Anti-Racist and Decolonial Framework
14 June 2022
This framework has been developed to help Start Network, our members and teams understand and address the many ways in which racism and colonialism can affect our work.
Download the Framework
Start Network is a global network of non-governmental organisations, made up of more than 50 national and international aid agencies from five continents. Our mission is to create a new era of humanitarian action that will save even more lives through innovation, fast funding, and early and locally led action.
As part of our efforts to transform the global humanitarian system, we are transitioning to a “network of networks”, with a dispersed network of autonomous and interdependent hubs around the world. These locally led hubs will bring in many more local and national organisations based in their own countries. Through this structure our aim is for the network to be locally led and through this framework we aim to challenge the influence of racism and colonialism.
We have produced this framework because we recognise that:
1. The humanitarian system which Start Network came from – and is still a part of – has its roots in colonial systems and structures. These systems, structures, approaches and ways of working retain a strong legacy of colonialism and still have far-reaching effects within the humanitarian system today.
2. Systemic racism continues to prevail in many societies. In addition, many humanitarian organisations are not racially or ethnically diverse. This has led to organisational systems and structures that, in many cases, are still dominated by white perspectives, particularly at senior level. This means they may fail to acknowledge, and in some cases may entrench, colonial and racist structures.
3. This has led to a situation where racism is embedded in the ways that the humanitarian sector is built and acts.010203We are responding to these issues by working to understand the complex and far-reaching ways in which racism and colonialism can influence our work.
This framework is intended to equip our members and teams (as well as other organisations) with the tools to identify and address these influences.
From November 2020 to March 2021, a consultant, Arbie Baguios, led a process that involved:
- Desk research and literature review;
- Review of Start Network’s internal and external documents;
- 13 stakeholder interviews (3 or 23% BIPOC/Global South participants; 9 or 69% women);
- 14 focus group discussions (FGD) with 75 participants (37 or 49% BIPOC/Global South participants; 46 or 61% women)•Participant observation;
- Start Network stakeholder survey with 43 respondents (at least 24 or 55% BIPOC/Global South respondents; 15 or 36% women)•And pilot of an ethical reflection session.
- The consultant also worked closely with an advisory working group composed of six people, including four or 67% BIPOC/Global South representatives, and four or 67% women.
Our work so far and next steps
Start Network, with the support of Arbie Baguios, completed this report and framework in April 2021. We spent time engaging the team on the implications of the findings and reflecting on how we may use the framework to change our mindsets and our ways of working. Some examples of the changes we have begun to make are below.Later in 2021, we began to discuss the framework with members, including as part of our Assembly in November 2021. Start Network is now working with anti-racism consultants to further analyse and understand how the framework can help us to decolonise our work. We are committed to identifying clear actions to address racism and colonialism across the network and reporting publicly on our progress against these commitments.
RE-EXAMINING HOW WE MANAGE RISK
Start Network has begun to re-examine how risk is currently managed and perceived in the humanitarian sector, due to its values being rooted in Western standards. Our Hubs and members have challenged us to look at how we manage risk in recent years. They noted how many risk instruments, such as due diligence, have led to increased barriers to entry and funding for smaller, local and grassroots organisations.
The decolonisation report (and the recent discourse in the sector on decolonising the humanitarian sector) also highlighted the perception of how risk is currently managed as a way of imposing Western standards, contributing to the current power distribution status quo with the sector. This has resulted in a focus on Western defined organisational deficits and not what can be important strengths. Additionally, although the question of how to make humanitarian support more accountable to crisis-affected communities is gaining prominence, it is ‘upwards accountability’ to donors that is afforded an unbalanced level of resource and consideration.
Thus, through following the values in the decolonisation report, we are exploring new approaches and tools for assessing and managing risk, that puts accountability to crisis-affected communities at the centre. We are inviting a wide variety of participants to take part in this process, including from various sectors in the Global South and Global North and donors, while ensuring facilitation actively mitigates the power imbalances. We hope this initiative will support in paving the way for local actors and crisis-affected communities to positively disrupt traditional risk and accountability structures.
BUILDING MORE ETHICAL COMMUNICATIONS AND ADVOCACY
In our communications we have begun to look at the language we use. In addition to providing more interpretation at events and sharing content in more languages, we are also looking at the terminology we use. For example, we are trying to limit terms such as ‘beneficiaries’, which removes agency and power from communities, who are often the first and most active responders to crises, as well as ‘aid’ which infers humanitarian action and funding is purely charity, and does not recognise the historical exploitation by the Global North over the Global South, which has enabled northern economies to become financially richer, this some argue, means that aid should be reconsidered as reparations.We have intentionally prioritised local and national voices in our advocacy work, and we have acted as enablers for them to be represented at international and global levels. Working to shift our approach from purely advocating ‘for’, to also advocating ‘with’ actors from the Global South.
THE JOURNEY TO DECOLONISING EVIDENCE AND LEARNING
In our evidence and learning we are re-examining what success looks like from a community perspective rather than a Western lens built on log-frames and risk and accountability checklists. We have heard from communities that it is how we ask, as well as what we ask, that is important, and have been building this learning into our evidence and learning approach. For example, in community surveys we have built in questions around how people feel they were treated by staff, and where possible conduct in person interviews that focus on storytelling. In complement, we work closely with local researchers in all data collection to ensure that the questions we ask and the way we ask them are culturally and contextually appropriate, allowing people to express their perspectives in their local languages with people they feel they can trust.
Download the Framework