The role of DEI in Impact Evaluation and the Clothworker's Company
I was invited to speak on a panel about the role of DEI in evaluation, hosted by NPC and the Clothworker's Company. We focused on how Board members could help their NGOs embed a DEI lens in their work and their roles.
It was a great discussion, with a lot of engagement and thought-provoking questions from our audience. Board members also serve an important role as thought partners, challenging your NGO's work, assumptions, and history.
This point became clear to me as I was planning for this event, where I noticed that one of the hosts is the Clothworker's Company. They have been around for over 500 years, with a mission to 'protect' the British textile industry.
If you know your history, you will know that this industry would not exist without the colonial exploitation of my country, India, since the 1600s.
I address this shameful hypocrisy during my talk - of an organisation with a history like this co-hosting a meeting on diversity, equity and inclusion. I discuss why we must confront the uncomfortable truths about our histories that we need to reconcile.
If you don't know this history, I cannot recommend Shashi Tharoor's book 'Inglorious Empire' enough. Here's an extract about the topic of textile exploitation:
"Britain's Industrial Revolution was built on the destruction of India's thriving manufacturing industries. Textiles were an emblematic case in point: the British systematically set about destroying India's textile manufacturing and exports, substitutiong Indian textiles by British ones manufactured in England.
Ironically, the British used Indian raw material and exported the finished prodcuts back to India and the rest of the world, the industrial equivalent of adding insult to injury."
The modern British textile industry began when my country was colonised, and it thrived under the theft of our natural resources, talent, intellectual property, and the loss of countless lives.
In preparation for the event, I searched the Clothworker's Company website. Searching for the word 'India' yields nothing. Strange, since the company would not exist without my country.
Nothing on the 'History' page discusses colonisation; never mind taking responsibility for their role in supporting this disgusting practice.
Searching the archives showed me that a contract exists between the East India Company and the Clothworker's Company, but we cannot see what it contains - merely that it concerns India.
The 500th anniversary 'celebration' of the Clothworker's Company lists its most prominent and influential members.
Many members of the Clothworker's Company were also founding members of the East India Company.
Some of you may know that I ran an ethical fashion business some years ago and worked with many women's cooperatives in India specifically to support our crafts and preserve our heritage, doing my small part to undo this exploitation. This is a subject very near and dear to me.
I received overwhelming support for my talk during and after the event. I am encouraged by my call to 'sit with the discomfort' resonating with people.
The following day, NPC contacted me to say they shared my research and my points with the Clothworker's Company during a debriefing session.
In response, the Clothworker's Company promised to investigate their role in colonisation and the transatlantic slave trade and to confront these realities.
I hope this will also mean they will share their findings publicly and not hide from their complicity in Britain's exploitative colonial history.
You can watch the entire event here, and I highly recommend the work of the other two speakers, Lisa Raftery from the Rosa Fund for Women and Tony McKenzie, trustee of Groundswell.
I am also speaking with NPC about a dedicated blog post on British NGOs' role in their colonial history and how we can decolonise our practices.
During the rest of my section, I discuss the role of language in opening up the culture of DEI in an organisation. In the UK, for example, words such as 'charity' are still used, further perpetuating this harmful dynamic of others being recipients of rich peoples' generosity. This is an outdated way of thinking and working, but unfortunately continues in the UK. So a great way to start with a DEI approach is to deliberately think through the language we use and why we choose certain words over others.
I discuss how we should improve the relationships with Board members to move forwards with a DEI lens. NGOs and philanthropies need to break this power dynamic and treat their Board members as thought partners. Too often, Board members are not allowed behind the curtains to see how their NGOs work. They should meet all members of their NGO, meet them often during the project cycle and the year, and engage more deeply with the different.
Note: I also use Oxfam as an example while talking about harmful practices since it was mentioned in the event's chat, and I wanted to ensure we adequately addressed it. Exploitation takes many forms, and Oxfam's sex scandals are a good example, though naturally far removed from colonisation.