By Natalie Bamdad and Noelia Mann (Building Movement Project)
This piece is a follow-up to a recent webinar on systems change and equity developed by the Building Movement Project and Management Assistance Group and cross-posted on Building Movement Project’s blog.
Today, in a time of heightened attention to racism, xenophobia, police brutality, sexual harassment, gun violence, Islamophobia, climate change, and more, there is an urgency and commitment to stretch the bounds of what is possible and to move from merely improving systems to disrupting and transforming systems.
And yet, dominant approaches to systems change fail to integrate an intentional racial equity lens into the work.
Without a focus on racial equity, how we bound the system -- and influence the structures, people, and invisible fabric that connects these elements within the system -- is susceptible to unnamed racial (and/or other forms of) bias and assumptions. We might also ignore the historic context that shaped the system and pursue change efforts that don’t address the unseen patterns of white dominant culture upholding the system. These are just a few of the ways that systems change without an equity lens falls short.
Last fall, we partnered with Building Movement Project to better understand what systems change with an equity lens might look like. The main questions we explored were:
- What does transformative systems change look like in the field?
- Where are we seeing real shifts in power and lasting transformation?
- What is different about the approaches led by people of color, women, immigrants and others groups who are leading this work and often on the periphery of dominant narratives about systems change?
These initial conversations brought into focus how systems change with a equity lens differs from a conventional approach by explicitly addressing how white supremacy and patriarchy sustain unhealthy systems.
Together we developed a simple framework, which we tested with partners in the field and other systems change practitioners -- a group comprised mostly of women and people of color doing this work. In partnership with this group, we distilled four key components that distinguish systems change with an equity lens from other systems change efforts: