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© Carrie Hawks


Inside out: People reshaping humanitarian aid

© Carrie Hawks

June 02, 2022

1:00PM-2:00PM ET

Event type: Live online

Allison Westfield James: 

Well, hello and welcome, wherever you are viewing us or listening to us. We want to thank you so much for joining us for this important and honest conversation around people reshaping humanitarian aid. Once again, welcome. My name is Ally James, and I'm the director of strategy for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) at Doctors Without Borders based here in New York. Some of you might know us by our French name, Médecins Sans Frontières or MSF. 

What does that mean? Decolonize aid? How are we working towards building an anti-racist organization? How can we work better and support and empower the communities that we serve? These reforms, the way we work, who we want to be, are critical to improving the quality of medical care, aid, services that we're able to provide. And we want to shine a light on the work that is being done, but the challenges that are still yet to go.
Before we continue, here's how this live webinar will work. The discussion will run for about 60 minutes. And wherever you're joining from today, you can submit questions for our panelists. We hope that you do. If you're watching it on Zoom, we welcome you to submit your questions and comments using the Q&A feature. And if you're watching the live stream on YouTube Live or Twitch, you can send questions, of course, in the comments or chat section. There are also live captions for this event available in all channels.
I'm so excited to share these group of professionals with you who bring an important and incredible lens to this conversation. First, we have Cica Dadjo, who is the chief gender equality, diversity and inclusion officer for the International Rescue Committee (IRC). Cica is based in Dakar, Senegal. We have Charlene Donald, the global project lead at the Positive Vibes Trust, an organization based in Cape Town, South Africa. And we have Fezile Kanju, the equity, diversity and inclusion facilitator at the MSF International Office. Fezile is also based in South Africa. Colleagues, friends, welcome to you all.

So, let's start by giving each of you an opportunity to introduce yourself, and tell us a little bit about your story. What brought you to this work to promote DEI and to work in this particular space? Cica, do you want to start?
Cica Dadjo: 

Of course. Thank you, Ally, for introducing and having us. It's always amazing to be able to have those honest and challenging conversation in that space.
So, I'm Cica Dadjo, I'm from a country called Benin in West Africa, and I'm a mother of three really beautiful boys. I come from a family of civil right activists, so both my mom and dad were civil right activists back in our home. And my mom, at some point, have to emigrate out of the country because she was banned by the authority from attending school because of the activism. And she ended up founding one of the first feminist organization, women rights organization in country. She was part of the first conference of Virginia representing our country.
So, this is kind of sort of heritage. I was really bringing those value of treating people equitably, making sure that those who are less marginalized are supported in a certain way. And I think, most importantly, our house, even without using the words diversity, equality and inclusion was really managed that way. I'm the youngest one, I'm a girl, but for any critical decision, I was 14, equally as my older six brother and sisters. For me, at some point, it was quite shocking when I grown up and start in the world and realize that, "Oh, the fact that I'm actually a girl or a woman is actually a barrier, and that's something that I'm not able to assess, and that I'm perceived in a specific way." Or that the fact that I'm Black itself could carry a lot of weight in any space that I'm working in. Because this was not my experience at home, and I think that also reinforced in me the passion of working on diversity, equality and inclusion. Yeah.
I know Ally is checking the time, so I'm going to stop there.
Allison Westfield James: 

I'm fascinated by your story. And obviously, time, what it is, we can't even get to dive into your rich and wonderful experience even more.
Let's hear from Fezile. Introduce yourself. Tell us a little bit about you and how you came to be doing the work that you're doing.
Fezile Kanju: 

Thank you, Ally, and greetings to everyone joining us today. I am based in South Africa, Johannesburg, and the reason why I would say I am committed to issues of working towards equity, diversity, especially now more specifically within MSF or in the humanitarian sector, it's also because of one, my upbringing, but second as well, the context like South Africa, where I grew up.
It's basically rooted in a belief that people in crisis are actually the same and deserve the same dignity, the same rights as people, and comfort. And this, growing up, basically, meant like also watching my parents without having much, being able to assist and respond to issues of migrants, populations, that were fleeing Mozambique before our... Like 1994 democratic governance in South Africa.
So, recognizing that you actually don't need to have a lot to show and respect and dignity to fellow human beings, and I believe that is the same principle, and now the same goal that within MSF, responding to humanitarian crisis, recognizing that most of the people that we've actually provided services to are actually even the same people that end up working for MSF and contributing to where, as a movement, we need to be.
So, it's really just an inspiring experience that I have basically had the opportunity to share space, learn from people who, for an example, from Southern Africa and South Africa have been activists, for an example, when it comes to HIV and people-centered approaches, to then being in positions of influencing the kind of services that they receive.
So, it's basically just a time that I find myself being a part of MSF when that recognition is basically taking center stage. And it's just a time where I believe like, "Yeah, I would want to also just be one of the contributing individuals to that progress and transformation." Thanks, Ally.
Allison Westfield James: 

