Making History Now – Celebrating black advocates in international development
A blog by Dela Anderson, Campaigns Coordinator at RESULTS UK.
October marks Black History Month (BHM) in the UK, and I wanted to take this moment to highlight some of the amazing work being done by my black peers at RESULTS and our partners, and to open up a discussion about blackness and international development.
Every day I am inspired by the colleagues and grassroots advocates I work with, and in this post I am bringing some of their stories together in one place. As in many other organisations, the last few months has meant a period of reflection and organisational change at RESULTS UK, and it has meant we’re able to talk more openly about race. We know everyone’s experience of what we call international development is not equal, and that race plays a big part in that. For a start, our sector is overwhelmingly white, like many others. Everyone with a black parent will have been told at some point in their lives: “you’ll have to work twice as hard as everyone else” to be recognised, and for those involved in international development, it’s no different. There is also the small matter of how we dismantle racism in development campaigns and communications, in aid programmes and our global systems! In this blog post, our contributors touch on these challenges and highlight some inspiring people and initiatives who are working to rebalance the scales in favour of black people and communities.
I want to say a huge thank you to the following: Amos Kimani – RESULTS grassroots advocate, London; Caroline Anena – TB Europe Coalition Coordinator; Ayesha Farah – Campaigns Officer, Send my Friend to School; Eliza Ampomah – Campaigns Officer, RESULTS UK; Keasha Addo – RESULTS grassroots advocate, London; Nky Adeboye – RESULTS grassroots advocate, Sheffield; and Yolanda Gordon, Expansion and Advocacy, RESULTS USA – all of whom carved out a chunk of their weekends to answer the following questions from me:
What are you working on right now that you’re proud of?
Why should we celebrate the contributions of black people in international development?
Who are some other black advocates and/or black-led organisations that inspire you?
My name is Amos Kimani. I currently work as a civil servant on housing policy and I am passionate about volunteering with RESULTS UK because it gives me an opportunity to leverage my voice and advocate for those who lack the means, know-how or platform to do so themselves.
I have recently helped organise the Black History Month celebrations in my department and I was over moon after being able to secure two speakers that I admire and introduce them to new audiences, namely Professor Kehinde Andrews, author of Back to Black: Retelling Black Radicalism for the 21st Century, and Khalia Ismain, founder of Jamii, a platform for supporting black-owned businesses in the UK. I think this year has seen an increase in the collective awareness of the lived experiences of black people and I was determined to build on this momentum by helping to highlight great work that is being done by people with a black heritage.
We should celebrate the contributions of black people in international development because their service to the sector goes further than just professionally. I say this because the industry is unrepresentative: once black professionals manage to break in, many find that they have to navigate environments and structures that were not created with them in mind. This alone makes them role models to others who aspire to emulate them. Beyond that, their presence in projects can help empower citizens in countries across Africa and the Caribbean to believe that they too can be change-makers within their communities.
There are so many black-led organisations that inspire me, but I’ll try to choose a handful. Firstly, The Black Curriculum – I am a strong advocate for diversifying the history curriculum after experiencing a culture shock when I first moved to the UK and I believe that the work being done by this organisation will be invaluable in helping future generations have more informed discussions about the makeup of their society. Secondly, Boukman Academy, who are a breath of fresh air as far as African history is concerned. The first event I attended was a two-hour lecture after work and the breadth of knowledge that was on offer for free could rival any lecture that I took throughout my university career. Thirdly, The Black Economists Network, an organisation that seeks to raise the profile and bring together people of African and Afro-Caribbean descent in economics whilst challenging the lack of diversity in the field. Lastly, Emmanuel Asuquo – as a strong advocate for financial literacy, I find Emmanuel’s work inspiring. Check out his Instagram page, you will not be disappointed!
My name is Ayesha. I am the Campaigns Officer for Send My Friend to School working on empowering and training young people to campaign for quality education for all. Recently we have launched our ‘Keep our friends learning’ campaign that highlights and puts the need to continue to push for quality and accessible education during COVID-19.
