Collective Impact: Community and Tech in the Fight for Racial Justice

IBM and Esri drive racial equity through innovation

Photo by priscilladupreez on Unsplash

We live in a world of continuous technological innovation fueling business growth and social improvements. Yet, many still face persistent racial injustices stifling their potential and compromising their health and well-being. Racial inequities directly harm Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC) and limit the collective prosperity of every country, community, and company where they persist. Now is the time to fully engage the power of technology in the battle against racial inequity, a struggle where every technologist has a role to play.

IBM and Esri are here to help. Each of our companies offers resources to help individuals and organizations advance racial equity and achieve racial justice.

But, what do Racial Equity and Racial Justice mean?

Racial justice is the systematic fair treatment of people of all racial identities, resulting in equitable opportunities and outcomes for all. It is the absence of discrimination and inequities coupled with intentional, proactive, and equitable systems to sustain it. In short, racial equity helps achieve and maintain racial justice.

There are generally three answers to define racial equity:

  • An Outcome: When policies, practices, attitudes, and cultural messages no longer produce inequities in community conditions and outcomes for people based on racial identity
  • A Process: Work to address racial inequities, including the elimination of policies, practices, attitudes, and cultural messages that reinforce or sustain differential community conditions and outcomes by racial identity
  • An Analysis: Assessment or root cause analysis of how decisions and practices result in different experiences and outcomes for people based on racial identity

The outcome, process, and analysis require strong engagement with BIPOC communities harmed by racial injustice. Racism and bias affect millions and are complex and challenging to detect when dealing in business processes, so exploring racial justice is essential to evaluate.

Racial Justice in Practice

Organizations in all sectors work to advance racial equity, involving communities throughout their efforts. Companies want to ensure that their products and business operations do not harm communities of color. Governments struggle to ensure that every resident, entrepreneur, and visitor in their jurisdictions thrive. Community organizations and charities seek to maximize the impact of their investments to address racial inequities. Advancing racial justice requires these organizations to collaborate across sectors to maximize impact.

Recognizing that there is both a societal and economic return on investment (ROI) in advancing racial justice, many organizations work to:

  • Ensure their teams reflect communities they serve and impact, particularly their staff designing and building solutions and delivering services;
  • Increase community outreach and engagement, focusing on BIPOC communities and other underserved communities; and
  • Embed racial justice into their operations, ensuring that their efforts continue to increase benefits and reduce burdens on communities of color.

Technology and technologists have significant roles to play in operationalizing racial equity across silos. As with any effective business practice, scaling is critical, and work scales best in partnership with different sectors affecting change through policy and practice.

Engage Diverse Perspectives in Tech Solutions

Newer and more exciting technology is emerging all the time. Sadly, unintended harm to communities of color has too often followed innovation. Companies realize they have opportunities and the responsibility to ensure their impact on communities of color is equitable and just. Increasingly, they recognize that antiracism requires adjustments in policies and actions, increased engagement with communities of color, and using data and maps.

Esri and IBM, global leaders in location intelligence and hybrid cloud and AI respectively, empower our users to create and sustain a positive change with GIS and tech. Our capabilities support challenges from community outreach to grassroots efforts to government and corporate social impact.

Each organization’s journey has its complexities and challenges. Governments, businesses, and communities struggle to change at the rate the moment demands. It’s hard for some leaders and technologies to see themselves as a part of the solution for something as immense as racial justice. Many people worry they will do or say the ‘wrong thing’. Tech and innovation may seem out of reach for community-based organizations, especially those taking on significant challenges with minimal resources.

This work is challenging but meaningful beyond measure.

Operationalizing Racial Equity in Technology

Operationalization in business is a systematic approach focused on automating repeatable tasks linked to your priorities and goals. The idea is that if you use the right process enough, you can execute work faster and more efficiently. So, how do you operationalize racial equity in technology in a manner that responds to the world’s evolving needs?

As with any business imperative, operationalizing racial equity in technology challenges organizations to have:

  • Diverse people planning and executing the work,
  • A comprehensive organizational structure that rewards innovation, and
  • Metrics that effectively measure impact.

But like many new ways of working, this practice is one that the technology industry must build while engaging the right stakeholders. Perhaps the most critical distinction, in this case, is that the tech industry must intentionally engage the broad spectrum of BIPOC communities as stakeholders.

Issues of racial injustice are complex and formidable, and many turn to data, science, and technology to provide insight and enable action. Technologists and leaders employ data science leveraging big data, machine learning, and location intelligence to increase understanding and fuel progress. IBM and Esri provide comprehensive resources to help individuals and organizations advance racial equity and justice.

Call for Code for Racial Justice

Call for Code for Racial Justice (CFCFRJ) is an interdisciplinary program home to open source projects that increase transparency and accountability in institutional practices. The solutions aim to create measurable impact by targeting high opportunity communities with a coalition of community hubs, technologists, and human services focused on social justice within BIPOC communities. With a racial equity lens, IBM is leveraging anti-racists technology by

  • Providing tech solutions at no cost to adopters as well as resources to sustain development and implementation;
  • Upskilling technical and non-technical project contributors in emerging technology and diversity, equity, and inclusion practices; and
  • Partnering with community organizations and institutions create a feedback loop of experts who advise the projects based on their subject matter.

Esri’s Racial Equity & Social Justice Program

Esri helps individuals and organizations leverage geographic and holistic thinking to understand and address racial inequities. We empower our users to apply a robust and intersectional racial equity lens to identify opportunities to increase racial justice. Using ArcGIS, organizations can:

  • Increase engagement and understanding among community members, community organizers, governments, and businesses;
  • Map and analyze equity in outcomes, community circumstances, policies, and actions;
  • Operationalize racial justice by better optimizing the allocation of resources and automating practices to increase benefits and reduce burdens on communities of color; and
  • Monitor impact of efforts to serve and uplift underserved and underrepresented communities

Be Inspired

IBM and Esri’s resources are readily available to help you take on this vital work. Many organizations are leveraging our technologies in the trenches doing impactful work every day.

  • Cities and counties like King County, WA, and Milwaukee use maps and spatial analysis to understand the landscape of need and impact decisions.
  • Major initiatives like CalEnviroscreen leverage geography, big data, and tech to bring attention and resources to address racial disparities in communities.
  • Community-focused organizations like Territorial Empathy in NYC and YMCA work towards improved experiences for people of color in communities across the county.

Call for Code for Racial Justice is partnering with Esri to leverage the ArcGIS Developer Subscription and community data to explore and maximize the intersection of social justice and technology. CFCFRJ is deploying Esri’s and IBM’s portfolio of capabilities in high opportunity communities by collaborating with nonprofits, technologists, educators, and subject matter experts. Esri’s ArcGIS solutions will support IBM’s objective to have a data-driven, targeted approach for where and how we can deepen our impact. We’ll identify areas of opportunity to build a network to hold social justice in tech accountable while deploying the solutions into the community.

Collective power is the answer to uprooting the tangled web of racism and bias woven into our daily workings. The wealth of knowledge, resources, and relationships in community-based organizations offers technologists, government, and other institutions a pathway to deepened impact and better products and processes that increase business value. It’s essential to own the social and mental work required to be critical and discerning as we combat racial inequity, including:

  • Research to understand the broad perspectives and experiences of BIPOC communities.
  • Training staff to listen to the different stories that will come their way.
  • Earning trust from the community by applying your research and training first and consistently.

Doing this work will distribute the burden of advancing racial equity and reduce the burden of teaching borne by people already continually tapped for their knowledge. Operationalizing your process and outcomes for racial justice will inevitably be the standard that sets your business from the rest.

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