Thank you. So important that perspective in that lens. There is much work to do as I like to say, but it is work well worth doing.
And so, with that, let's bring on Charlene. Charlene, tell us how you came to this work. Love to hear.
Charlene Donald: 

Hi, everyone. It's such a privilege to be part of this conversation. Thank you. The truth is, this work found me. I think I like to have other titles, but the reality is I've become a professional activist. I'm a queer woman. I'm a mixed race woman. I come from very humble backgrounds and this work is personal. I have the lived experience of what the people we serve experience, and this truly informs my passion.
I think we have big goals of healing the world and reaching ambitious targets around STGs [Short-Term Goals] and the realities that without an inclusive and equitable diverse approach to this, we won't achieve anything, so we can't afford to leave anyone behind. And that's what drives me and keeps me involved in the work that we do, to make sure that everyone is, like Fezile said, helped, but with dignity. Thanks.
Allison Westfield James: 

Thank you. I love that. And I often say that DEI is personal. I am the intersectionality of many identities. I'm an immigrant, I'm a Black person representation, a woman. There are many intersectionalities, so we all have these identities that shape and form our walk and our journey in DEI.
Charlene, I want to stay with you and ask you this question since you kind of took me in that direction. What is your perspective, as an activist, working with communities to promote health equity? And what can we learn from you? What can you share a little bit with us about that perspective and that work?
Charlene Donald: 

I think the reality is that, people know what they need, but for a long time, they've been told what to need. And so, even when they have opportunities to answer that question, they still choose the traditional way, you set targets, you have indicators. And the realities that they, themselves, even when given the voice design unsustainable solutions that rely on donor aid. And we sometimes think that just involving them in implementation is enough, and we convince ourselves that the decisions we make and the targets we set are based on data, but that very same data excludes those that are most marginalized.
And to change this, I think, we need to shift our approach truly and focus on quality, and accept that to focus on quality means that we have to let go of the numbers because you simply need to invest more time and resources, and involve people in the co-creation and participary approaches in designing the programs, in making grants, but also in generating the data that then drives the solutions by creating opportunities that include those that are most marginalized.
We have to involve them from the onset. We have to ask them to identify their very own problems, and identify how they would solve those problems. And I think the realities that health equity is about recognizing that those most marginalized are most marginalized for a reason, and we have to accept that they disproportionately need more in order for it to be equitable.
I think an example around people with disabilities. If we are to provide reasonable accommodation, we have to accept that someone who is, for example, hard of hearing has to have an interpreter. But sometimes, we do this in a way that makes it feel like special treatment and makes it look hard. And we need to ask ourselves, how do we universally design approaches to problems of the world that include everyone no matter who they are, no matter what issue they face? Be it people who are marginalized, be it people who are living with disabilities, be it people of color.
The realities that we need to, one, I think start asking people to identify the problem for themselves, and really stop providing solutions, but to truly be deliberate about creating universal spaces and accepting that, that is difficult work, and that is work. That means, that you have to compromise on targets and numbers in the traditional way that we've been doing things.
Allison Westfield James: 

I think that's such a critical reflection and information that you just shared, and I think that, that's the hard part. When we're talking about marginalized people, people that have little access to power position, we ask them to participate in the guise of engagement, right? So, we don't really ask them to engage because we don't involve them often at the beginning of anything, we then say, "Here it is. And here, participate in it." And then, we try to frame it within some frameworks that we're comfortable with. And I think what you are just sharing is such a critical part of us beginning to dismantle the systemic infrastructures that keep inequity in place. So, thanks for that. Let's keep going with this.
Cica, how do you define it? I mean, Charlene just gave us a really important framework using her lens. What about you? What's your framework? How do you define DEI, and why does it matter to international aid organizations like yours?
Cica Dadjo: 

