Design a journey with different entry points into anti-racism awareness and practices
Create a conversational framework to discuss racism
Strengthen the capacity to host conversations about racism.
The MSF TIC Anti-Racism Project aims to address structural racism and challenges in holding difficult conversations on racism, facilitate a discovery-based anti-racism journey to increase knowledge and understanding of racism at MSF, and take concrete steps in building greater understanding, tolerance, and awareness to achieve cross-sectional organisational commitment to anti-racism.
This happened primarily through the establishment of an anti-racism cohort and the hosting of conversation spaces on anti-racism. The project also aimed to train a cohort of conversation navigators who will be able to further the conversation in multiple places throughout the movement.
The theory of change that guides the design of this process is that culture change begins with cultivating empathy and understanding through storytelling. This is what the conversation spaces hope to do.
The conversation spaces enabled participants to develop individual, team and organisational awareness about structural racism as well as intrapersonal and interpersonal dynamics of power, privilege, white fragility, internalised oppression and the need for healing in the context of racism.
The approach to this project was centred on the model of engaging heads, hearts, or hands.
The head encompasses learning through concepts, theories and ideas through information sharing. The heart involves learning through self-awareness and relationship through centring story-telling that cultivates empathy, reflexivity and reflection. The hand involves learning through action - trying things out in practice, based on the deeper understanding gained at the level of head and heart.
Each of these is important, but alone they're not enough when trying to foster organisational commitment to anti-racism. In order to achieve systems transformation, cohort members need to be familiar with the head, heart and hands elements of leadership to enable them to think deeply about what it takes to truly transform systems through meaningful and intentioned engagements.
We employed a combination of methodologies, including stretch collaboration, organisational and relationship systems coaching, and systems and design thinking to encourage active participation whilst working with sensitivity to the complex issue of racism in the organisation.
Throughout the process, we paid attention to the importance of building system-level awareness, by inviting learning, reflection and building capacity. We drew on existing resources (from MSF, our processes and lessons of facilitating anti-racism processes and organisational change processes) and offered tools and frameworks that can be shared and re-used.
The MSF TIC Anti-Racism process ran from March to December 2022. As part of the initiative, Reos facilitated a series of 8 “Conversation Spaces” with an MSF anti-racism cohort.
The intention of the conversation spaces was to equip participants with the knowledge and the skills to listen, comprehend and communicate differently on issues of race and racism. Thus, the desired outcome here was to achieve the overarching goal of creating and sustaining structural change towards making MSF an anti-racist organisation.
Parallel to that, Reos also facilitated a series of 7 conversation navigators training sessions with a subset of the anti-racism cohort to build their capacity to lead and facilitate anti-racism conversations. We also hosted 6 anti-racism accompaniment sessions as coaching sessions for other MSF staff interested in taking action to address racism.
The MST TIC project produced impact at the structural and personal levels. At the structural level, the impact included:
Shifting narratives: Participants developed strategies to shift the white saviourism narrative that is present in the images used in the organisation. They also created brand guidelines around DEI to be used in fundraising campaigns.
Diverse leadership: Greater diversity in leadership in MSF would be seen as a mark of anti-racism progress.
Equitable processes: Participants noted that internal processes need to be more equitable. Effort is underway to revise the supply chain operations and global procurement processes.
Accountability and commitment: To reflect on progress and be able to self-critique and self-correct, participants thought of the accountability mechanisms needed for an ongoing commitment to DEI efforts.
At the personal level, the impact of the project included:
Having the right language: The process helped participants develop the language and the competency to speak up for themselves in cases of racial injustice. Participants gained the capacity and confidence to engage in conversations about racism with colleagues and develop the courage to do so. It was expressed that their language competency meant that they had developed the ability to talk about racism without feeling like it is their responsibility to make others comfortable.
Gaining the ability to hold space for others: The conversation navigators developed the competency to hold a safe space for discussions around racism that is free of judgement and stigma.