Victor Beausoleil is the Executive Director of Social Economy through Social Inclusion (SETSI) and a CCEDNet Board member.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadians have been fascinated by reports of African Americans dying from COVID-19 at three times the rate of their white counterparts. It is clear now that similar disparities have played out in the poorest regions of Canada.
In recent weeks the overarching themes of “othering”, and systemic and institutional racism across North America in the form of vile police brutality and the murder of people of African descent, has once again raised questions regarding the moral fabric of our society and nation.
Canada and countless sectors and ecosystems within our nation have had a long history of injustice, disenfranchisement and exclusionary practices. The racial divisions within the social finance, social enterprise and community economic development ecosystem are clear to my colleagues and I within SETSI.
Since the fall economic statement of 2018 and the announcement of the Social Finance Fund, we have collectively used words such as inclusion, diversity, equity and access. We have also worked diligently as an ecosystem to become and support others in “investment readiness”.
But as an ecosystem we have yet to ask the question, are we ready for inclusion?
Clearly the desire for investment readiness is seductive, but if public dollars committed by the federal government in our ecosystem exclude African Canadians from an equitable seat at the table, we have missed the mark. Over the past year my colleagues and I have devoted our time, resources and social capital towards raising awareness of the Investment Readiness Program and supporting partners within the ecosystem, but of late we are clearly recognizing a lack of interest and action as it relates to inclusion, diversity, equity and access or even reciprocity.
The emblematic denial of systemic racism and the overt “othering” we have experienced is troublesome based on the collective progressiveness of this sector. Some of our colleagues within our ecosystem are willing to listen and learn, but very few have been willing to take action.
The radical re-imagining required to cultivate and harness the potential of those on the periphery of the social enterprise and social finance ecosystem seems untenable. Tolerance and empty platitudes have been a consistent theme from most organizational leaders we have engaged. We have regularly gone back to our small corner in the ecosystem and facilitated our work humbly without calling out the challenges we have faced.
We recognize that this struggle for economic equity and inclusion is not for the faint of heart. Actions based on evolving economic data, and ecosystem trends are imperative post covid-19. These actions are even more vital in the midst of the dehumanizing violations people of African descent face daily, but are now once again being highlighted.
There are many key stakeholders across Canada that can effortlessly partner, support and engage people of African descent, but it seems this is not a priority or needs to be incentivised which is also troubling.
Do publically funded institutions and organizations within the social finance and social enterprise ecosystem require government intervention to engage African Canadians, or partner with African Canadian orgs?
At SETSI, from inception, it has been our aim to co-create an ecosystem that respects diversity, but what we have witnessed is an exclusive stratified ecosystem dominated by one common group. This model weakens the entire ecosystem, as well it distorts and perverts the values we claim to hold dear as Canadians.
The intractable economic realties of people of African descent are clear to statisticians, policy analysts across governmental departments and within the boardrooms of orgs and institutions in our sector. Unfortunately the competitive nature of funding and the lack and scarcity mindset that permeates our ecosystem incentivizes exclusion.
On countless occasions my colleagues and I have raised with respect and empathy the clear lack of inclusion, diversity, equity and access in our ecosystem, and we are met with excuses of powerlessness. This stance almost insults our intelligence. Many of the partners in the ecosystem have great power, privilege and access. Partners have policy shops, seasoned lobbyists, numerous staff, buildings and various assets, healthy budgets and decades of intellectual property and digital assets. As a sector we are collectively very powerful and influential.
At SETSI it is our aim moving forward to engage as full citizens in this ecosystem, naming and framing challenges while still operating in good faith to co-create solutions. We recognize systems change and systemic transformation is challenging, but it is even more challenging when alleged allies are silent or willing to only speak up, and not act.
As a sector we must develop inclusion readiness, as well as collectively cultivating diverse talent pools and partnerships with unlikely allies. We engaged our membership over the past few weeks, our partners and allies and have identified a few priority actions;
- The development of a standing meeting/working group in the social enterprise and social finance ecosystem, to work towards advancing inclusion, diversity, equity and access. Performance indicators as well as tools for measuring this work are an important mandate of this group.
- Diversity & Inclusion policy promotion and development amongst Investment Readiness Program partners and ecosystem stakeholders within their respective orgs.
- The development and implementation of an intermediary specifically for the African Canadian community in the Social Finance Fund.
- Ecosystem partners collaborating for the development of a self-determined fund to engage the traditionally under-represented Canadians in the social finance and social enterprise ecosystem through small catalyst grants and non-repayable loans.
The aforementioned priority actions are not demands or even recommendations, these are actions that SETSI as well as our partners and allies are working towards executing. We are seeking authentic allies and collaborators to exponentially scale the work we have begun.
African Canadians and numerous other equity-seeking groups have been maltreated, both unintentionally and callously, by various professional disciplines. Social responsibility sentiments are not enough to combat systemic oppression. In this moment our call to actions is predicated on redefining partnership and the sharing of power. Transformation cannot occur without profound truth telling, followed up with courageous action.
On behalf of SETSI as well as our partners and allies I thank you for your consideration, and I look forward to hearing back from you as it relates to how you can support the work ahead of us.
One of my favourite African words is “Ubuntu”, which is a Bantu term that literally means “humanity”. Ubuntu is usually expressed in a phrase,
“I am because we are”
I encourage you to stand with us and demonstrate empathy for those on the margins of our ecosystem, and turn this moment into a movement.