Thank you, Ally. And I must say that, DEI means different thing for different people in different contexts, because it's about power, privilege and oppression. And because what define power, privilege and oppression varies across the world, what DEI mean varies across the world.
I like to go to the root of DEI and say that, for me, it's about how we address power imbalance and shift power, privilege, and oppression that are driven through a number of system of power. And those system place people in one end of the spectrum of privilege and oppression, right? Based on either their identity, their nationality, gender identity, et cetera. And racism, patriarchy, colonialism, and capitalism are just a few of those system of power that actually drive inequity across the worlds.
And let me maybe borrow some word from Verna Myers. I don't know if you heard what she said. Diversity is when you are invited to the party. It's mean that, no matter who you are, no matter what is your background, you should be there at the decision table. Inclusion is when you are being asked to dance, so you have the right to participate. And equity is how much space on the floor you get and who gets to choose the music as well. And finally, beyond that, justice and belonging is really when you can dance as if no one is looking at you. And for me, it's make so much sense.
And I ask one of my colleague from Cameroon the other day, "What are diversity, equity and inclusion means for you?" And she said, "It's mean, no matter your color, creed, sex, nationality, tribe, statue, disability and sexual orientation, you are equally important and have a right to equal representation and participation, especially in decision making that concerns you, right?" And this is from someone who is not DEI aspect of specialists, but it says it all. And it's so important for humanitarian organization, because we operate in a system that carry some of those form of systemic discrimination.
We know our history and how we are linked to colonializing, how we are linked to Western dominance in the world, just to name a few. And because our ultimate goal is to serve people, to support people, to thrive, we will fail to deliver on that if we are not able to root those practices and put the power back in the hand of those very people that we are supporting. As Charlene say very nicely, "They know what they need," and then we need to shift the power in a way that they are the one defining what they need, and not us defining what they need.
Allison Westfield James: 

I'm just taken to a space. You said something very, very critical that DEI is personal. And we do recognize that it means different things in different places and spaces. But if we don't ask, if we don't engage, those that are most affected by the lack of power, lack of privilege and access, then we can never address some of the isms that plague organizations such as MSF and the International Rescue (IRC) that is based in the history of kind of Eurocentric, in our case, a two-tiered staffing system. And though complex, it has to start with us recognizing that power privilege and access to all of those things is the first place to begin to dismantle it. So, thank you for that.
Fezile, let's chat a little bit about you and your experience working inside and outside of MSF. We both work for MSF in very similar capacities. We work together in full transparency on a really important project around equity. What's your lens? What does work look like for you, in MSF, in your work in MSF, in particular, given the structure that I've mentioned?
Fezile Kanju: 

I think the two most important things that both Charlene and Cica have mentioned for me is the issue of power. And then, Charlene also spoke about, there's a reason why there's inequality. And looking at humanitarian organizations like MSF, I think we cannot deny that the history comes from somewhere. For an example, starting off with a lens of providing charity to people in need but then, most recently, I think there's also been an acknowledgement that there's a critical need to reflect on context that crisis don't just happen in a vacuum, there's a reason why there's humanitarian crisis.
And again, I think, for me, within MSF, this is a question of organizational reflections, but also individual reflections because it speaks to the issues of privilege as well like, how do we individually take responsibility of who we are and where we are at, recognizing that I am privileged to be able to join MSF, give off of my time, and go and spend a year in Pakistan providing services, and also recognizing that I am privileged because other people are exploited and marginalized. And the reason for that is also just recognizing that the world dynamics. I think Charlene also summarizes nicely to just say like, we have capitalism, we have patriarchy that are critical concerns in the time that we live in.
So, until we get to a point where we recognize that each one of us needs to come to the party and reflect on our roles, reflect on how much can we basically take on to address some of these challenges, and not in a way where we position or reflect others as helpless and requiring of our support. But recognizing that, the reason why I am serving is because I have been privileged, and there are other people who basically are experiencing the bitter end of that.
So, recognizing as well that, if we take an approach of assuming that we are all equally human beings, we deserve the same dignity and human rights, then we need, for an example, within MSF, to work together, to basically transform how we then respond to humanitarian crisis. And I think this is something that, again, we also need to recognize that movements are not built in a minute, it takes time. But the most critical thing is to ensure that we don't let the one effect of experiencing hardships and the pain of being excluded, also drown what we all need to do in order to just come to the party and start organizing towards something that we can all have an equal share in.
In MSF, for an example, the issue of diversity, equity and inclusion have become topical, but I still think there is definitely a long way to go in terms of ensuring that each one of us recognizes and assumes our respective roles, recognizing that there is a part we can play, and that part needs to happen in context, where we recognize and acknowledge the history of MSF, and also envisioning the future that we all want to see.
Allison Westfield James: 

Thank you, Fezile. We're all talking about really this issue of power and privilege, and how that holds a system together, that in effect kind of denies what we say we want when we work with communities, that in effect disenfranchise them.
I'm going to use a moderator question that each of you, I want to ask each of you take a minute or two. As you think about this, as you work in this space, as you encounter others who work in this space, how do you think in each of your perspective work, you go from recognizing the problem to affect real and critical change of the problem? I know it's a big question, but just off the top of your head, one or two minutes. Charlene will start with you, and then Cica. And then, Fezile, you can round us up. How do we recognize it? It's being talked about everywhere, now what? What's the now what?
Charlene Donald: 

