Ngozi Lyn Cole and Bonnie Chiu: How we are supporting Lloyds Bank Foundation on a racial equity journey

Bonnie Chiu (left), and Ngozi Lyn Cole (right)

The COVID-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement have led to a seismic shift in how foundations consider racial equity in their makeup and grantmaking strategies.

We are glad that the reckonings are finally here. As two women from ethnic minority backgrounds who work in the foundation sector, we had to personally confront racism in its various layers and guises. We started working together three years ago, and in our exchanges, we found common challenges in our professional lives that were related to race, compounded by our gender.

Ngozi Lyn spent almost two decades at the National Lottery Community Fund, as the first Black woman to be in the Senior Leadership team of the fund; and Bonnie worked on the outskirts of the system, advising a range of foundations and co-founded the Diversity Forum for Social Investment. From our experiences, we’ve found that organisations led by and for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities tend to have less access to funding and other opportunities while addressing a multitude of needs – there simply is not a level playing field.

If foundations are there to support the charities and people most in need – why aren’t these charities being supported?

Throughout our careers, we have tried to support organisations led by and for Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities as mentors, volunteers and coaches.

They have told us repeatedly about their struggle to engage with funders and investors who have defined ‘what good looks like’ through systems that include barriers at every turn.

But it is important to recognise that the burden shouldn’t solely fall on these organisations, to change within a system that was not built with their specific needs in mind. Individual funders and the foundation sector need to become truly and visibly anti-racist, taking conscious efforts and actions to provide equitable opportunities for all people on an individual and systemic level.

The opportunity then came for us to work with Lloyds Bank Foundation to support them to embed racial equity in their organisation and in their grantmaking. We jumped at this opportunity to make a real difference.

It’s now been two months and we’ve supported the team to launch a racial equity programme as part of their COVID-19 recovery grant programme, and we are trialling different approaches in the application and assessment stages to try to eliminate any bias.

We have started having uncomfortable conversations about race, within a safe space, and in every conversation, we talk about why we need to talk about equity.

For a very long time, the foundation sector has generally taken an equality lens – treating everyone the same, which assume that everyone benefits from the same support. We know from the data points highlighted above that Black, Asian and minority ethnic-led groups are not benefiting from the same support. COVID-19 has shone a bright light on these disparities. That’s why we need to move to an equity lens, which provides everyone with the support they need, but not a one-size-fits-all approach.

So far, we have been impressed by the willingness to engage and openness to challenge that we have encountered. Our ambition will be for Lloyds Bank Foundation to embed racial equity into everything they do, as part of the broader Equality, Diversity and Inclusion strategy; and to encourage others in the foundation sector to take the same journey.

As our work develops, this will involve walking the walk as well as talking the talk and taking the difficult decisions that will undoubtedly be needed to bring about lasting change. This will mean that finally people and communities truly get the right level of resources needed to improve their life chances.

Fight for the things you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you” Ruth Bader Ginsburg, late Supreme Court