6 Things We’ve Learned Through An Equity Assessment Process

Since the Nellie Mae Education Foundation began our journey through an equity assessment process over a year ago, we’ve been taking a hard look in the mirror to examine the way we operate, structure our grantmaking, and organize our strategy. This process has not always been an easy one, but it has been an important self-reflective journey for us as an organization. In my second post about our foundation’s strategy and equity processes, I want to share what we’re learning about ourselves through this journey.

#1: NMEF’s Big Goal — 80% College and Career Readiness for New England Students by 2030 — holds promise, but our current approaches to grantmaking block the full integration of an equity analysis, thus limiting its ability to influence all of our efforts.

What we’re doing: Learning about and examining a variety of factors that influence racial disparities in college readiness outcomes. With this understanding we will develop a Racial Equity Theory of Change to deeply inform a new strategic framework. This framework will include the core assumptions we hold to be true about race and the dynamics at play that hold structural inequities in place.

#2: Student-centered learning holds potential resonance with equity, but thus far has not fulfilled that potential and possibly poses some barriers.

What we’re doing: Scrutinizing SCL through a racial equity lens. In part, this means understanding inequity and racial inequity as a set of conditions that limit opportunity — therefore examining how our ideas about student-centered learning make these limiting conditions more or less likely.

#3: NMEF can bring a more consistent equity lens to its grantmaking practices.

What we’re doing: Building our understanding of the inherent power dynamics that exist between funders and grantees and turning the lens inward to walk the talk of equity. We will be looking at our policies and practices as a philanthropic organization and seeking ways to improve them so that they, too, reflect and align with our equity values.

#4: NMEF’s organizational structure and culture can cause challenges to equity being integrated into strategy and practice across the foundation.

What we’re doing: Building Board and staff understanding of racism and privilege and using our new lens to adopt a Racial Equity Theory of Change and new strategic priorities for which we will be collectively accountable. We are also focusing on how NMEF can work intentionally at becoming a preferred workplace for people of color.

#5: We have the potential to lead with both boldness and humility to advance equity in the region.

What we’re doing: Being transparent — sharing the story of our own equity journey, beginning with a series of blog posts about this work.

#6: Board and staff have growing capacity for equity and require steadfast attention and investment in this learning.

What we’re doing: Making continuous learning about racial equity an explicit focus of our organizational learning agenda, so that staff and Board can acquire the necessary knowledge, skills, and dispositions to drive this work forward. We are also making racial equity a priority focus of staff and Board time and a lens for our 2018 continuing investments as feasible. Additionally, we are accelerating the start time of developing a new strategic framework that will be informed by a racial equity lens.

As a result of these findings, Nellie Mae staff have been immersed in continuous learning about how racial equity informs all of our work, and recently shared some of these learnings at our March Board of Directors meeting. This information included research on foundations advancing work around racial equity, demographic data related to race in New England, how poverty intersects with race, and what it means to look at student-centered learning through the lens of racial equity, among other topics.

My hope is that by taking a look in the mirror in the way our equity assessment calls on us to, we will become better equipped to advance an interest I know we share in delivering on the promise of opportunity for all New England learners to be college and career ready without structural barriers and disparities defined by race. I welcome your thoughts and ideas on these findings in the comments section below. Stay tuned for these regular updates on our strategy and equity processes — including posts from NMEF staff members sharing their own personal perspectives on the process.