June 18, 2020. WE was founded on the simple but essential idea of bringing people together, of embracing and supporting one another and of overcoming barriers together.
As two of the most senior leaders within the organization—the Chair of the U.S. Board of Directors and the Executive Director—and as women of color, we wanted to share our thoughts on the powerful social movement unfolding around the world. The WE organization stands firmly for inclusion, diversity and the equitable, open treatment of all. Combatting racism, anti-BIPOC racism and systemic bias are fundamental to our values and mission.
WE recognize that all organizations—and that includes our own—must constantly challenge themselves to confront and overcome inherent bias. Standing against racism isn’t about words. It’s not even about actions. It’s about a process of continued, committed and unceasing action. With that in mind, over the past weeks the WE Board of Directors, co-founders, and senior leadership have initiated a series of actions to further our commitment to advancing diversity and inclusion within WE offices, through our programs in North American schools and with communities around the world.
At the heart of that effort is the need to pay close attention to what our own team members have to say about what we’re doing, how we’re doing it and what we can do better. Consequently, we have commenced a listening tour to hear the stories and personal experiences of current and former staff. That conversation has and will continue to also make room to learn more from Black organizations and Black leaders in the education community. For example, we are very fortunate that Martin Luther King III has agreed to work in partnership with WE to speak with team members, share his experiences and offer us his advice and counsel on these matters.
Building on this foundation, we have taken and are taking a series of further actions to reflect our commitment.
This list is not exhaustive, but it does serve to demonstrate the breadth of the effort we are making:
• Learning and working with BIPOC educational experts We are working alongside BIPOC educational experts who are helping us engage on anti-racism and anti-BIPOC racism in an educational context. As an example, Dr. Art McCoy, Superintendent of Schools, Jennings School District in Missouri, who is a leading voice on this movement.
• Anti-racism and anti-Black racism educational resources We have, and will continue, to use our educational platform to advance an end to racism. As students return to school this September, the WE Schools team will work with BIPOC educational experts to further build our educational resources on the issue of racism and anti-Black racism.
• Leveraging WE Day and digital WE Day events Over the years, WE Day has welcomed civil rights and anti-racism activists, such as as civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson, Grammy award winning rapper and poet Common, Green Book lead actor Mahershala Ali, sports icon Magic Johnson, and anti-Black racism activists Nasir and Chantey Andrews, in addition to many others. Moving forward, every WE Day event will have a tangible focus to help tackle the issue of racism. It has been a frequent theme of past years, but it will now be a permanent theme.
• Prioritizing underserved communities WE Schools has and continues to prioritize school district engagement in the U.S. that are designated Title 1, meaning WE prioritizes empowerment programs for young people in under-resourced communities. WE Schools in the United States are currently 48% Title 1 schools, representing thousands of schools, and we seek to grow this number.
• Global development commitment WE has over 25-years of work in sustainable international development that seeks to empower community-led projects and will continue its largest investments in sub-Saharan Africa. WE will further its commitment to prioritize resource investment in programs that build local capacity for agency and long-term sustainability in partnership with local communities and community leaders. Programs have included establishing WE College, training the next generation of nurses, engineers and educators, and the Women’s Empowerment Centre, creating employment and long-term economic self-sufficiency for thousands of women artisans in Kenya.
• WE’s Board of Directors A majority of the North American board are people of color representing a diversity of lived experiences to draw on to provide guidance.
• HR recruitment The organization is enhancing implicit bias training for the recruitment team. To further ensure an inclusive and diverse hiring WE has rolled out PLUM, a recruitment tool that aims at assessing candidates and their skills and experiences to place the right person in the right role without the influence of personal bias.
• Diversity and inclusion training While the organization’s senior leadership received diversity and inclusion training in 2018/2019, we have made the recent decision to roll out a third-party diversity and inclusion training program, mandatory for all employees at WE, including management. Similarly, members of our HR team are now engaging with experts about additional ways to support inclusivity in the organization.
The above is not an exhaustive list but represents continuous improvement on a journey that is important for all of us to take together. We know much more work must be done. Our commitment to you is that we will maintain that effort. We want to hear what you think. If you have any ideas or suggestions, please feel free to contact WE Charity’s Executive Director Dalal Al-Waheidi, [email protected] or Dr. Jacqueline Sanderlin, Chair, Board of Directors, USA, at [email protected]
Dr. Jacqueline Sanderlin Chair, Board of Directors, USA
Dalal Al-Waheidi Executive Director, WE Charity