussing the concepts of diversity, equity, and inclusion is a process that is slow and steady.
The Community Foundation of Sarasota County’s dedication to the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion began long before the formulation of the Board of Director’s DEI Task Force in 2019. The commitment to listen, collaborate, and partner are grounded in our core values of compassion, innovation, and inclusiveness.
Working in tandem, our board and the Community Foundation’s staff, that I proudly joined this Spring, are on a multi-year journey to ensure we embody (1) a diversity of people and perspectives, (2) that we are listening and learning through effective community engagement, and (3) – ultimately – applying our resources to make a measurable impact on equity and disparities. As a result, the Community Foundation developed a Knowledge and Equity Department and a critical lens to view the totality of our work in each of these key areas.
Building on years of internal training, assessment, and evaluation the launch of the Knowledge and Equity Department demonstrates a significant long-term commitment to DEI and a working commitment to affirm we are partnering to create a community where everyone can thrive.
Thoughtfully and meaningfully, the work moves forward.
Over the course of the next year, the Knowledge and Equity team will use data and an equity lens to guide our activities. Through data, we will deepen our understanding of the community and the needs of the many different co-communities across our growing region. Through engagement, we will expand our reach and listen to the experiences of residents. Through The Giving Partner, we will foster connections and measure our impact.
We are listening. We are learning. We are partnering to develop community specific solutions and responses through a knowledge and equity framework.
I believe the strength of the community lies within the strength of its partnerships and trusted relationships. Through data sharing, together with the community, we can develop localized solutions and innovations that reflect our needs and aspirations.
Here are a few upcoming activities from the Knowledge and Equity Department I am excited about:
- Nonprofit Listening Sessions by Sector: Using participatory listening sessions as a community feedback loop for continuous improvement and integrating data into day-to-day decision making around our impact and initiatives.
- Indicator Research and Reporting: Government, business, nonprofits, and donors will have data available to better inform and empower the community to make customized decisions.
- Platform Updates to The Giving Partner: The Giving Partner will be updated to showcase more elements of diversity (as described by Candid’s national metrics) and need as we continue to “peel back the layers” of our community through many viewpoints.
- Internal Assessment and Evaluation: Holding ourselves accountable by measuring our own DEI policies, programs, and procedures.
- Capacity Building and Convenings: Communicating the importance of DEI externally, and providing nonprofit organizations opportunities to have expertly led capacity-building programs.
- The 2022 Giving Challenge: A 24-hour giving event that brings together nearly 700 local nonprofits with their passionate donors and community members to support causes and missions they care about while creating transformative impact, happening from noon to noon, April 26 and 27, 2022.
I look forward to the Foundation’s continued work of cultivating diversity, embodying equity, fostering inclusivity, and nurturing belonging. This will be a journey. At times it may be uncomfortable. There is no change without growth, and no growth without discomfort. Returning home after college to find the kitchen rearranged with my mother in mind took some adjustment, but that was nothing compared to the decades she spent adapting her daily tasks to function in her own home.
I am fortunate to work for an organization that is dedicated to improving the lives of all people. I am thankful for the thoughtfulness and leadership of the board and staff as well as their commitment to doing the work. Much like life, DEI is a marathon not a sprint whose race will go not to the swift but to those who are steady.
Note: Header photo and text from www.read.gov (http://read.gov/aesop/025.html)