Mario Mažić & Maja Nenadović
As a member of CIVICUS, the Global Alliance of civil society and activists to strengthen citizen action, the Balkan Civil Society Development Network (BCSDN) participated in a pilot program by CIVICUS DIGNA, whose aims were identifying how civil society organizations deliver on their diversity and inclusion (D&I) commitments. While engaging organizations from different regions of the world, the pilot program also involved international teams of consultants to ensure that the D&I audits were conducted with a universal view of human rights values and D&I compliance standards and, at the same time, also ensured a high level of understanding of the local context and with particular local sensitivity.
Conducting a D&I audit with BCSDN was a unique and very positive experience. We know that policies and written rules can only get you so far. When it comes to issues such as ensuring an environment free from discrimination or harassment, where people can fully be themselves, both the rules and procedures, as well as the culture and “soft” ingredients of how teams and individuals conduct themselves are relevant. We noticed a firm commitment both within the executive management and BCSDN’s Board members on D&I issues. If the leadership is not serious about it, if it’s not self-critical and open to having uncomfortable conversations and a space for all members of the team to speak up about their experiences, there is not much that can be done in reality. In this regard, the audit showed that the organizational reality is such that team members feel free to share and voice their concerns. In addition, BCSDN had adopted a set of policies, as well as incorporated D&I considerations and mechanisms in all of its main statutory documents and bylaws. Likewise, BCSDN embraced the feminist leadership principles, which creates an environment conducive to the development of an open organizational culture.
Where the audit made a difference was in identifying D&I gaps, that is, mechanisms that might be weak in case any substantial problems arise, as well as concerning strategic communications about the D&I commitments. On the former, the need for an internal complaints mechanism that is safe, effective and that ensures no retribution to staff that might lodge a complaint was identified. Moreover, there were areas where BCSDN largely assumed but did not have all commitments and issues codified in its documents. Concerning D&I related communications, a recommendation was made for BCSDN to openly share its progress and learning with partners and external constituents.
Regarding the Global Standard’s commitment #1 on Justice & Equality, the audit helped BCSDN further improve its context analysis process and understanding of the perspectives of its constituents and stakeholders, by providing a tailored framework that the organization can refer to and take into account when considering programmatic prioritization and thinking about the actual impact of its work (context sensitive programming). The D&I audit conducted with BCSDN did not limit to internal issues; it also looked at how BCSDN takes the perspectives and grievances of its constituents into account for program design and implementation.
On the Global Standard’s commitment #2 on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, BCSDN is in many ways a champion. In addition to promoting the feminist leadership principles, BCSDN takes gender considerations seriously in all aspects of its programming and operations.
Finally, on the Global Standard’s commitment #4 on Creating a Lasting Positive Change, we worked with BCSDN so its approach to D&I can inspire other organizations in the region. In this regard, BCSDN was recommended to share its lessons, perspectives and practice more broadly. The Balkans region faces numerous challenges in regards to the exclusion and discrimination of marginalized groups, and this is not exclusive to government institutions, but it is often present within the civil society space as well. Creating a change for some, that is, those who are already in a privileged position in a society, is not something that an organization of BCSDN’s profile can be satisfied with. Ensuring that the changes it seeks to achieve impact everyone, including the marginalized groups in society, is crucial for BCSDN’s programming. Helping other organizations understand how to take everyone along, how to integrate perspectives of marginalized groups in policy and program development, how to ensure openness and an equal opportunity for sharing their grievances, can be BCSDN’s meaningful contribution to the regional (civil society) context. We thus encouraged BCSDN to more proactively share not only what they do, but how they do it