NRGI’s efforts to ensure that natural resources advance—and do not undermine—sustainable and prosperous societies are inextricably linked with the need to address legacies of colonialism and persistent inequities. Other actors have attempted to upend those inequities with varying degrees of success, and lessons from their experience inform our work. Promoting diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is thus not only fundamental to our work of reducing poverty, economic inequality, social exclusion and environmental degradation. It is fundamental to how we achieve those ambitions.
Guided by the expertise of Under the Rainbow, an international social change consultancy based in South Africa, in 2022 we completed a demographic survey, one-on-one interviews with staff, focus group discussions, and a review of internal policies and practices. These analyses were used by NRGI’s DEI Action Group, a volunteer group of staff from across the organization, to create a DEI action plan and share our DEI ambitions. We recognize that many other organizations are on similar journeys, and a year later, we’re sharing our achievements and challenges in the spirit of accountability and learning.
Goal 1. NRGI staff use shared language and enact a common understanding of DEI ambitions.
Create spaces for safe, courageous DEI-related learning in an inclusive manner
Ensure shared values reflect DEI ambitions and are enacted through our policies, practices and ways of working
The creation and leadership of the internal DEI Action Group, comprised of 14 staff from across geographies, functions and levels, has ensured ownership and accountability for NRGI’s DEI work. The group has modeled safe space to explore challenging DEI topics and established a cohort who have increasing knowledge and shared ambition to advance this work. To expand this learning to all staff, Under the Rainbow conducted 13 learning sessions on DEI topics such as power and privilege, unconscious bias, decolonization and intersectionality. These sessions provided a way for staff to come together with vulnerability, forge connections and build a sense of belonging. As a result of a session on how to integrate DEI into NRGI’s values, we agreed to focus on “collaboration” and “rigor” in 2023. We saw collaboration as a meaningful way to celebrate diversity and embrace inclusivity. We recognized that existing understandings of ‘rigor’ privileged some forms of knowledge; we now seek to (re)define rigor in more equitable and inclusive ways.
With limited time, we have struggled with the balance of focus on learning (building our knowledge) or doing (implementing and tracking the action plan). An end-of-year survey of the learning sessions revealed that both the action group and broader staff are keen to invest in learning with focus on specific issues such as allyship, unconscious bias, and power and privilege. Staff also called for closer links between our programming and the learning topics. For example, as we expand our work on gender and the energy transition, we have an opportunity to conduct learning sessions to build understanding of gender as a construct. Finally, staff noted that the learning sessions were most valuable when they were interactive and dialogue-based, and linked to action, not just theory.
Though the DEI Action Group has been a locus of energy and action, we see a challenge to replicate and expand that dynamic across the organization. We shared guidance to help teams to review and adopt their own DEI plans; the communications and fundraising teams have been the only teams to do so. The DEI learning sessions have been largely voluntary to date. To ensure we are reaching all staff, we are increasingly mainstreaming DEI approaches in our policies and practices, from recruiting to external communications to all-staff meetings. Ensuring collective ownership of DEI and integrating DEI into NRGI’s strategic priorities remain a challenge.
Goal 2. NRGI’s culture is inclusive, its practices leverage and augment diversity, and current power imbalances are addressed.
Increase multilingualism and inclusion through internal communications channels, meeting practices and valuing different expertise and experience
Ensure NRGI’s external communications are multilingual, reflecting and showcasing a diversity of global perspectives and voices
Enable voices and knowledge originating in NRGI’s program countries to play a more prominent role in shaping NRGI’s strategy, priorities and contributions to global debates
Support more equitable, constructive collaboration around research and analysis, tapping more diverse sources of expertise
We have made significant progress to advance multilingualism at NRGI. As a simple but fundamental shift, all-staff meetings are conducted with simultaneous translation in French and Spanish. This enables staff to speak and listen in the language of their choice—either building proficiency, or to increase understanding. Though expensive, staff have indicated translation promotes understanding and engagement. Internal guidance materials are increasingly translated into both Spanish and French. We also maintain a roster of communications-related service providers, including designers, translators and editors in non-English languages. Additionally, NRGI’s external publications are more frequently translated, and video communications increasingly feature colleagues and external partners speaking in different languages and sharing their expertise.
