A Blueprint for Black Lives Matter in the Development Sector

by | Jun 29, 2020

Over the past few weeks – in the wake of COVID-19 and the killing of George Floyd – we have seen development, aid, and humanitarian institutions try to respond more effectively to racism.

Racism is rooted in a combination of prejudice and power, and action to combat racism must address both. The development sector is plagued by problems on both dimensions. Reports of serious harassment by aid workers have emerged in recent years. ‘Poverty porn’ is still used for fundraising. Aid agencies tie projects to their own country’s foreign policy and trade priorities, not the needs of the poor.

The Black Lives Matter moment offers an opportunity to change course. So far, however, development organisations have focused more on prejudice rather than confronting inequalities of power. We have seen few concrete proposals for how to remove the ‘white gaze’ from the sector and to measure the results of doing so.

To do more, we should adapt models from elsewhere to our own challenge. Many other sectors and industries – media, law, sports, the retail industry – have reviewed their own structures, exploring how their policies can help combat racism and ‘build back better’ in the wake of COVID-19. The development community can learn from these efforts.

We must also live up to principles that underpin our work which should put power in the hands of people, communities, and societies as they develop, while challenging paternalistic notions of what constitutes ‘progress’. This means taking seriously the universality of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, which recognise that poverty and inequality are found in all countries, while promoting ‘local ownership’ – one of four principles of effective development.

As a Person Of Colour (POC), an African, and a development practitioner who has worked for a government development agency, the UN, private sector, and an NGO, I have drawn on my own experience to propose a four-point blueprint for Black Lives Matter in the development sector, while also grounding it in best practice from our own (e.g. UNAIDS, Oxfam and Save the Children) and other sectors.

This set of ‘we will’s’ is designed to be adapted by development organisations of different types and sizes – from the World Bank to UN agencies to small NGOs and consultancies. It can be localised to be responsive to the challenges found in different societies. Since ‘what gets measured gets done,’ indicators are proposed for the recommendations where possible, though more will need to be developed. It represents a vision for real change, reimagining beyond statements of solidarity.

We commit to anti-racism

1. It is not enough to be non-racist. Our organisation will be anti-racist, calling out racism whenever it is seen or reported, taking action, and disciplining it (ref: UNAIDS).

2. We will strengthen country and local ownership, prioritising the perspectives and voices of governments and societies we work in as a central means to achieve effectiveness (ref: GPEDC and UN SDG17).

3. We will educate our staff about individual and institutional racism, and use our profile, work and platforms to drive positive change within our own organisation, across the aid industry, and in society (ref: Oxfam).

4. We will remove racist content, re-examine and learn from past racist decisions, take responsibility for the harm they have caused, and ensure these decisions are not made in future (ref: Save the Children).

5. We will provide customised whistleblowing procedures for POC staff, consultants, clients or beneficiaries to report issues around racism (including microagressions and with respect to career progression), making our organisation a welcoming place for all (ref: OECD whistleblowing procedures, Channel 4 – a UK public broadcaster).

We commit to being a diverse employer

1. We will put in place (or strengthen) targets for percentages of POC staff that reflect or exceed their representation in the country where we have our headquarters, as well as specific targets for our board, senior staff in country offices and those with the largest financial oversight responsibilities (ref: PepsiCo and Channel 4, UN-SWAP targets).

2. We will report on POC pay gaps at all staff levels and commit to eliminate them (ref: Save the Children).

3. We will reduce or end unpaid internships and those tied to particular universities or institutions, while creating entry-level paid fellowships for POCs (ref: National Geographic residency programme; McKinsey and Generation partnership; Adaptation of ODI fellowship programme).

4. We will advertise openly for all consultancy positions, whatever their length. Once applications are received, we will either use blind sifting processes or aim to interview at least 2 POCs for every white interviewee (ref: National Football League’s ‘Rooney rule’, the law profession’s Mansfield Rule, or Symphony Orchestras and Deloitte).

5. We will provide resources to create or strengthen employee representative groups for POC staff and involve them in candid, difficult discussions about racism and its manifestation in the industry – external and internal (ref: Save the Children).

We commit to delivering anti-racist development programmes

1. We will cut prejudice in our outlook by using the principle of universality to challenge perceptions of ‘us’ and ‘them’ and paternalism in how our development programmes/projects are designed and delivered (ref: UN SDGs).

2. We will ensure our development programmes are based on diverse evidence from across the world – including from the country in which our headquarters is based and/or where funds are flowing from (ref: Development Reimagined).

3. We will introduce bespoke (i.e. development-related) anti-institutional racism training for all staff (ref: McKinsey).

4. We will aim to collate and use data on all countries in the world on all metrics – no longer using artificial divisions such as developed/developing in evidence and analysis, and/or using categories of Sub-Saharan Africa and MENA, which are not in use by those regions (ref: UN SDGs universality principle).

5. We will ensure a target percentage of business cases/programmes are designed, approved, and evaluated by POCs and report on this target in our annual report (ref: Channel 4 targets for commissioned programmes).

6. We will cancel any panel discussions, dialogues or consultations that do not have a target percentage POC representation on them (ref: Owen Barder’s pledge to no #manels – and #nomorewanels pledge ‘white-only panels’).

7. We will ensure our organisation, country programme/strategies and development programmes clearly outline a responsible and locally empowering exit strategy (ref: INTRAC).

We commit to building diverse supply chains

1. We will work to ensure organisations that we outsource from – the private sector, consultants, non-governmental or local organisations, think-tanks – are as anti-racist in their attitude and actions as we are (ref: retail sector ethical supply chains initiatives).

2. We will ensure a target percentage (or a majority) of our outsourced programmes are delivered by organisations led by POCs and will report on this in our annual report (ref: Sephora commitment to 15% of cosmetic makers being black-owned brands).

3. We will ensure our suppliers have a target percentage (or majority) of POC in all their expert teams (ref: BBC has targets for 20% of POC representatives on each programme).

4. We will identify 3-4 POC-led private sector organisations and NGOs registered in each country we operate in to champion and grow (ref: Channel 4 ‘BAME accelerator programme’ for suppliers).

5. We will ensure a target percentage (or a majority) of our outsourced contract spend annually is delivered by POC-led contractors. We will also establish a baseline by measuring and publishing such statistics in our annual report (ref: PepsiCo – more than double spend with Black-owned suppliers, McKinsey double spend with diverse suppliers within 3 years).

The author would like to thank Jonathan Glennie for his comments on earlier drafts

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash


  • Hannah is the CEO of the first African Wholly Foreign Owned International Development Consultancy in China – Development Reimagined (DR). DR provides strategic advice and practical support to African, Chinese and international stakeholders on issues from the Belt and Road Initiative, to Africa’s growth markets, green growth and China’s foreign aid. A former diplomat and economist, with close to 20 years of experience, she is also Senior Associate for the Africa Program of the Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS), sits on the Executive Board of the British Chamber of Commerce in China and has played various advisory roles for the UN and OECD and co-authored the seminal Stern Review of the Economics of Climate Change in 2006.

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