By Luminate

On diversity, equity, and inclusion

Through the process of launching our new organisation and brand, and designing new policies and procedures over the past several months, the Luminate team has had the opportunity to contemplate some fundamental questions: Who are we as an organisation?  What do we stand for?  How do we want to show up in a world that is increasingly polarised and where structures of privilege, injustice, and power continue to prevail?  

As a team of 30+ people from 10+ different countries, our team has representation from various genders, sexual orientations, races, ethnicities, religions, socio-economic backgrounds, ages, and abilities.  We aspire to be diverse, equitable, and inclusive because we know that diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace have far-ranging benefits --  for the impact of our current and future grantees, our own talent base, our organisational culture, and our ability to innovate and be creative.  We also acknowledge our own privileges and the imperative to act immediately to right historical and current wrongs that perpetuate systems that are not diverse, equitable, or inclusive.  

But now what?  

As a starting point, we shared a policy document on our website that expresses the priority we put on DEI, but we recognize that it’s not enough to simply document policies and principles.  We also need to embed behaviors, norms, and habits such that the principles of being a diverse, equitable, and inclusive team form part of the fabric of how we perform, communicate, and engage across our ecosystem.

#MeToo revelations have exposed widespread problems with sexual harassment across NGOs, corporations, and governments around the world, and some of our current and former portfolio organisations have experienced these same issues.  We've learned that we've funded organisations in which toxic work environments have, at best, hindered an organisation’s ability to achieve impact and, at worst, traumatised its employees.  Given our individual and collective values and the impact we seek to catalyse in the world, this has been a deeply troubling realisation for all of us.

We are doing our best to learn how we can help ensure these types of failures of leadership do not continue to occur.  We want to be part of building and maintaining a funding ecosystem that doesn’t inadvertently perpetuate these abhorrent behaviors.

Here’s our progress to date on supporting inclusive workplaces:

  • Looking in the mirror.  We are engaging our team and our leaders in developing our own DEI mission and strategy and discussing how we embed operational processes in support of our intentions.  We will hold ourselves accountable for building a diverse, inclusive, and healthy workplace, from recruitment onwards, recognising areas where we have gaps, including diversity of socio-economic status and educational background. 
  • Talking about the problem.  We need to acknowledge the role funders have played in perpetuating unhealthy work environments.  This is uncomfortable for us, though not nearly as uncomfortable as it must have been for the people who have come forward to report workplace abuse.
  • Revamping our diligence process.  When we engage with new potential investees, we will explore a wide range of inclusive workplace issues before we invest.  This will become a standard practice for all our engagements with possible investees, not just instances in which we may have a concern.  As we’ve learned, problems can arise anywhere.
  • Clarifying our documentation.  Our legal agreements with investees and partners will contain specific language which commits them to upholding values and principles related to inclusive workplaces that mirror our own commitments.  
  • Supporting our grantees in recognizing unhealthy workplaces and developing plans and practices to mediate or correct behaviors.  We are working together with existing grantees and investees to identify support for inclusive workplace issues that is localised and culturally relevant for the contexts in which they work.
  • Defining better governance.  Team members who act as Board members of investee organizations will receive training on best governance practices on issues related to workplace inclusion so they can proactively drive annual Board reviews of workplace health.
  • Getting educated on DEI.  Luminate staff members will receive training on best practices relating to workplace DEI, so they can proactively support workplace health for our investees.  In addition, we've learned a lot from listening to our investees on these topics, and we'll continue to do so.

What else can we do?

In addition to these steps, we are also working on how to thoughtfully address the broader, longer-term topic of tracking DEI in our team at Luminate and in our portfolio organisations.  We’ve been speaking for several months to funders, HR consultants, entrepreneurs in the 'People Ops' space, and investees, to identify how we might gather aggregated, anonymised information on dimensions of diversity to track how inclusive our investing and grantmaking really is.  As our colleagues at the Ford Foundation have thoughtfully explained, this is not a trivial or easy thing to do, neither philosophically nor technically, but we remain curious as to how we can take steps that are beneficial to our own funding strategy and also useful for our portfolio organisations.

We have also been revamping our investment identification and selection process as we reflect on the diversity of our investment pipeline, who we see, and more importantly who we aren't seeing.  We are questioning how high the 'barriers to entry' are, how our processes have created unintended consequences, and how we build more inclusive networks to increase the breadth of opportunities in our pipeline.  We are also updating our processes to highlight DEI considerations throughout the investment process.

Why we care so much 

As we launch into the next chapter of our work as Luminate, we have articulated our mission as:

  • We work to empower people and improve lives, ensuring people have the opportunity to participate in and influence the issues affecting their societies, and making government, corporations, media, and those in positions of power more responsive and more accountable.

We are acutely aware that "people" is not a vague, homogenous monolith and that we need to ask ourselves hard questions about who our investments serve and why.

We've also developed a specific DEI vision:

  • We seek to embed diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) into the foundation of our work, and we act as leaders, deep listeners, and active collaborators on DEI issues in our field. 

Putting DEI at the center of our mission is critical – people are not empowered if they exist in environments where they do not feel safe, included, respected, supported, and valued to fully participate, and holding powerful people to account isn’t simply about the work they do, but also how they do it.  DEI is an essential part of what we stand for.

Our learning journey

We welcome an ongoing dialogue with you on how we can do these topics justice.  We will continue to learn from others and will share our findings about how we can support the growth and development of healthy workplaces for the benefit of all.  Are you part of a company or nonprofit organisation that has experimented with diversity initiatives?  A funder that has pioneered equitable search and selection processes?  If so, get in touch - we'd love to learn from you.