Confronting racial bias in government funding

Hard to balance these calls for greater flexibility and unrestricted funding with long-standing government accountability requirements:

The federal government has proclaimed itself committed to the pursuit of diversity, equity and inclusion. The 2020 Treasury Board directive calls for an “equitable, diverse and inclusive workplace where no person is denied employment opportunities or benefits for reasons unrelated to ability or job requirements.” The federal budgeting process is supposed to use GBA+ analysis in decision-making. And yet, the government continues to ignore the entanglement of race in the organizations they fund. This has only served to disadvantage Black-focused, Black-led, and Black-serving (B3’s) organizations.

Recently, Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC), launched the Supporting Black Canadian Communities Initiative (SBCCI) – a capacity-building funding program. B3’s from all regions of Canada, outside of Quebec, submitted applications in the desperate hope of securing funding. You see, the funding apparatus in Canada, including the philanthropic sector, leaves Black-led organizations and groups that serve primarily Black communities without support to operate at their full potential. A recent report by the Foundation for Black Communities outlined the “miniscule” amount of funding provided to B3s, and how that funding is “sporadic, unsustained, and does not invest in the long-term capabilities of Black community organizations.”

And so when an initiative emerges that lays claim to building the capacity of B3’s, there is a collective hallelujah throughout Black communities. However, for many applicants to the new ESDC funding program, shouts of hallelujah quickly turned into groans of frustration. Organizations such as Black Lives Matter, the Somali Center for Family Services in Ottawa, and Operation Black Vote Canada, disclosed through various media channels that they received emails from ESDC rejecting their applications for funding because “information provided…was insufficient to clearly demonstrate that the organization is led and governed by people who self-identify as Black.”

The grant application required all applicants to “describe the extent your organization is Black-led, serving or focused.” The aforementioned organizations and others easily satisfy this criterion (by a glance at their websites) – Black leadership and service to Black communities are at the core of their being.

Social Development Minister Ahmed Hussen responded to the outcry stating that the initial communication sent to organizations like Operation Black Vote Canada was “completely unacceptable” and that his department “has implemented new measures” (details not publicly shared) to ensure such a “mistake” does not reoccur.

Was this a mistake? We will probably never know. What B3’s know with certitude is that when it comes to securing financial support from the government or other funding sources, it’s a vicious cycle. The organizations that tend to get funded are organizations that can demonstrate capacity and effectiveness. But how do organizations increase capacity in the first place? Of the millions of federal dollars in grant money we hear about in the news that are dispersed every year, only a small percentage reach Black communities and B3’s. The federal government should consider this a consequential failure on its part.

Black-focused, Black-led, and Black-serving organizations’ struggle has not been due to a lack of quality programming, ability, innovation, or dedication. They struggle due to a lack of funding and access to resources – funding to increase and strengthen their capacity and unrestricted dollars to operate at their full potential. (Unrestricted funding is not tied to any particular project or initiative, and can be used at the organization’s discretion.) The clientele served by B3’s is the constituency most impacted by injustice, and that regularly navigates multiple systems of oppression.

Further, leaders of B3’s have smaller budgets to work with compared to their white counterparts. Leading these organizations is not merely a job. It is their community. It is their life. And yet, the work they champion remains unfunded and under-resourced.  This leaves the issues and neighbourhoods they advocate for lingering in a perpetual state of community disadvantage.

For many B3’s, their experience with the Supporting Black Canadian Communities Initiativehas only exacerbated racial inequities and highlighted, yet again, the need for frank conversations about race and funding access.

There are four measurable steps the federal government can take now, to remove the barriers to equitable funding:

  • Explicitly acknowledge that broad change cannot happen without comprehending the reality that the grant-making process still operates in a system of inequity, making the journey to acquiring funding difficult to traverse for B3’s. Things that are not acknowledged remain unchanged.
  • Consult, engage, and convene B3’s in the design of funding programs and disbursement of funding dollars. This ensures an explicit eye toward inclusion and equity.
  • Design funding programs that take into account and provide financial support (e.g. seed funding) to B3’s at distinctly different points in their development.
  • Support B3’s with multi-year, unrestricted funding. This would provide an infusion of resources that would enable B3’s to address the needs prevalent in Black communities in a transformative way; increase organizational capacity and sustainability; and foster transparency and accountability between the government and organizations. This approach also prevents B3’s from being trapped in the annual application cycle.