Inclusivity, isn't really hard. What's hard is remembering that capitalism and patriarchy didn't design all of this for us. And so, in recognizing the problem, I think solving it is also remembering that aspect, that to facilitate the changes that we want to see, we have to be deliberate, and we have to empower the people for whom we are solving these issues, so that they can take up space.
And in taking up space, bring their own lived experiences and create these diverse spaces that are needed in order for the shift to happen. I can't expect a cisgendered, heterosexual white man to change a space for me because he simply doesn't have the lived experience to understand what the issue is, and that needs to change. I think the solution is shifting that power to the people that understand, truly understand the issue, but not only tokenizing them and putting them in place, but empowering them to truly be able to translate that lived experience into actionable and tangible, sustainable outcomes.
Allison Westfield James: 

Absolutely. It's as if we have to somehow come to the place where we understand that in order for equity to happen, someone or some group have to be willing or unwillingly give up or share that access, right? To your point, it's just not going to happen. And so, that is the work that we must continue to do.
Cica, what's the now what? We recognize it, we're talking about it, now what?
Cica Dadjo: 

Yeah. Now what takes a lot of intentionality and challenging our assumption. And I think the now what start with setting clear goal. As Charlene said, we need people who have lived experience of the community that we are serving to be in the decision making goal for homes. So, setting clear diversity and representation goal for your organization, making sure that at every leadership tier and level, you have people who look like who have the lived experience of the community that you want to work with or you are working with. That's the really first step.
But ultimately, it's about bringing the decision making closer to the point of delivery, as I used to say. Closer to the point of delivery, it's means... Just look at organization like us, where we have maybe 80% or 90% of our programming and our program outside of the US and Europe. But then, we have our headquarter, and 80% of our headquarter role based in New York. Where power is located is important. That's something that need to start changing in organization, where we should start thinking of moving our headquarter closer to the community we work with.
And also, holding ourself accountable for change. Holding ourself accountable for change is really being able to translate, to redefine what success looks like. Is our success about how many million of funding of budget we have? How many increase of budget do we have? Or do we have other way to assess ourselves, as through maybe how many partnership, and equitable partnership, and collaborative decision making and design process we have had throughout the year? How many of our staff and partner feel that they really have the power and a say in the decision making.
But I think the now what is also about the terminology, the word, and the language that we use, even when we are speaking about diversity, equity and inclusion of decolonizing, because we need to start using language, that are language that we do not impose on people, but that are language that come from people and understandable by those people. For example, something that really strike me a lot is, for example, the use of people of color and BIPOC in humanitarian organization. And we usually forget that, in many countries, for example, in Africa, when you call a Black person a people of color, he is looking at you like, "What do you mean by I'm a people of color?"
So, even the way that the language that you use to drive this work need to resonate with the people that we are working with, and shifting the power of language as well to our community is important.
Allison Westfield James: 

I mean, again, DEI is personal, right? And personal, what is more personal in language and our understanding of what that means and all of what that means.
Fezile, the same thing. Okay. We recognize it, what next?
Fezile Kanju: 

I think the first thing for me is actually acknowledging and recognizing that this is hard, especially as a Black African woman living in South Africa, that it angers me actually, when there's inequality, when there's discrimination, and not maybe just looking outwardly, but also triggering personal experiences I would've had. But then, I would say, maybe the philosophy or if I can call it that, that I've basically decided to take on is based on writings by a dear friend of mine, Dr. Gavin Andersson, who writes a lot about organizing for, instead of organizing against. And this is something that is very much familiar for me. In South Africa, for an example, where we've had a history of apartheid and also discrimination, where at a time, there was a time where it was critical to dismantle, to challenge it, to fight against a brutal system.
But then, recognizing that this is a process. You don't just fight and destroy, you also need to be building. So, the now what for me is about... As opposed to, in addition to the dismantling, what are we replacing? What are we building? And I think this is, if maybe we could get our organizations and also the efforts that we put in to take that lens to say, "We acknowledge that out of our anger, what do we want to have out of our outrage?" That can be something that we are all mobilizing towards, that we are all building on instead of maybe investing energy in destroying, because a lot of these things also, like capitalism, patriarchy, we're also built and strengthened over time.
So, recognizing that we also have the hard role to play and the task ahead is huge, that to start building towards something. And that needs to happen now. And we need to be courageous enough to know that it will also take time, but building towards something instead of against.