Right now, I am working on ensuring that our young people are able to engage with the campaign and use their voices to lobby, communicate and persuade ministers and the public why keeping our friends learning and having access to education is crucial now more than ever.
Recently there has been much focus on injustices; the lack of fair opportunity many black people face in international development – and rightly so. It’s a conversation that is long overdue and an urgent call for action is very much needed. A major part of this work is also acknowledging the many black voices, achievements and contributions that are often overlooked. Particularly when looking at the many local workers, grassroot activists and home-based volunteers that are invisible when we celebrate major moments and wins in the world of aid, health, security and education. Taking time to celebrate and actually acknowledge the faces, names of these heroes is not only crucial but part of the wider work on inclusion and anti-oppression.
There are too many inspiring organisations to name, but one that stands out to me is Diasporic Development, for inspiring me (when I had almost given up) to continue applying for roles in a fiercely competitive sector, and for all the resources they provide to their followers. To The Advocacy Team, namely Lorriann Robinson (the first black senior in the sector I met) for her mentoring, continuous gems of advice and actually supporting me to be my unapologetic self and continue to achieve all my goals.
My name is Caroline Anena, I am the Coordinator for Tuberculosis Europe Coalition, a regional advocacy network of civil society organisations and individuals from the WHO Europe region and Central Asia. The network aims to strengthen the role of civil society within the regional response to TB and to ensure political and financial commitments to end TB. I am passionate about human rights, international development and humanitarian work.
Right now, I am proud to be working on ending TB with the TB Europe Coalition (TBEC). We have just completed a series of webinars on the impact of COVID-19 on TB research and development including vaccines, treatment and diagnostics.
We should celebrate the contributions of black people in international development because they are inspirational, and reflect how far we have come! The progress of black people is suppressed, and by celebrating we inspire future generations. My message to black advocates today would be; let us reflect and celebrate black achievements throughout the year. Don’t be suppressed; don’t give up the struggle. Remember to uplift each other.
Another black advocate who inspires me is Winne Byanyima, the current Executive Director of the joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS. As a little girl she inspired me from being one of the first female members of Parliament in Uganda, and she went on to lead Oxfam International and UNAIDS. She is a powerful human rights advocate, grassroots activist and expert on women’s rights. She advocated for the headquarters of Oxfam International to be in Africa and currently it is in Nairobi, Kenya.
My name is Eliza, I’m the Campaign Officer for the Youth Leaders for Health programme, working with 25 young African leaders based in Ghana, Sierra Leone and Tanzania to call for an end to malaria and strengthened health systems. I am also a co-founder of Diasporic Development, a community of black professionals working in global development and the charity and third sectors.
I am proud to be working on a project that works collaboratively with four amazing African health advocacy organisations and 25 inspiring young Africans. As a young African woman living in the UK, working in a respectful and impactful way with Africans has been my dream scenario since working in international development. Not only is the issue of strengthened health systems on the continent as important as ever in the face of a global pandemic, but it is absolutely right that those in the Global North play a supporting role in holding decision-makers accountable to their citizens, especially young people.
I think it is important to celebrate the contributions of black people in international development for multiple reasons, but the main one is that there are so many amazing black people across the world who are not given the recognition they deserve. In many ways, conversations about what development means have been too attached to sector priorities, and this obscures the ways in which development for many black people is a very personal need to see their communities and loved ones flourish.
There are so many black people and organisations, but I’d like to highlight Naana Otoo-Oyortey and FORWARD UK, an African women-led organisation raising important gender-based violence issues. The African Women’s Development Fund is another African feminist organisation that is a gamechanger, supporting African feminist grassroots movements, an area that is commonly overlooked.
My name is Keasha Addo and I have been campaigning with RESULTS UK for the past year and a half now. I am extremely passionate about creating a fairer world, specifically for those in Sub-Saharan Africa, due to my family originating from Ghana.
