ORS Impact News

The ORS Impact team has earned a global reputation for leadership, insight and innovation. We work collaboratively with our clients, bringing our distinctive expertise in planning, measurement and evaluation to their most vexing challenges.

A long overdue update on our journey to advance equity

2020 is a year that will long be remembered as one of social upheaval, entrenched ideologies, and a glaring spotlight on systemic injustice for our Black and brown families, friends, and communities. Yet even in a year where hope seems scarce, and empathy a precious commodity, there are glimmers of light. As we think about our own field and spheres of influence, we are inspired by the uptick in conversation and reflection on ways in which our sector perpetuates racism—the potential for change in this moment gives us hope.

Four years ago, we set an intention around equity. We knew doing nothing was not an option and good intentions were not good enough. So what have we been doing during the past four years? In the spirit of learning, we are sharing an update on our work and experiences from our journey as we reflect, learn new norms, and gain courage along the way. We hope that as our partners, you will hold us accountable to our values and our commitments.

Over the last four years, we have deepened our commitment to anti-racism and dismantling systems of oppression. We have been working to challenge implicit assumptions about ourselves, our culture, and our field, and are unpacking how many of the ways we work are rooted in White dominant culture and perpetuate White supremacy. We are working to unlearn old ways of thinking and doing and surface ways our practices must change to dismantle racist and misogynistic systems; many of us are examining our own privilege and how it contributes to systemic oppression. And we are striving to become more equitable evaluators, attending to the priorities, narratives, historical context, and values of those who are most directly impacted by our work and that of our clients.

We were not all on the same page when we began this journey. There were wide chasms of difference in experience, awareness, and ability to talk openly about things like race, privilege, Whiteness and White dominant culture, systemic racism, and how each of us personally is affected by and/or contributes to upholding and perpetuating the status quo. There were differences in thinking about the level of priority this work should be given, what it means to commit to advancing equity and what that looks like in a private company, as well as how much a company can ask employees to do personal work. Staff of color were frustrated by seemingly glacial progress, others felt confused about expectations and experienced fear of not wanting to “get it wrong.” It’s been a long road and we’re still not all on the same page—we may never be—but we’ve come a long way collectively.

Our collective progress has largely been shaped by having tough conversations and through intentionally allocating resources for all staff to engage deeply and reflect on antiracist work; creating an organizational team—the Working Toward Equity (WE) team—tasked with guiding and catalyzing our internal and external equity work; investing in ongoing staff professional development; continual review of internal policies and practices; diversifying staff through our hiring, promotion, and retention efforts; and expanding our toolkit and capacity to engage in equitable strategy and evaluation practices with our clients and the communities we serve. We are also working to set new expectations and norms as a company. We made race equity goals explicit in our strategic plan, developed an organizational theory of change that centers race equity and equitable evaluation practices, and articulated company values, which we try to live out in all that we do.

While we have made significant progress, it is not time to pat ourselves on the back and congratulate ourselves for a job well-done. The journey has yielded some wonderful victories and has also been challenging. Some of our current challenges are building sufficient trust among our team members so that the really important conversations can happen—across roles and despite power dynamics; consciously naming and dismantling White dominant culture in a White-led organization; unpacking power dynamics and re-distributing power for more inclusive decision making; and moving from our fear of conflict and “nice” culture to one of authentic feedback, learning and accountability.

Over the next several months, we will be sharing both reflections from different members of our staff about their experiences in this shared journey as well as more details about the things we’re actually doing to move ourselves toward more equitable practices. We hope to engage you as our partners in continued learning and in collective action to build a more just, antiracist, and thriving world.

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