Allison Westfield James: 

Yeah. What I'm hearing from each of you is talking about, "Okay. So, the now what, if you're not intentional and deliberate about it, if you're not engaging people, if you're not getting closer to the power structures. The now what can be as detrimental as the what then?" And so, that's why the intentionality and the focus have to be on really how we begin to address these inequities in real and critical ways.
Cica mentioned something about millions of dollars in donors. Ah, the work that each of us do is important. It requires money and it requires people to donate, and so on and so forth. So, money is important. Donors are an important part of our life. And in some ways, life giving in terms of the work that we do.
So, I'm going to start with you, Cica. How are you working with donors to review their methodologies, I don't know, to consider... And this is a question I think that came from our audience, to consider beneficiary and community input in design and outcomes.
Cica Dadjo: 

Thank you. I think we have a lot to do to support and to take our donor through this journey as well, right? And it's about bringing facts and evidence to the table. It's about using our advocacy, not only to tell about the needs that people have, but to tell also about the systemic issue that are creating those needs. And that's how you start working with donor to shift their understanding that, you can't actually create a systemic change with a six months project, with a one year project to see the level of change that you need.
So, it's about building the business case for the donor as well and advocating for what is important. I think someone was just looking at the Ukraine crisis recently. As organization, we had to use our voice to say, "Okay. We are seeing discrimination against Black people in the way the response, and the immigrant are welcome and not welcome in different country." And what are we doing about it? Our donors are also from those countries as well, they are government. And how do we have the courage to bring that to the table and challenge our donors as well, if we see things that are wrong and maybe in some way supported by them knowingly or unknowingly, but we should be able to speak the truth?
But most importantly, I think it's bringing the voice of those people we are working with to the table. So, one of the I see commitment, for example, is to make sure that when we are doing event, we are doing advocacy with our donor. We make sure that it's not only as a staff and leader who are speaking to donor. We bring people from the community, we bring partner to come and speak with their own voices to the donor. That's also our way to shift power, more power, but also to engage donor with those reality.
Allison Westfield James: 

That's so important. Catherine... I'm sorry, Charlene, Fezile, anything to add around the donor question?
Fezile Kanju: 

From my end, it's really, again, recognizing that everyone, regardless of where they come from can have a role to play. So, instead of looking at the traditional lens, but most of the money comes from these regions, but also recognizing power or engaging to actually give value to what we may consider as soft power where voices of the most affected are coming from. Because I think that is critically important, especially when it comes to inclusion, that we don't recognize power or decisions are made around where money comes from, but also where voices of the most affected come from, to ensure that we have equity when it comes to making decisions and coming to the table.
Allison Westfield James: 

Charlene, anything that you want to add? That's an important reflection.
Charlene Donald: 

I think just a small point is around capacity strengthening. Funds run out and donors move on, and it's important for us to make sustainable solutions. And part of that is capacitating the people that we're working with, inviting them to the table to bring their voice, but teaching them how to show someone else to do that, so that, that becomes a systemic change that we see for generations beyond the donor cycle.
Allison Westfield James: 

Yeah. I think we also have to understand that diversity needs to happen across all of the many lens of the work that we do. And some of the traditional ways of raising money and the traditional communities that we get money from, to do the important work that we all do. We also need to look at diversifying those methodologies and those communities as well. And so, every piece of our interaction that we have to advocate and bring access, we need to. That question came from Achana, and I think it was a really critical one because we often don't talk about that when we talk about equity, and inclusion and diversity.
I want to jump to another great question, and I'm going to start with you, Charlene. This one came from our audience, Catherine. Thanks for the question, Catherine. It asks, "How are you working with donors?" I'm sorry, not that question. I'm looking at something else. I think I wanted to see a question that... I'm sorry, it was from Sarah. Thank you, Sarah. I apologize. "Could you all speak to the practice or habit of people in positions of power at international aid using DEI and decolonizing aid interchangeably? Do you see risk, particular risk or dangers in conflating, decolonizing aid and DEI, using those interchangeably and conflating them? What do you think the risks are, if any? And maybe what are the benefits of that, if you think that, that's what's happening?" Charlene, I want to start with you.
Charlene Donald: 

I'm still trying to internalize the question here. So, we're asking ourselves, how do we determine the risks between...
Allison Westfield James: 

Well, I think Sarah's question is that, often-time, we use DEI and decolonizing aid interchangeably. And her question is, do you see any particular risk or dangers in conflating the two?
Charlene Donald: 

I think it-
Allison Westfield James: 

If you even see it at all.
Charlene Donald: 

Yeah. I think it speaks to what Fezile was saying around dismantling and building. For me, on the one hand, to decolonize is one part of it, and to do diversity, and inclusivity and equity work is the rebuilding of it. And I guess, the risk is then downplaying either or. The moment we start speaking of them as just one thing, we lose focus, and then a little bit becomes enough. Yeah.

