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What We Learned Our First Year

Beloved Community
Sep 18, 2018 · 10 min read

Eighteen months ago, we started sharing our vision for Beloved Community and now, a year after having piloted our Equity in Schools and Equity at Work models, we are excited to share what we’ve learned and where we’re headed next.

Beloved Community works exclusively on comprehensive, sustainable solutions for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). As the US becomes a majority-minority country, we focus on levers that make economic equity possible. We employ three strategies to ensure shared regional goals for economic equity, sustainability, and equitable population distribution that result from integrated schools and communities: Equity in Schools, Equity at Work, Equity at Home.

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What We Have Done

Capacity-Building Consulting: Equity in Schools, Equity at Work — Nonprofit

Fundamentally, we believe that people change systems. Our capacity-building programs support leadership teams to align on diversity, equity, and inclusion values and to lead the structural changes that provide equitable opportunities and services for their students, families, staff, and community members. In our pilot year we worked with two networks of schools in New Orleans and nine non-profit organizations in New Orleans, LA; Memphis, TN; and Alameda, CA.

Equity in Schools

We believe that every type of school in the country can benefit from Equity in Schools. For our pilot, we worked with two charter management organizations in New Orleans who represent two different types of school communities: one network with a diverse student population and a selective admissions processes (similar to magnet district schools), and one network with a fairly homogenous student population located in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood. We conducted quantitative data analysis to understand their student and talent performance trends, paired with qualitative data assessments gathered through many interviews and focus groups with their students, families, faculty, and alumni families. We guided leadership teams’ understanding of their DEI strengths and pain points, the needs and preferences of their families, and which strategies could increase a sense of belongingness for students, families, and faculty on their campuses. By May, each school selected five strategies to implement in the 2018–19 school year. As we’re supporting them in their implementation, we’ve built specific tools that they needed, trained their key team members in relational and technical protocols, and provided implementation coaching.

Equity at Work — Nonprofits

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We like to say that Equity is a head and heart issue. It touches every part of our work life: governance, finance, operations, program, and culture. In our pilot year, we worked with nonprofit partners on education-specific projects. So whether the organization’s primary work is about entrepreneurship or public health, our engagements focused on deepening diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout their organization. We designed equity components for their strategic plans including: quantitative and qualitative equity audits of their talent and program data, surfacing positive trends and pain points from their communities, and designing strategies to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in their organizations.

Additionally, we supported their leadership teams to embed diversity, equity, and inclusion expectations and practices into their ongoing work. This looked like:

  • facilitating and distilling organizational values
  • designing a new fellowship with an equity lens
  • designing and facilitating an equity-focused strand within an existing cohort or fellowship
  • designing an RFP for an equity partnership study
  • cultivating no-cost DEI resources for students, families, and faculty

Mutual Accountability Framework

Beloved Community built a suite of tools that helps schools and school systems, non-profit organizations, and for-profit businesses assess their quantitative and qualitative performance against diversity, equity, and inclusion. Our tools align all stakeholders to shared expectations that will help them improve equity outcomes across the organization. The Mutual Accountability Framework reflects our mantra that people change systems.

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Our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Standards and Indicators guide organizational strategy and accountability frameworks for all stakeholders across every facet of their organization. Think: governance, operations, finance, programs or pedagogy and culture (youth and adult). The DEI Standards and Indicators anchor our model and we encourage all types of schools, districts, and businesses to use them.

The two other tools in our framework directly support the people side of change. We customize Internal Equity Audits for each stakeholder group in a community to assess their progress and performance against the DEI Standards and Indicators. We’ve designed this tool to engage all types of community members to advance their commitments. The Internal Equity Audits build community agency and accountability so that their DEI work becomes sustainable when the leadership changes. The Equity Lens Map assesses self-awareness for personal leadership in an equity-focused organization. It makes room for individuals to identify their growth areas in the “how” of their leadership for equity, regardless of their title or function.

