Moving the needle on racism inside UNDP

Posted On September 21, 2021

At the 2001 World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, countries adopted the Durban Declaration and Plan of Action.

Photo:
UN

In 2001, the Government of South Africa hosted the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, where countries adopted the Durban Declaration and Plan of Action. Then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the purpose of the conference was to “banish from this new century the hatred and prejudice that have disfigured previous centuries”. Although this historic Declaration set forth a programme of practical and workable actions to fight racism and advocate for racial justice, there is still so much more to do.

We were reminded of this in 2020, when the murder of George Floyd shook the world and ignited the existing Black Lives Matter movement across the globe. Because the COVID-19 pandemic enforced self-isolation, the world watched in horror at the cell-phone footage of the last moments of George Floyd’s life. The emotions, the (not so new) realities, the anger and sadness marked the beginning of a transformation. As UNDP joined organizations and corporations around globe following Black Lives Matter and tweeting #FightRacism – the reality was – we needed to look within our organization in order to better serve the rest of the world.

In that moment, my personal and professional feelings collided in a way I have never experienced before. At the beginning, I didn’t understand why we were not immediately addressing these issues at work. In my mind I struggled with the thought of how we can continue working as normal in an organization whose mandate is centred around Equality for All without acknowledging this barbaric act and doing something to promote change? I felt paralyzed! I was unable to function professionally because nothing was more important than addressing the fact that my son, my partner, my father, my brother, my family, my colleagues and my friends could be murdered for being black by the same people who are supposed to protect them.

There is no better time – than right now – to reflect on the Durban Declaration and its importance in today’s discussion around racism.

Photo:
Tim Mossholder/Unsplash. Mural by Annabelle Wombacher, Jared Mar, Sierra Ratcliff and Benjamin Cahoon

It was with great pleasure that I witnessed conversations starting across the organization. Staff spoke, and senior managers listened. It was awesome for the Administrator to kick off the transformation process with a Townhall addressing our efforts on anti-racism and to later appoint a Corporate Anti-racism and Discrimination Team to lead the process of uncovering systemic racial issues. Since then, staff have come together to lead many initiatives around anti-racism, with three major activities launched to support our efforts:

Having frank and open conversations

Dialogues open up the mind – even though it may not feel like it at times – and that is where transformation begins. UNDP has begun to have deep, vulnerable and frank conversations around racism. It has been critical for our growth as an organization to allow space for listening, sharing, learning and challenging each other and ourselves. The initial conversation “Let’s Talk About Racism” that took place in 2020 in my department exceeded my expectation with the level of honesty, bravery and interest from staff to learn. This was confirmation that we were ready to fumble together through this uncomfortable yet critical conversation. Recently, the staff-led dialogues by the Anti-racism and Decoloniality Network on Peace Direct’s Time to Decolonise Aid have provoked candid discussions about our programmes and operations, and the conversation continues to challenge me and many other colleagues.

To further encourage conversations in the organization, The Anti-Racism and Discrimination Team produced a seminal report with recommendations on addressing racism and discrimination which will include a toolkit to conduct a variety of dialogues within a safe space.

Structural changes inside the organization

As part of the transformation, the report produced by the Anti-Racism and Discrimination Team also recommends internal structural changes (such as in human resources, managing staff grievances, procurement, programme policy, training, etc.) to alleviate racist outcomes.

UNDP executive leaders are very involved and holding managers to account. The Administrator has communicated the need to go beyond simply addressing racism where we find it to also take an active anti-racist stance within the organization, our programming, and engagement with partners.

These policy shifts are essential to help us monitor and report on our progress. However, in my view, these structural changes are only half the battle.

Continuously working towards an anti-racist environment

A critical goal is to protect staff against racism through structural changes, but I believe fostering a culture of true diversity and inclusion must be at the heart of the organization for any of this to succeed. I wonder how this can work and look forward to finding out what that would look like. My hope for now is to keep the conversations going while continuing to challenge and improve our internal policies and celebrating our diversity. 

There is no better time – than right now – to reflect on the Durban Declaration and its importance in today’s discussion around racism. The work UNDP is doing aims to bring elements of this ground-breaking conference into our everyday culture and professional practices. 

As a long serving UN staff member, it is important for me to see us continuously move the needle by putting our best foot forward in addressing racial equality inside the organization. By doing so, we will be better equipped to carry out our work helping communities everywhere to confront discrimination in all its forms. It is a true honour to be a part of this transformation that is happening at UNDP in front of our eyes.

Tiffany Moore is a member of the UNDP Corporate Anti-racism and Discrimination Advisory Board and the Anti-racism and Discrimination Team in the Bureau for External Relations and Advocacy.