Allison Westfield James: 

Love that. Fezile?
Fezile Kanju: 

Yeah, absolutely, I agree with Charlene. I think it's not an either or question, but it's recognizing that each one of them is important, especially if you're reflecting on the history of some of the humanitarian efforts, so we need to be doing both and recognizing that we cannot just invest energy in the one at the expense of the other. It's about challenging, but also moving forward. We really need to work at also... And by moving forward, I don't mean we forget and we say, "Yeah, let's all move forward," but building forward, exactly. Thanks.
Allison Westfield James: 

Yeah. For me, colleagues, I think that decolonizing aid is the outcome of the work of equity and inclusion, right? So, it's the structure, it's the foundation, it's the lens that is used in order to not only address and recognize the problem, but then move to the solution of the problem.
And I think where the conflation becomes dangerous is in that, it minimizes the value of each, and it tends to put DEI in its own little box instead of seeing that the DEI, equity, and inclusion and diversity must brush stroke every aspect of what we do, and how we do, and who we do it for. And so, for me, that's the real risk. The risk is minimizing and muting the effect and the impact of equity and inclusion.
Cica, let me ask you this question, and ask each of you to take a piece of this. This question comes from Mes, who is watching us on Zoom. And I think this is a great question. We'll start with Cica, and then Fezile and Charlene, you can bring up your perspective at the end. With your different levels of responsibility, do you still feel you are sometimes victims of racism or exclusion in your work?
Cica Dadjo: 

Thank you, Ally. I think there is no way that you can be absolutely prevented from facing racism or exclusion. There is no way this can happen because it's tied to who you are. We are in a system where depending on who you are... It'll be really hard for a Black African woman to say that, "Now, I'm in the position where I never face racism anymore." That's just not possible because it's so ingrain in people, in system that we are living in.
Yes, it will be less blatant sometime, but you can face it in a different, subtle way. But yeah, this is something that you have to navigate, and own, and step out every day saying, "Yes, this might happen, but it will not bring me down and I will continue moving forward." And that's all important because this work is personal and have a lot of personal weight and toll on people who are doing the work as well. Yeah.
Allison Westfield James: 

Yeah. Thank you. Fezile?
Fezile Kanju: 

Oh, yeah. I totally agree as well. It's inescapable. And for someone like myself, for an example, so I worked at MSF for the longest time, and then took a five-year break. And the experiences and some of the personal experiences were... My reaction to them was that outrage and the frustration.
So, coming back now to MSF, it's also now being in a position where I acknowledged and I've been able to give a language to what it is that I was experiencing when I was in much earlier and I just started my work with MSF. So, it's definitely something that I think one cannot be ignorant to. But then, recognizing again like, "What do I do with it? How do I channel my anger?" Because that's the reality. And for me, right now, it's also part of the reason why I decided to come back, for example, to MSF.
Allison Westfield James: 

Charlene Donald: 

I want to say no, but we promised each other an honest conversation.
Fezile Kanju: 

Honest conversation.
Charlene Donald: Yeah. 

As Fezile spoke, what came to me was recognizing it. I think the realities that these issues are sometimes so layered and you experience them differently in different spaces. As I get over the fact that I'm a Black woman, there's a space that will remind me that you're actually gay, then that becomes the issue. And when I'm okay with that, then a space will remind me that you're young, what do you know? And there's this layer of issues that we are always navigating.
And so, we are victims of the system that is a reality. But I think part of experiencing and pushing against those systems and disrupting them is kind of building the resilience, but also part of the work that we're doing to change it.
Allison Westfield James: 

Yeah, it's a tough one. I mean, DEI is just hard work, and hard work when you, yourself have these intersectional identities of diversity yourself that sometimes bump up against some of the very isms and schisms that you're trying to address for others. And someone asked me that question similar to that a couple of months ago, and my response is, "I refuse to be muted. You can't turn my sound off because it's too important. I matter, and the work that I do matters as well."
Let's go into one more question. We're coming on time. It's just always so wonderful to have my colleagues with me to talk about these really important conversations. But let's keep talking about it. I want to talk about this decolonized... We hear a lot about decolonizing aid, and we here at MSF has an activist group within our organization known as Decolonise MSF.
Fezile, let's start with you. How can we, as DEI practitioner, engage with our own staff, and in our case, association members in other organization and maybe alumnis? But who may be frustrated or angry that change is not just happening fast enough? And we hear that all the time. How can we engage staff and members who may be frustrated with the speed of change?
Fezile Kanju: 

