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November 21, 2022

DEI Blocks

By Kevin Zwick
CEO, United Way Bay Area

As we enter our next century of impact to dismantle the root causes of poverty, United Way Bay Area (UWBA) is reaffirming our commitment to ensuring diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and anti-racism are at the core of the work we do. To that end, DEI principles were integral in drafting our 2022-2025 Strategic Plan and embedded throughout our four pillars of impact. In other words: we understand that we cannot dismantle the real systems that keep individuals and families in cycles of poverty without also addressing the historically racist and misogynistic policies that perpetuate and feed those systems.

We are early in this journey. While we have historically advocated for marginalized communities, we know as we’ve taken the time over the years to listen and learn, our understanding of those communities and the level of their marginalization has broadened. Making these values central to our mission and work is not about simply making a checklist. We cannot “achieve” these goals and move on.

This work also requires transparency. As a nonprofit organization that has operated in the Bay Area for over a hundred years, we are uniquely positioned to be transparent in this journey and hopefully encourage other partners, organizations, and companies to do the same. This is about reframing the way we think and reforming the way we speak and act. That work is ongoing, and that work is for ALL of us.

Personally, I believe it is important that we tackle this work at three levels – the individual, the organizational, and the community level. This was an important learning that I adhere to because of work I have been honored to take part in with a cohort of nonprofit executives in Santa Clara County over the last ten years. We started by reading about white supremacy culture, how it shows up in ourselves, our biases, and our nonprofit organizations. We made commitments to one another to support each other in changing our organizations and the community around us.

To support this work at United Bay Area, and to serve as a trusted advisor throughout our communities, we are thrilled to have recently welcomed a new member to our Leadership Team, Sara Brissenden-Smith, our Vice President of Equity and Strategy. In her role, Sara will not only make sure that UWBA’s work and voice continue to be grounded in DEI principles going forward, but she’ll also help shape the strategy for the organization to maximize impact and make sure we are reaching those most in need of assistance.

Sara had this to say after joining UWBA:

“Something I’m personally invested in, and I know that my colleagues in the organization are as well, is being honest about where we haven’t been and working to address it… When we show up with equity and diversity top of mind, we are more purposeful and effective in our work.” – Sara Brissenden-Smith, Vice President, Equity and Strategy

So, how are we approaching this important work? What does it mean to dismantle poverty in an anti-racist fashion? Let me first be clear about what being anti-racist means; it is not enough to be against racism, we must actively oppose it in every way that it shows up in our society. This means we support and create programs, initiatives, and policies that create a counterbalance to the weight of racism in our systems.
We do this through several different strategies like:

  • Investing in housing justice

We are advocating for and supporting, county-specific, regional, and state-wide policy initiatives and programs that address affordable housing and homelessness. This also means addressing historically-racist redlining policies that have led to the present housing crisis, and the disinvestment and neglect of Black neighborhoods widening the wealth gap.

  • Building equitable education

We are creating more equitable pathways to prosperity through education and skills training, especially for marginalized communities. We are also happy to be in support of ALL local education bonds and initiatives on this year’s ballot across our 8-county footprint.

  • Investing in staff and development

We continue to work with partners like LeaderSpring and the Center for Excellence in Nonprofits to assure that we are providing our staff and volunteer leaders with the most up-to-date and culturally competent equity and diversity training.

  • Recruiting and supporting staffers, volunteers, and stakeholders that are more representative of the Bay Area’s diverse communities

We have been intentional in recruiting new team members and supporters from different racial backgrounds, socio-economic classes, and ages. For our work to be its most meaningful and effective, it is critical that our UWBA staff, Board members, Advisory Council, and ambassadors reflect the communities that make up our region in terms of factors such as race, ethnicity, gender, identity, orientation, ability, class, and age.

We are determined to walk the walk. As such, we will use equity-centered approaches as we design, implement, and fund programs to dismantle poverty in our region. That means constantly monitoring and analyzing our strategies for service delivery and resource distribution to ensure fairness and equity, working with marginalized communities to build wealth and power, and consistently working with Black, Latinx, indigenous, and women-led partners and organizations.

This journey requires that we stand on the side of equity and fairness even when it’s unpopular and uncomfortable. THAT is what we are committed to doing. And we invite you to support us, collaborate with us, challenge us, and join us!