Mainstreaming diversity and inclusion within the international civil society: CIVICUS DIGNA’s approach.

By December 9, 2020 NMedia, Uncategorized

Mainstreaming diversity and inclusion within the international civil society: CIVICUS DIGNA’s approach.

Interview with Suhani Bhushan (CIVICUS Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator)

While there has been a lot of attention to diversity and inclusion (D&I) issues within the public administration and the private companies, we recently talked to Suhani Bhushan, CIVICUS diversity and inclusion coordinator, to discuss how CSOs can advance these issues internally, that is within an organization. We also learned about CIVICUS recent work around a D&I audit to map out strengths and weaknesses with an organization, which would -in turn- contribute to the formulation of an improvement plan.

GS: How did CIVICUS start to address diversity and inclusion issues?

SB: At CIVICUS, we wanted to address diversity & inclusion (D&I) within civil society as all organizations can improve and move forward in their journey. Even CSOs that work on D&I thematic issues may not necessarily practice inclusive policies internally, or they still have significant work to do. While there is literature available on D&I, there is actually very little literature in relation to the unique sphere of civil society. In 2018, we held a global learning exchange in Uruguay to discuss the meaning of D&I for civil society. It became evident from alliance members that there was a need for a platform to continue discussing this issue and to identifying innovative practices within CSO’s different thematic areas and operating models. Therefore, CIVICUS launched DIGNA: Diversity and Inclusion for Networking and Action – which also means ‘dignity’ in Spanish.

Portraits of the DIGNA Advisory Group by Natalie Veryb


As part of our DIGNA work, we have a Facebook group with over 1700 members. In 2019, we published the report “Holding the Mirror Up to Ourselves: Diversity and Inclusion Practices and Trends in Civil Society.” This report lists the 10 D&I principles, as well as tools and examples from organizations around the world in mainstreaming D&I within a CSO, such as Plan International’s Gender and Inclusion Review (GIR), and the Disability Inclusion Scorecard developed by Light for the World.

GS: Why is it important for a CSO to have a diversity and inclusion lens?

SB: D&I can mean different things in different arenas and it keeps evolving. From our perspective, diversity means ensuring that people who have been traditionally excluded are visible in decision-making processes. Yet, this is a first step, as having people sitting in the room or attending a meeting is not sufficient. People also need to feel safe to be able to participate in a meaningful way in those spaces – which is the inclusion dimension of the D&I equation.

For international civil society, it is important to question our own structures as they tend to replicate systems of oppression such as patriarchy, colonialism and/ or capitalism from broader society. If these structures and processes are not addressed at its core, D&I work remains tokenistic.

Also, for civil society, people are at the heart of our work: we rely on people and we aim to serve people. So, we must celebrate the diversity within the people we aim to serve if we are aiming to provide programming that is truly beneficial and sustainable

GS: How is CIVICUS/ DIGNA promoting a D&I lens within the international CSO community?

SB: In 2019, we launched a pilot program with a group of member organizations from CIVICUS who were diverse in terms of their size, as well as regional and thematic focus – in order to test the impact of inclusive practices. We paired up these organizations with consultants from their regions – who understood their local context and language.  They all co-created a framework – based on the Gender-at-Work analytical framework – in order to conduct the D&I audit as the initial step in the process. The D&I audits looked at each organization’s policies and systems, but also involved individual interviews and focus groups meetings with staff across the organization. As a result, the D&I audits helped get a picture of various elements within an organization, such as the existence of a sexual harassment policy, a complaints mechanism, and accessibility at work and acted as a driver of change to inspire the organizations to commit to this work.  Each organization then made an action plan to address quick wins which could be implemented immediately, and also identified what success would look like in the long term.

YPARD DRC doing constituent interviews for their D&I Pilot Programme


The D&I Pilot Programme participants meeting in Manila, Philippines


Based on the D&I audit pilot, we are launching a diagnostic tool which will provide CSOs a starting point where they can build their own strategies – since this cannot be ad hoc work – and against which to monitor progress.

Screenshot from the D&I Diagnostic Tool Launching later this year


GS: Can you share some actions, tools and examples implemented by CSOs from around the world in order to become more diverse and inclusive?

SB:   Through the pilot program, the participants developed manuals and provided staff training on people’s rights, raising awareness about the various steps to be followed and types of consequences if rights are not respected. They also identified work plans for each specific staff person based on her/ his own work on how to become more inclusive. For instance, a financial officer within an organization was tasked with looking at how to include disability accommodation in the budget proposed to donors. So, instead of such organization saying that there was not budget for it, they decided to add D&I as a budget line in the proposals for donors.

GS: Can you share any lessons learned or advice for CSOs that might be interested in embarking on this issue further?

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to mainstreaming D&I issues within an organization. Each CSO works in a particular context, so what works for one organization may not necessarily work for another one. Also, D&I issues are constantly evolving. Further, it is important to conduct a risk assessment among the staff of an organization in case there are negative or hostile reactions, as staff may be unfamiliar or uncomfortable with these issues, so it might take additional time. Finally, it is crucial to promote horizontal accountability for D&I within an organization, as it is not something that one person in an organization can do alone. Everyone needs to know how they can contribute – both individually and as a collective.

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