Yeah. I think the most important thing is really to recognize and acknowledge the experiences of people. I think, sometimes, with an effort of trying to resolve things, we may move too fast without sitting with the anger and listening to the voices that have for such a long time experienced exclusion and inequality. But then, again, it's also then supportive because... And I speak of this from a perspective of someone who's had to also navigate dealing with mental health issues where it's equally important to just acknowledge and name what it is that you're experiencing.
But then, sometimes, you might not have the courage yourself to actually move that forward into something that can bring you a solution. So, what is important to recognize is that, we experience issues of discrimination and marginalization at different points in our lives, and it's impossible for all of us to come as diverse as we are and say, "We are all on the same page." We could be engaging right now with people who are just still experiencing... The frustration in the head is still fresh and real. So, how do we respect that and recognize that every person who's experienced that need, that space to basically let their voice out and articulate what it is that they've experienced?
But then, also, being humble and gentle enough to recognize that we cannot just sit with pain. We acknowledge and recognize it, but we cannot dwell on it. We also need a balance of thinking about, strategically, how do we then take the conversation forward? And it's not all of us who will be able to take a conversation forward, but let's not also put hierarchies that pain is more important than strategy, but the two need to actually go hand-in-hand.
And I think, within MSF, the culture that I always value and appreciate is around reflection and questioning. And I think, for an example, our associative engagements and discussions are a great platform for that, so let's actually invest in those reflections, those questioning. But also recognizing that, we all come with the same agenda, but at different levels, so let's allow each one of us to actually move at the pace that they're at, and recognize that we all have an equal part to play in things.
Allison Westfield James: 

That's such a tough thing to do.
Real quickly, Charlene or Cica, if you have anything to add to that question about engaging internal?
Cica Dadjo: 

Yeah. Maybe quickly, I think DEI practitioners as us are really in a tricky place in finding the right balance between how do I work with activists that are really angry, and bring them to a place where we can work constructively together, and in the same time working with power to move the needle, right?
And I think there are two things that's important. We need to create space to hear and listen to people anger is that... From my experience, shutting down and not being able to engage with that anger is a worthy thing to do, right? So, creating the space to engage, but also creating space for those people to engage with the world. Because by the moment they start engaging with the world, they also understand the challenge that you have with that work.
So, breaking silo, bringing those employee group to interact every month with the leadership board of the organization, that's what we do in the IRC. Or having a council where you have counter part from the unit who is doing day-to-day work, who are really engaging with different committee in that concept, so that people know what you are doing, people know the challenge that you are facing are able to contribute. But also, have spaces intentionally created for them to express their anger and frustration in a really brave space and really words matter, acknowledging what we are not able to do, recognizing that change is slow, and that we are not delivering at the pace of the expectation is also important.
Allison Westfield James: 

Yeah. Perfection cannot be the orbit of progress, right? We can't say, if it's not working, immediately, then it's not working at all, because we, who do the work, know that we sometimes have to applaud the small steps as well.
Charlene, do you want to take this? Because I have a question that I particularly want to go to you, and we are just closing in on time, and I do have a final question for each of you. Do you want to take that before I want to quote a question for you, specifically?
Charlene Donald: 

Just quickly 30 seconds about accountability. Both Fezile and Cica mentioned very important points, and this change is generational, but we dare not forget to keep ourselves accountable for every little bit of progress. And I think if we can build in accountability into whatever it is we decide to do, it's important that we keep tracking towards it, even if it is minimal change.
Allison Westfield James: 

It is. It's fortuitous that you mentioned accountability because one of our audience questions asked, how do you facilitate accountability in your organizations to ensure lasting and meaningful change?
Charlene, do you want to touch a little bit more on that accountability? And then, I want to ask a final question to everybody.
Charlene Donald: 

For us, particularly, the project that we work on, it's about co-creating and co-designing the dipstick and the measure point, agreeing on the baseline, and agreeing to work to it together. And I think because that's a starting point, even when we work with healthcare facilities and agree on, this is what it is that we want to change and everybody agrees, then it's easy to remind each other that, that was the point. It's not, then, someone else externally reminding you, "Oh, you were supposed to do this." But rather, you're breaking a mutual agreement and holding each other accountable to that.

And that's different in different layers, in different areas of organizations of our global networks and our partnerships, but I think the starting point is co-creating the measure of accountability to build the mutual respect towards that, and then putting in appropriate measures that are collectively agreed.