The leadership of our internal energy transition working groups reflects experts from across all staff geographies, as a forum to highlight expertise from across the organization. We are also developing a new protocol for peer review that makes the process more inclusive and ensures our written work benefits from the full diversity of knowledge, perspectives and communication styles among our staff and networks.
Discussions with our governing board members and staff have highlighted the need to clarify that our ambitions to redefine rigor do not mean lowering our standards or sacrificing quality. Rather, diversity and inclusion are a means to enable rigor; to define what expertise is valued and whose is sought and showcased. Moving from intention to action on how we decolonize our work, and understanding where and how privilege and power manifest remains a challenge. We seek to build awareness, acknowledge when we are falling short, and develop the tools and practices to work differently.
Goal 3. NRGI’s staff, boards and advisory council reflect its values and ambitions concerning DEI.
Advance DEI goals and reduce unconscious bias through NRGI recruitment and retention practices
Increase diversity and inclusivity in NRGI boards and advisory council
We have significantly diversified our board and advisory council. To ensure this was done with thoughtfulness and consistency, the board’s nominations and governance committee developed a matrix to identify priority profiles and strategic needs against which it could track recruitment. Gilbert Houngbo took up the role of chair in March 2022, and over the course of the year NRGI welcomed Magdalena Sepulveda Carmona, Zainab Usman and Jordan Diamond to the board. We have also appointed three new members to our advisory council: Amir Lebdioui, Manish Bapna and Valerie Marcel.
We began to develop guidance for tackling unconscious bias in our recruitment and launched a new diversity statement to signal our intention to more actively consider diversity and inclusion in our hiring practices: “NRGI welcomes you, just as your are. We invite people of all identities, including those from marginalized groups, to come together in support of our mission. We strive for an NRGI where staff can be themselves at work, feel that they belong, and are equipped to succeed. Achieving meaningful diversity, equity and inclusion—together—is among our highest priorities.”
Most colleagues agreed we should articulate our DEI ambitions through a diversity statement. Yet it was difficult to navigate how to communicate solidarity to staff and partners while also navigating compliance and risk in different contexts. We also struggled to ensure we were understanding the full range of concerns. The DEI Action Group devised the statement after months of consultation with various staff and legal counsel in several countries where we work. We also examined the diversity statements of more than a dozen other NGOs and think tanks and spoke with staff at three of them to learn more about how they arrived at their statements.
One key decision concerned whether to list various specific groups, identities and bases for difference (e.g., race, sexual orientation, religion). We elected not to include such a list to future-proof the statement (as new identities arise over time) and make the statement more human and less legalistic. We aimed for something succinct that was inviting and warm, and uncompromising in conveying our commitment to improve. We also agreed that for each new recruitment, we would identify any specific attributes that would help to diversify that team or role.
We recognize that NRGI can’t change deep-rooted societal inequities on its own. However, as actors in the resource governance field, we believe we have a responsibility to “walk the talk” internally and externally. We have ambitions to integrate DEI more into the substance of our programming, including on just energy transition, mitigating gender-differentiated impacts and expanding our stakeholder engagement to include marginalized groups. We also aspire to expand this discussion beyond NRGI to inform the understanding and actions of our partners and the broader field.
We are proud of the progress that we have made to advance diversity, equity and inclusion at NRGI over the past year. We recognize how challenging these issues are and that we must approach them with patience and thoughtfulness. In 2023, with continued support from Under the Rainbow, we plan a concerted review of our DEI efforts, building on these reflections. We seek to understand our collective vision for DEI success, where we are making progress, where we are falling short and why. As part of a broader strategy stock-take, that review will ensure that DEI underpins and informs our programmatic, operational, and organizational ambitions. We appreciate that we are not alone in this journey; we welcome the opportunity to share and exchange with other organizations.
NRGI’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Action Group includes: Sarah Backstrand (chair), Fernando Patzy, (vice-chair), Lee Bailey, Ana Carolina Gonzalez Espinosa, Martin James, Suneeta Kaimal, Alexandra Malmqvist, Zoljargal Naranbaatar, Lucain Nyassi Tchakounte, Sophia Rwegellera, Aaron Sayne, Helen Suwannawongse and Aye Kyithar Swe.
We are grateful to the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation who has supported NRGI’s increased work on diversity, equity and inclusion. We have allocated unrestricted funding mindful of the importance of this work; however, our ambitions exceed our current resources, and we continue to seek further funding.