Federal grant funding access and success are deeply entangled with inequities – stifling the success of B3’s and their ability to drive social change in the communities they serve. Black-focused, Black-led, and Black-serving organizations know that racial disparities matter. The mistakes made in the management of the SBCCI have elevated awareness. This must now lead to deliberate action.

Source: Confronting racial bias in government funding

Rejection letter ESDC sent to Black organizations ‘completely unacceptable’: Hussen

Oops!

Several Black organizations were denied federal funding through a program designed to help such groups build capacity — after Employment and Social Development Canada told them their leadership was not sufficiently Black.

Velma Morgan, the chair of Operation Black Vote, said her group received an email from the department on Tuesday saying their application did not show “the organization is led and governed by people who self-identify as Black.”

The department sent a second email the next day, saying their applications were not approved because it did not receive “the information required to move forward,” she said.

“As if we’re incompetent or foolish and we’re going to believe the second email over the original email,” Morgan said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

She said Operation Black Vote, a not-for-profit, multi-partisan organization that aims to get more Black people elected at all levels of government, is one of at least five Black organizations that were not approved for funding.

The program, called the Supporting Black Canadian Communities Initiative, provides funding to Canadian Black-led non-profit and charitable organizations to help them build capacity. The applications guidelines say at least two-thirds of the leadership and the governance structure must be people who self-identify as Black. The mandate of the organization must also be focused on serving Black communities.

Morgan said everyone on her team is Black. She also said the other organizations she knows about should also not have been rejected for the reason outlined in the first letter.

“If you’re from the Black community, you know that they’re Black-run and Black-focused,” she said.

Social Development Minister Ahmed Hussen said the initial letter his department sent to unsuccessful applicants was “completely unacceptable” and that he demanded a retraction as soon as he saw it.

In a thread on Twitter Thursday night, Hussen said he discussed with his department’s officials how such a mistake could have happened and implemented measures to make sure it does not happen again.

“I will continue to work with Black Canadian organizations to improve our systems,” said Hussen, who also mentioned the systemic barriers he has faced as Black person.

The department has not yet responded to a request for comment.

Morgan said the Liberal government should hire more Black people to sit at every decision-making table.

“This is an example of what happens when we don’t have representation,” Morgan said.

The Ontario Black History Society, a registered charity dedicated to study, preservation and promotion of Black history and heritage, is one of the groups that received both letters and had its application rejected. In an emailed statement, the organization said ESDC did not provide any reasons for why they were declined outside the two letters.

Former MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes, who left the Liberal caucus several months before the 2019 election to sit as an Independent, said many of the organizations she knows did not receive funding do not want to say anything publicly. She said they are worried speaking out will lead to the government denying them other funding chances.

“Why should these organizations be afraid of trying to speak up when something goes wrong?” said Caesar-Chavannes, who posted copies of the ESDC letters to Twitter after receiving them from the organizations that had received them.

“That’s the problem with how the government operates.”

Morgan said the letter also came after months of waiting, as her organization applied to get support to purchase equipment and retrofit its facilities in June. She said organizations were told they would get an answer in September but did not hear back until this week when they received the first letter.

“We hardly get any money from the government at all,” she said, while adding the rejection will not affect her group’s ability to operate.

“There are organizations that work with the most vulnerable in our community in terms of mental health or poverty, and those are the kinds of organizations that need the capacity funding.”

Caesar-Chavannes said that the number of organizations that contacted her has grown since she posted about the issue on Twitter.

“It’s dehumanizing that we have to keep proving (our Blackness.) How many different hurdles that we have to jump through?” she said.

Source: Rejection letter ESDC sent to Black organizations ‘completely unacceptable’: Hussen