The charity sector at all levels is overwhelmingly white. This has incredibly negative repercussions for charities that work with BAME communities – even more so for those of us who work at the grass roots, particularly when it comes to bidding for funding.
Jan Trust has worked with BAME and Muslim communities for 31 years, supporting women to overcome marginalisation in various forms. Ever since the charity’s inception, we have struggled with funding.
We have long found that funders were not interested in our work, as it was not deemed “sexy” enough.
Educating BAME and Muslim women, whether through our educational programmes or our work to end violence against women and girls, including FGM and forced marriages, were not topics that drew appeal. They were considered too “heavy”.
As a charity that was founded and led by BAME women for BAME women, we have been critically underfunded and treated with contempt by a wide variety of funders.
We have had to work 10 times as hard as others to prove the worth of our work as legitimate, necessary, and worthwhile.
In comparison with white-led NGOs, we have been forced to jump through various hoops in order to receive funding for issues such as tackling forced marriage, despite having the cultural knowledge and skills to deliver this work where others did not.
In the early 2000s, funders did not understand our work tackling forced marriage, and as a result we did not receive financial support.
Over the years we have also faced condescending and insulting questions and commentary regarding out work, once being told: “Well, it is part of the Muslim faith.”
Unfortunately we find these attitudes and ignorance are commonplace in the sector.
Our experience with counterterrorism work was not dissimilar.
In 2010, having survived the 7/7 bombings in London five years earlier, I developed the pioneering initiative Web Guardians.
The programme works with BAME women and mothers, educating and empowering them to identify the signs of online radicalisation and gang recruitment, and teaches them ways to tackle such issues within their own families and communities.
It took me years to convince not only funders but also the government to take this work seriously.
Even when we did eventually secure funding to deliver this initiative, we found that our white counterparts were being funded and supported more.
Following the tragic death of George Floyd and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests last year, conversations have started about systemic racial injustice, both globally and here in the UK.
As a result of these conversations, some funders have begun to open up opportunities to support BAME organisations.
However, just like Jan Trust, many BAME charities have suffered hugely as a result of the current crisis driven by the pandemic.
On a personal level, last year was incredibly difficult, particularly given that we have long existed in precarious circumstances as a result of funding difficulties.
Not only do small charities struggle to secure funding, but they are often used by large charities and colleges to deliver work with high outputs but small budgets, because they know that, for these programmes to be successful, they need to be delivered by those who know and work with the communities.
The issue of diversity also needs to be tackled internally. Recently the Lloyds Bank Foundation advertised for a number of development partners to assist in capacity-building charities they are funding.
“A quarter of these grants will be awarded to charities that are led by and for Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities,” the advert said.
“Therefore, we are looking to appoint development partners who can demonstrate significant experience, lived or otherwise, of working with Black, Asian and minority ethnic-led charities and a deep understanding of the communities they serve.”
Despite clearly stating what it was seeing, in the end the foundation only recruited one BAME candidate out of 12 – a mere eight per cent.
When funders began opening opportunities up to support BAME organisation in the wake of the BLM protests this summer I shared concerns that this was not a long-term solution to an entrenched funding crisis, but instead knee-jerk relief efforts. These appointments further evidence these concerns.
Many BAME charities exist in a constant funding crisis. If, as a society and a sector, we are serious about redressing racial inequality, funders and government need to end lip service and offer genuine and meaningful support to BAME charities.
Given the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on BAME communities, the need for extra funding for BAME-led organisations – which rarely makes its way down to smaller organisations – is more critical than ever. The funding relief efforts to help BAME organisations, as well as global conversations about racial injustice, must be seen as a long-term solution.
Remedying the issues suffered by BAME communities requires sustained change that engages with, and invests in, grassroots BAME organisations, to maximise their impact in serving the communities that need them most.
Sajda Mughal is chief executive of the Jan Trust