Exclusive: Three resign from National Emergencies Trust equity working group

– This story was updated on 3 June to include a response from Rosemary Macdonald, interim chief executive of UK Community Foundations

Three BAME sector figures have resigned from an equity working group organised by the National Emergencies Trust, expressing concerns that their presence was simply to “validate decisions that had already been made”, Third Sector has been told.

Yvonne Field, chief executive and founder of the Ubele Initiative, philanthropy adviser Derek Bardowell and Sado Jirde, chief executive of the charity Black South West Network, have stepped down from the group, which was set up by the NET to discuss the need for equitable funding of charities during the coronavirus pandemic.

Sharing her experience with Third Sector, Field explained that she had been invited to the working group as a guest member, but the group’s purpose was unclear from the beginning.

“There was a definite lack of clarity as to the role of the equity working group in the first meeting,” she said. “My sense was that I, Derek, Sado and other attendees were advisory, but it was unclear what would happen with any of our suggestions.”

Initial discussions lacked depth and direction, Field said, with funding already “rushing out of the door” without adequate discussions on how to ensure equitable distribution. “It felt as though we were there to validate decisions that had already been made,” she said. 

Concerns about the influence of the equity group had previously been raised on social media by CharitySoWhite, a network of BAME people seeking to tackle racism within the charity sector.

In a tweet written on 15 May, CharitySoWhite organisers said plans for the group suggested it would not have “any real decision-making power or influence”. 

They also argued that the co-chairing of the group by Rosemary McDonald, interim chief executive of UK Community Foundations, which works with the NET to distribute funding, was “a clear conflict of interest".

In May, the NET announced that it would introduce new measures to ensure funds from its Coronavirus Appeal reached marginalised people affected by the crisis.

This included ring fencing £250,000 “to enhance community foundations’ outreach to BAME-led charities and those supporting BAME communities and other groups at risk of marginalisation – for example, by providing them with additional support for grant applications”.

Field said that, although the £250,000 fund was discussed in equity group meetings, the measures did not go far enough. 

With BAME people disproportionately affected by the crisis, and the Ubele initiative previously warning that nine out of 10 small and macro BAME organisations could close within months, Field stressed that the pandemic should be a “game-changer” for equitable funding. 

“There are people within the BAME communities and white communities who are ready to support funders to create that change,” she said. 

But Field said she did not feel her calls for at least 20 per cent of funding to be ring-fenced were given due consideration, and shortly afterwards she resigned from the group in mid-May. 

“The NET asked for advice, suggestions and our so-called ‘expertise’, but it doesn't actually take it,” she said. 

“It is already on a track. The whole process feels like it has been lip service.” 

Bardowell and Jirde resigned from the group shortly after Field. 

Speaking to Third Sector, Jirde said she felt initial conversations had been useful, but the group had not acted quickly enough to implement decisive action beyond “debating and talking”, and had not taken suggestions on board. 

“There was nothing concrete on the table," she said. "We were just responding in ways that have never worked in the past.

“This time of crisis calls for different and radical behaviours. If funders don’t have the confidence to support meaningful engagement that leads to real and impactful change, I’m not going to waste my time.”

Bardowell also criticised the NET for failing to “adequately note concerns or suggestions” about ensuring “swift and substantial investment to BAME organisations”, adding: “I do not believe there was sufficient urgency or expertise to address this situation.

“In trying to address the lack of investment to black and brown-led organisations serving communities disproportionately affected by Covid-19, the NET and UKCF failed to adequately tackle the systemic and structural problems that led to their poor investment practices in the first place,” he added. 

“Failure to address these fundamental issues meant that the only purpose the equity group appeared to serve was to send lists of BAME organisations and suggestions on how best to help BAME organisations write applications.

“It was a group that would sweep the structural problems under the carpet while problematising black and brown groups and failing to genuinely address the root causes of the issue.”

Organisers at CharitySoWhite criticised the NET as an example of a number of key funders that “have failed to ensure an equitable funding response to the crisis”.

Organisers told Third Sector: “At the heart of this lies the fact that funders have, for years, neglected BAME VCSs and ignored the institutional racism in which their organisations operate

“Despite some positive first steps from the NET, including the appointment of Elizabeth Balgobin to its allocation committee, we are dismayed by its broader lack of transparency and accountability in terms of where existing funds have been distributed, as well as the management of its equity working group.” 

In a statement, Jehangir Malik, founder and trustee of the Muslim Charities Forum, co-optee of the NET and chair of its equity working group, told Third Sector there was “no doubt” that the Covid-19 pandemic had had a disproportionate impact on BAME and marginalised groups. 

“As a new charity set up in November 2019 to ensure emergency funds reach the most vulnerable quickly, the NET has been working hard to provide support to communities across the UK, especially those from marginalised groups,” he said. 

“Early on, we recognised that we needed to do more and this led to us creating the equity working group to help us extend our reach. Moving as quickly as possible, we have been able to change our allocation criteria to better support marginalised groups, ensuring that areas of the country with high BAME populations have received proportionally more funds.

He added: “The equity working group has provided valuable insights. We have dedicated an initial £250,000 for BAME infrastructure bodies as well an initial £2.5m for BAME-led charities. 

“Early conversations about these measures have been encouraging, but we recognise there is still more we can do. 

“We continue to proactively explore ways to collaborate with others in the sector to ensure that the inequalities that exist in the distribution network are addressed.”

In a statement, Rosemary Macdonald, interim chief executive of UK Community Foundations, said: "We recognise and understand the critical message voiced in the research by Ubele Initiative, the subsequent challenge and call for action by CharitySoWhite and the recent recommendations by Future Foundations."

"In our desire to get funding out to people facing hardship as quickly as possible, we’ve made mistakes. We will listen and reflect on the criticism of our approach so far.

"We also commit to take action, not only in the immediate response to Covid-19, but also for the longer-term task of recovery for BAME communities, building a strong BAME infrastructure and the part we can play in eliminating racial injustice.”

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