We hear from Primrose Manyalo, Senior Youth Collective Manager (Zimbabwean, based in Zimbabwe) and Segun Olowookere, International Finance Director at Restless Development (Black British, based in UK) who share their perspectives on why they joined the Restless Development for Racial Justice Group and their journey so far.
Why did you join the group?
Segun: It started before I joined Restless for the second time. Restless already had a plan to be a global agency driven by its country hubs in Asia and Africa and so the car was already moving before the tragic murder of George Floyd in the streets of Minnesota, USA by a policeman.
For me personally this was not a surprise, but what was most important to me was to help Restless to avoid jumping into action straight away. The temptation to react instead of respond was high. The temptation to act on our feelings and show our values on our sleeve is something we had to balance. Making promises we can’t keep is a trap too many global leaders are guilty of and we definitely should not be associated with or a member of that club.
The world suddenly woke up to racism and our sector wanted to speak out and act!”
Primrose: I wanted to sit on the decision making table and to be in the main room and change things. The George Floyd murder was a wakeup call for me. It made me realise that we can no longer afford to sit on the sidelines and not take action. I am a young, black, female Senior Manager in an international organisation that truly believes in the power and potential of young people. I am living proof of being listened to, being believed in and being heard. This makes my voice crucial to shaping our racial justice agenda. Martin Luther echoed this when he asked the pertinent question;
“Life’s persistent and urgent question is; what are you doing for others?”
I can relate to the burdens of people of colour, which are being worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate change crisis, and the mere state of being; being African, being female, being in International Leadership…the list is countless. All that comes with a rich experience of being and “becoming”, struggles and triumphs. This is not just an agenda for me, or ticking the strategy checklist that makes us look good, it is about doing the right thing.
It is about tackling white supremacy culture and offering a safe space – free from the negative impact of structural racism and bias – and restoring power to young leaders and communities of colour so that they can lead the fight for a just and sustainable world.”
What has happened since ?
Segun: For Restless it helped us go into acceleration mode and become much more intentional but the biggest step we took was to just pause and listen!
Stop, pause and just listen.
The pain may still be there but in this brave step we are really acknowledging the pain of others that may be feeling it more than us. This puts us in a better place to respond with honest, realistic sustainable solutions that come from a place of empathetic understanding.
The journey led us to have a global listening call where several of our colleagues from around the world opened their hearts and shared their experience of being a person of colour in the world of International Development and surrounded by White Supremacy culture. A recent report from BOND also helps us understand this. We took the exercise into each of our hub country offices in order to understand how racism plays out in the different contexts we work in and I was really proud to see that all of these sessions were not led by the hub director. It showed that people really care about this and are willing to step up and lead.
We put together two sub groups one for Directors and another without Directors to review the notes shared from the listening exercises and then we came together to form an action plan. We came up with a name…Restless anti Racist sub group…but this later changed to Restless for Racial Justice.
Primrose: Having joined Restless over 10 years ago I can honestly say that Restless Development has made some progress and was not afraid to hand over some of the power, by reshaping the leadership composition at the top in our most senior Leadership Team and Global Board.
Our leadership structure changed from a majority white and British ‘Senior Leadership Team’ to majority people of colour from six countries including three young leaders, who now form the ‘Restless Leadership Team’ (RLT). We also restructured the leadership teams beneath RLT by introducing three lenses (Strategy, Resourcing and Business) each of which has its own leadership team that includes at least 50% people of colour. In addition to making some changes to the global board, we brought in more young leaders and diversity.
As more and more of my colleagues from the Global South were appointed into leadership roles, they worked collectively to set a bolder racial equity vision that works to reverse systemic oppression of communities of colour, which has for centuries created negative outcomes for them.
This makes me really hopeful, because the answers lie with the people. All they need are the platforms, agency and a voice to become an unstoppable force for positive change.”
What more needs to be done at Restless Development?
Segun: One of the challenges for an organisation the size of Restless is the amount of free funds we can throw at this work and not having resources immediately available to really push things forward at a pace that matches some of the great ideas and learnings that are being shared. For example, the ability to bring all staff to the same International pay scale is dependent on budget availability, as does starting to translate key documents into local languages or paying external specialists to support our work in this area and our internal action plan. These are a few immediate things that come to mind.
To date it has been the passion of staff and the expertise on the global board that has helped us take this work forwards, but a second challenge for Restless I would say is keeping the momentum, staying brave and not waiting or relying on our funders and the wider sector to go along with us on this journey.
Primrose: More work still needs to be done to translate our ambitious vision into a Racial Justice policy for the organisation. The Racial Equity Index could be a good starting point to draw from, collectively defining our racial equity indicators that are context specific, measurable and culturally sensitive. This will be the only way that all staff, our partners and youth networks can be truly accountable to our racial justice vision.
We also need to continue working on building local power on the topic of anti-racism, having more open conversations about hidden challenges posed by racism, and being bold in our advocacy agenda to include work on tackling the systemic imbalances perpetuated over the years by powerful organizations working in developed countries.
One of the biggest learnings for me is…
Segun: There is still a lot of sensitivity and emotion involved when discussing the issue of racism, white privilege and decolonisation. They are not all the same thing and it plays out differently in different parts of the world but they are interlinked so choice of words and language used is really important.
Whilst we definitely should not try to tiptoe around the issue we should be committed to continually educating ourselves and others along the journey.”
Primrose: I have learntthat being neutral is taking a position to perpetuate the racial injustices in our world. It is shaping a world that works for some, not all and bluntly accepting George Orwell’s utterance that all “animals are equal, but some are more equal than others”. We have to take action. It does not matter what our skin color is, where we come from or what position we have in organisations or societies. Achieving racial equity and justice is our collective agenda. The root causes of racism are embedded in culture, systemic and institutional policies and practices and in our daily communities. The effects of racism hit people of colour the most, especially women and girls, and traditionally excluded groups, whose lives become worse off.
Yet, if we look within ourselves, we will realise that we have the power to turn this around.
True justice and development will not be achieved if we turn a blind eye to racism. We need to ask ourselves what we have normalised? Does it lead to all people being equal, free and happy?”
Primrose Nanchani Manyalo is the Senior Youth Collective Manager at Restless Development. She is in the Restless Development Strategy Leadership team managing the Global We Lead Project in MENA, Africa and Central America and the Global Youth Collective with over 4000 youth civil society organisations from 187+ countries. Primrose sits in the Global Steering Committee for Youth for Our Planet, a global movement for climate action. She is passionate youth leadership, using a power-shifting approach. She has a strong track record in building and managing networks, governance, campaigning, advocacy policy shaping and practice. She also has operational and strategic experience at the international, regional and national levels focusing on governance, human rights, sexual and reproductive justice, climate change, education, livelihoods and racial justice.