I’m currently working on increasing the impact of my social media advocacy for international development and also striving to engage young people in advocating for a better world. I’m combining my knowledge of data analytics and the knowledge I’ve gained since joining RESULTS to share specific tips and tricks that’ll help make our voices heard using my Twitter account.
Why should we celebrate the contributions of black people in international development? For me, it’s not just about overcoming our many struggles but also about leadership, integrity and being a positive force for change. Celebrating black people’s contributions in international development helps to eliminate the ‘white saviour complex’. Did you know that according to the World Bank, diaspora remittances are three times larger than aid budgets, and more stable? By showcasing our contributions to international development, more stable partnerships can be created with our white allies to facilitate a better world.
Hope for Future Generations (HFFG) is one black-led organisation that inspires me. It is a female-led NGO based in Ghana whose aim is to improve the health, education and the socio-economic status of women, children and young people. Their work really inspires me as they have enabled members of all types of communities to be adequately informed and empowered to take critical decisions to improve their quality of life.
I volunteered for the first time aged 16 in a charity shop and fell in love with how it gave me a way to have an impact in communities. Now aged 22, I have been afforded the opportunity to volunteer with so many important and interesting organisations including those addressing supply chain exploitation, period poverty and lack of access to affordable food and housing. As an economics student, I am also interested in policy and issues of development. RESULTS UK has been the perfect way for me to bring all these interests together and I have learnt so much in the past year.
This past year at university, I took part in campaign training facilitated by my Student Union in Sheffield. Having taken part in other campaigns, I was supported in planning and launching my own. I did that earlier this year and have met some great people while working on it and been empowering to target an area I am so passionate about.
As someone with African heritage, I am particularly interested in African development. I feel that within the field, black people can often be under-recognised, and the work of large international actors can sometimes overshadow the efforts of grassroots and local activists who acutely understand the issues affecting communities. Celebrating and recognising these people could lead to better collaboration and more effective solutions. I think that recognition of black people’s achievements within international development is important to propelling the ‘decolonisation’ of the field.
It’s hard to pick just one person who inspires me, but one of my favourites this year has been Dr. Shola Mos-Shogbamimu. I love how unapologetic she is and what she’s achieved. Also, Nigerian activist Aisha Yeshufu – every video I have seen of her at a protest or speaking is so powerful. A black-led organisation I have been inspired by is Coding Black Females, as tech is another industry that black women are under-represented in, and I am inspired by anyone who is a proponent of black women in all different spaces. I have personally developed a growing interest in tech for economic empowerment and inclusion, as well as for the role it has to play in realising the sustainable development goals.
I’m from South Carolina, USA, and I work for RESULTS (USA) as their Senior Associate of Expansion and Advocacy and am responsible for the RESULTS Fellowship programme. I am a single parent of three children, and passionate about disability rights and advocacy and social justice.
Right now, I am working on completing plans for the RESULTS Fellowship which kicks off in December. I am supporting individuals in my community for the upcoming election through my leadership as the Political Action Committee Chair for my local NAACP and working with Moms Against Racism International to educate allies on African-American history and oppression.
Black people have played critical roles in creating many systems in this world and often do not get credit for those creations because international development has largely been white male led. We should celebrate the work that is being done from the decision-makers to the aid workers that help to distribute vaccines, food, and other services in their communities, who are often left out of the narrative. We must end the white savior’s mentality and tout the contributions of black people as well.
The Movement for Black Lives has inspired me to know that the next generation is going to solve the problems that my generation and previous generation have not been able to solve from racism to poverty. It is very exciting to watch them make change.
If you are a black advocate or just interested in international development and social change, I hope you found everyone’s contributions as inspiring as I did! If you’re a non-black ally, I hope you take this moment to listen and learn about incredible contributions black people are making in international development and support their work where you can. Let’s keep the conversation going beyond this month and remember to pass the mic at every opportunity.
Thanks for reading!