International Development Professional Susan Sebatindira founded The Black Humanitarian in June 2020, a platform created to amplify underrepresented voices of Black international development practitioners. Since then they’ve featured over 24 professionals working across the development sector in West and East Africa, Southeast Asia, South Asia. North American Western Europe.
As we continue to learn and improve ourselves at the IRC, we’re grateful to platforms such as The Black Humanitarian that is providing a space for us to learn from experts across the sector in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. The IRC spoke with Susan about her mission behind the platform, why she set it up and what more needs to be done to challenge racism within the aid sector.
Tell us about your platform The Black Humanitarian and the mission behind it.
The Black Humanitarian is a platform created to amplify underrepresented voices of Black international development practitioners. The platform itself features interviews with Black professionals at different stages of their careers, with the diversity of insights and experiences of working in the sector.
I wanted to showcase the Black folk out there making an impact within the social and humanitarian space by sharing their stories or experiences. I also wanted to build The Black Humanitarian as a community and global network connecting like-minded Black professionals, working in international development. It’s a space where people can share their own critical thoughts on the sector as well as find and share potential opportunities for jobs and mentorship.
Could you tell us a little bit about some of the people you profile on the platform?
A ‘Black Humanitarian’ is any individual who identifies as Black and is effecting positive social change in their environment. I’ve interviewed about 24 individuals so far from different levels including a Director from the UN agency and the Director of Audit for the IMF. But I've also interviewed people who have just started out in the sector because it's important to have that range of experiences shown.
I really wanted to capture as many voices as possible across the sector. I feature individuals who’ve worked in programme IT, partnerships, development, operations, communications, and in fields such as agriculture, gender, peace and stability, climate change, innovation. Now I’m trying to shift that focus to include voices of those who are leading grassroots levels, organisations, or community-led organisations, or maybe working in social impact outside of traditional development and humanitarian structures.
Why do we all need to push for more equality in the sector?
When all voices are actively heard and included, it creates a space to develop and produce equitable and inclusive development outcomes.
That's why we need to push for more equity in the sector and more inclusion. There's no hope in actually creating sustainable impact if there are voices that aren't being included at the table.
What progress have you seen?
There have been initiatives driven by People of Colour who have been doing this work before 2020 when the reckoning within the aid industry really kicked off. Pages like No White Saviours on Instagram and organisations such as PopWorks Africa have already been doing the work of trying to hold the development sector accountable for the lack of diversity and inclusion.
What’s great is that since 2020 other initiatives have been started. For example, there's already a UK network for People of Colour working within international development, called REDI Collective.
In the development sector itself, there's been a lot of initiatives popping up and conferences and spaces for discourse and debate; steps towards making the development sector more inclusive.
How can we address racism and inequality in the humanitarian sector?
It’s important to continue to provide space for voices that were otherwise silenced or not given adequate platforms to critique the issue of racism in the humanitarian sector. Pre-2020 there had been some think pieces and articles about racism within the development sector, but they were often published anonymously for fear of reprisal. Having space to have uncomfortable conversations is key.
Through The Black Humanitarian, I’ve interviewed people who have provided their own insights on the topics of anti-racism and equity within the humanitarian sector. One of the people I've interviewed, Abdul-Rahman says, ‘the current ahistorical practice of international development rarely acknowledges the role of colonialism.’ He expands by saying that the theories of change that we use, the results frameworks and the interventions, rarely acknowledge the stain of colonialism as a structural reason as to why some countries require development systems in the first place. I don't think it's any coincidence that formerly colonized countries are the areas where a majority of development interventions currently take place. So having some reflection and awareness of some of these colonial histories and/or continuities when designing programmes or interventions is key.
The second point is that there's a lack of mentorship opportunities for Black folk within the sector, and I think it's clear we see too few of us in leadership roles. Doreen, who works at One-Acre Fund is one of the people I interviewed on The Black Humanitarian, speaks on this point. The opportunity here is two-fold. Leadership should be representative of the workforce. And there needs to be avenues where one can grow within this sector, so not just having token Black leadership, but offering pathways where we can foster Black talent within the sector through mentorship opportunities and career development pathways.
Lastly, the inclusion of local and indigenous voices is key. Tatu is another individual I've interviewed for The Black Humanitarian. She's passionate about climate change advocacy and she uses the example of climate justice. She makes the point that locally-led organisations often know what they need to get the work done, which sometimes is just unrestricted donor funding.
What further changes would you like to see take place?
I would love to see the momentum continue. It's a really exciting moment for us working in the development sector. It's not often that a whole sector gets the chance to shake itself up and work on improving itself. But it is a process. Even though it feels uncomfortable and difficult conversations need to happen, I hope that it can continue as not just a moment but throughout the coming years.
These interviews can be found on The Black Humanitarian Instagram page and Website as well if you’d like to read more about some of the points that people have raised. If you’re a Black professional in the sector interested in joining the community, join our LinkedIn page.