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Advancing Racial Equity at Vancouver Foundation

Behind the scenes in the three staff groups moving forward the LEVEL agenda from the inside

By Esther Tung, Communications Manager


If I didn’t work at Vancouver Foundation, I’d have applied for LEVEL’s Youth Policy Program this year. Giving racialized youth* the tools to shape policy? Yes!

Since the program is not open to staff, I had to look for other ways to advance racial equity instead. When our Learning & Evaluation** (L&E) team launched its staff grant program modelled after LEVEL’s mission, I jumped at the opportunity to apply. Up to three projects would be approved for up to $1,000.

LEVEL is Vancouver Foundation’s answer to the youth who have encouraged us to name race, racism and power in our work. These youth have also challenged us to find ways to share power with others.

Paving the way for others is the way I choose to honour those who paved the way for me to be where I am today.

*Indigenous and racialized immigrant and refugee youth, to be exact.

**Did you know? We have a team dedicated to research, program evaluation, and community listening. The L&E team supports grantees in understanding our work better. The team also builds staff capacity for learning, refining, and communicating our role in the community.

So who are the LEVEL Internal Grantees?

The L&E team created the LEVEL Internal Grant program as a way for us to learn alongside our grantees, not just exchange funding for knowledge. By giving every team here a firsthand appreciation for the process of applying for a grant, but also of creating racial equity in our workplace, we believe this will make Vancouver Foundation a more authentic partner to our grantees.

A quarter of all our employees are part of a project team, with representatives from Finance and Operations, Donor Services, Communications, and Grants & Community Initiatives. In my books, this large cross-section of engagement was one of the program’s first successes.

We don’t know it all. We don’t expect to, even at the end of our time together. At our check-ins, we shared our uncertainty about how our conversations were going to go with our colleagues and donors. We worried that in the end, we wouldn’t have had any impact. On sticky notes, we wrote down anxieties over saying the wrong thing.  

At the same time, it's the uncertainty that energizes us. Worry meant there was hope. The fact that we were here, meant there was momentum. Because this conversation was happening across the entire workplace, we could see the possibility for our small steps to lead to bigger changes.

What’s next for the LEVEL Internal Grantees?

Here’s what the three teams are working on.

One team is exploring tactics to embed cultural sensitivity into our workplace culture.

Another team is looking at how we can include the voices of racialized youth at Vancouver Foundation events.

My team wants to understand how our event production processes could change to bring our racialized colleagues in the charitable sector closer to the centre at the events we host and produce. A challenge for us has been in finding best practices from similar organizations we can model. This is not because no one is engaged in racial equity work, but because so much of it is an invisible process. Having a consistently diverse conference lineup or a diverse board is the result of the racial equity work, but not the starting point.

Being community inspired does not always mean we wait and see what others do. I appreciate this opportunity to join the fray of developing and testing "next practices."

With an awareness that an organization of our size and capacity can be a real force for normalizing change, we will make our learnings, processes, and impact publicly available. Our projects wrap up in November.

The best way to keep in touch with us is to subscribe to the LEVEL newsletter. By subscribing, you’ll also be the first to hear about applications opening for the 2020 Youth Policy Program.

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