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What We Have Learned
  1. Our tools are instrumental to the implementation of DEI strategy. Among our pilot leaders, we found that they were earnest, but unclear about how to move their commitment from talk to action. The leaders we worked with last year also questioned how they could effectively lead change in DEI when they did not have personal leadership expertise. In every engagement, leaders shared with us how helpful our tools were to provide them with a clear framework for and confidence to lead their change strategy. We designed our Mutual Accountability Framework and our facilitation model for our partners to have sustainable practices after our engagement ends. We tell them from the beginning “We don’t want you to have to call us back every year to train your new hires. You are responsible for onboarding new people into your community every day. We’re going to build the tools and practices that you can implement on your own.” That’s the essence of capacity-building, can your leaders keep doing this work when we’re gone?
  2. Readiness matters. Before courting partners for our pilot, we established some readiness criteria to identify ideal partners for Equity in Schools or Equity at Work projects. Our primary criterion was that the senior leadership had recently completed a racial equity training. We needed them to have some language to talk about race, class, power and privilege. For our pilot, we targeted organizational partners whose leaders already understood that systemic and institutional racism exist in the US and, by extension, in their organizations and communities. When we met with leaders who were not yet comfortable naming race, class, power, and privilege with us, we referred them to a few options of local or national trainers who could help them deepen their knowledge base. Then, a curious thing happened. In spring 2017, Promise 54 released their report “Unrealized Impact” and one of their findings was that, organizations in their study with people of color in CEO/ED roles tended to have higher performance on diversity, equity, and inclusion measures, even if they did not have all of the formal policies in place. We thought, well, maybe that means organizations with CEOs and EDs of color could be exempt from our readiness criterion? We were wrong. Even leaders who could speak to their lived experience of race, class, power, and privilege still needed support to identify and address institutional practices that contributed to disparate outcomes in their work. Leaders without recent training were less likely to name disparate practices in their organization and less willing to confront those issues with their Board of Directors.
  3. Differentiate between acute and chronic DEI pain points before starting the engagement. We spend two to three hours with a CEO to understand the context of their DEI work before proposing a path forward. In our pilot year, we met with 30 organizations and worked with 10 of them. Sixty percent of our pilot partners reached out in response to recent pain points in their work community. The two most common acute pain points that we encountered with Equity at Work partners were about talent and community engagement. White-led organizations in our pilot struggled with talent retention for Black employees and community engagement with Black adult community members. While their needs may have mounted over time, it was usually a dramatic shift in employee turnover, public backlash, or threatened funding that made their equity work time-sensitive. These acute pain points created some urgency for the leadership team, but they took enough time to invest in strategic responses. For Equity in Schools partners, their community engagement pain points had acute and chronic elements. They were responding to growing concerns about student enrollment and retention that were exacerbated/accelerated by changes in legislation, new campus development, and rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods. Belongingness undergirds both of these acute pain points. Research links increased belongingness in youth to greater academic motivation, academic completion, and in some cases academic achievement. Similarly, belongingness in adults increases the likelihood that they will remain on a work team and seek to grow within an organization. Employers talk about inclusion and we encourage them to think of belongingness as the other side of the coin.
  4. Senior leaders need reinforcement and a safe, supportive space to lead change. When organizations have DEI pain points, the pain is highly visible to internal team and external community members. Regardless of how adept the leaders were or what their own racial/ethnic identities were in relationship to their community, all of the leaders in our pilot expressed fear about how to lead their community through change. Embedded in our model is regular check-ins and coaching with the senior leader to prepare for and process their personal leadership moves. Before we take any action, we work with them to predict pushback and critical feedback from their internal community, identify allies, thought partners, laggards, and harsh critics. As we engage their leadership team, we provide them with similar opportunities or personal and group processing of the DEI pain points and commitments. We found that, when leaders have a safe space to process before addressing their full community, they reported greater confidence and empathy for their community members.
  5. As facilitators, we need to keep growing. In line with our own Equity at Work expectations, our facilitators participate in race and equity trainings. This does three things for us organizationally:
  • Keeps us in the mind of the learner. What is the arc of the day? Which parts are challenging? What is a new perspective or new piece of history that I’m able to absorb today that I wasn’t ready to absorb before?
  • Helps us refer our partners to local or national trainers that fit their organizational culture. There are so many high-quality race and equity trainers in the country, but they all have a slightly different perspective and approach, facilitation and delivery style, and may even offer different levels of training from initial conversations to train-the-trainer experiences. The more trainings we experience, the better equipped we are to recommend trainers to our partners.
  • Keeps our emotional quotient high. Beloved Community is not just a framework for us. We really believe that we can inspire more personal change by connecting with people via love than via shaming and intimidation. Participating in race and equity trainings gives each of us time to reconnect with our tender selves and remember what it’s like for leaders to face this work for the first time.
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The Year Ahead
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Publishing our DEI Standards and Indicators: We think that if you work with people, in any sector, or expect people to be the end users of your product, your organization would benefit from anchoring your equity commitments in our indicators. Later this week we’ll publish our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Standards and Indicators for Equity in Schools and Equity at Work — Nonprofits, and Equity at Work — For-profits. We hope that you’ll use it and let us know how it’s resonating with your community.

  • Tech Tool Development: We will develop a tech tool to make our Mutual Accountability Framework easier to use at scale. Our vision for the functionality is still top-secret, but we’re excited to start working with developers and investors to make it easier for organizations to track their progress and performance against the indicators.
  • Starting our first advocacy campaign to get all of the schools and education agencies in New Orleans to adopt equity commitments: We are currently facilitating Equity in Schools and Equity at Work in five cities across the country, but we believe that we need to reach critical mass for sustainable community change. This year we’re launching our first advocacy campaign at home to get 100% of schools, CMOs and education agencies to adopt DEI statements and at least 50% to adopt the full indicators.
  • Embedded Equity in Schools Cohorts: This summer we started our first two embedded Equity in Schools cohorts, one for new school founder fellowship and one for a cohort of schools adopting trauma-informed care practices. We say “embedded” because the cohorts already exist to answer a need in the education leadership sphere, and we embed a sequence of customized sessions to help those leaders operationalize equity in their work. Are you leading an existing fellowship cohort that could benefit from adding an equity lens to their work? We’d love to help.
  • Equity at Work Cohorts: This year we will launch our first Equity at Work cohorts that include for-profit businesses and non-profits organizations. Stay tuned or contact us for more information.
  • Equity at Home: Our biggest thought work this year is about our Equity at Home strategy. A year from now, we want to have a clear sense of what our Equity at Home pilot will test.
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Our Beloved Community

“The larger your beloved community, the more you can accomplish in the world.” -Thich Nhat Hanh

None of our work would be possible without a growing beloved community supporting us. We are thankful for our pilot partners who welcomed us in to some of the most tender moments in their work life. Looking forward!

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