This article explores critical questions that arise from the difficulty of incorporating equity into the culture, analysis, leadership, and ultimately progress of nonprofits, funders, and individuals when working in external collaborative spaces. The author draws on her experience as the Executive Director of Mile High Connects, a broad, cross-sector partnership of organizations committed to increasing access to housing choices, good jobs, quality schools and essential services via public transit, to offer a reflection on her work on core issues of equity in a collaborative space; in so doing, she surfaces the challenges that arise from work whose very nature and structure can complicate efforts to be more inclusive and equitable.
Working collaboratively and across sectors is a common approach among nonprofits. Yet efforts to apply an equity lens to this work can easily be derailed if members of the group are not sensitive to the pitfalls and premises of their approach. From a deeply personal and reflective space, the author highlights several considerations for collaborative groups whose membership is multidimensional in personal and professional background and experience of being advantaged or disadvantaged by societal structures and organizational cultures:
- Make issues of equity relate more to your everyday work
- Navigate the power differential and dynamic between foundations, nonprofits and stakeholders and understand how that impacts the progress of equity work
- Understand whether a strategy for producing equity is based on an approach of operating from within a pre-existing system, or of dismantling structural inequalities
- Balance the differing levels of comfort and progress of your collaborative partners in the area of equity
While the author doesn’t solve the issue for us, her piece serves as an important reminder to those of us working in collaborative spaces to stay mindful of the ways in which the beliefs, experiences, and structure of the group can impede or enable progress towards equity.