Allison Westfield James: 

Okay. That is a hard one, I must admit. We often talk about accountability and systems don't want accountability, because accountability often requires change, often requires transformation.
We are at the hour, but I cannot not ask this question. First of all, I'm going to thank everybody for... I mean, the questions are just coming in. It shows that there is a space for this honest dialogue. And at MSF-USA, we are so happy to be leading the way and being open and transparent about the many different areas of change that we must confront.
But let's take a few minutes. But I think this is important for everybody to hear. That's a great question that comes from our audience, and it asks... And I'll start with Cica, and then Charlene and Fezile, you can wrap us up and get the last word.
What keeps you motivated or hopeful about doing this work? And Felipa is also asking, what would you like the next generation of DEI activists to know? Talk to your future selves. Cica?
Cica Dadjo: 

Thank you. That's quite interesting. So, what's keep me motivated is those incremental step and changes that happen every single day. All those small wins are the thing that keep me motivated because it's... And we say that, the ocean is made of an, I don't know, million of drops, right? So, it's really those more step and gain that you have every day, that really keeps you motivated.
But the inner motivation is that, really, do we have the choice other than moving forward, right? Because it's just not acceptable. And for people like us, we have to keep going on. And what I will say to the next generation of activists is that, what bring us together is stronger than what divide us. What I see in the activist world is that, there is a lot of fighting about wording, expression, lenses that we use, and I think the only thing that, that make is to divide us and to make us lose focus.
And there is something essential that you want to work on, dismantling system of power that are inequitable in the world, and that's the most important thing. We call it decolonizing aid, we call it anti-racism, we call it DEI. That's not what is important, what's important is the work that we want to do. And we need to focus on that and make bridges between activism, so that we can achieve greater change and impact.
Allison Westfield James: 

Okay. Excellent. Charlene, what motivates you, and what do you tell your future self?
Charlene Donald: 

Motivation sometimes gets depleted so much and so easily because we keep doing the same thing, and changing and the same thing, and not seeing change. But where I find motivation is to go into communities and see people doing so much with so little for themselves, where there is no aid and they're just getting up, and they are mobilizing, and they are making things happen for themselves. And that's such a stark reminder for me to shift and for me to do things and to keep motivated.
I think, for the next generation, don't be distracted by your anger, use it. It's important that we stay angry at these issues and don't become complacent, but not so angry that we accept them, but angry enough to fuel our fire and keep pushing and disrupting.
Allison Westfield James: 

Fezile Kanju: 

What motivates me is really a pursuit of something different and different solutions. And I think, each generation, and this would be the same message to the future generation that, we always have similar challenges as human beings, but what new solutions and creativity are we bringing in to address them?
And I think each generation has that role to basically explore that. And what motivates me is really waking up every day and knowing that I need to do something different, so that when I look back, I can be like... For the same challenge that has been there for the past how many years, this was something different, I knew, that I was able to contribute to it.

Allison Westfield James: 

Thank you. And I will add my two cents to this, which is, I'm motivated because if not me, then who? And the work must be done. And what I say to my future self is a poem that I have on my wall, and I think people have heard me say it many times before. It's a well known poem that speaks about the Holocaust, and it says, "First, they came for the socialist and I didn't speak out, because I wasn't a socialist. They came for trade unionists and I didn't speak out, because I wasn't a trade unionists. Then, they came for the Jews and I did not speak out, because I wasn't a Jew. But then, they came for me and there was no one left to speak." And so, that's what I say to my future self. There must always be someone to speak.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much for sharing your time and your talent and your expertise with us. We could have gone another hour, because this is such important discussion to have. So, thank you to everyone who was on Facebook, Twitch, on Zoom. Stay connected with us at MSF. You can always mail us at And you can visit us at our website and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and beyond.
It has been a pleasure. It has been a joy. It has been a learning. And it has been a lot of fun. With that, be well. And we do have one more thing. Our next event is on Thursday, June 16 at 1:00 PM. It's in the chat, but be well, be safe. Thank you. And we'll do it again, come June 16th. Take care, everybody. Bye.

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) presents Inside out: People reshaping humanitarian aid.

Across the aid world, humanitarian organizations are facing urgent calls to action to address systemic racism and dismantle colonial power structures. MSF and other organizations have pledged to reform and do more to uphold diversity, equity, and inclusion. But what does it mean to “decolonize aid”? How are we working to redistribute power and center the communities we serve? How do we build an anti-racist organization?

Join us on Thursday, June 2, at 1:00 PM EDT for an honest discussion about how to make meaningful change in the humanitarian aid sector. We’ll be in conversation with leaders and change makers from Doctors Without Borders, International Rescue Committee, and Positive Vibes Trust.

Meet the speakers

Cica Dadjo

Cica Dadjo is the chief gender, equality, diversity & inclusion officer for the International Rescue Committee (IRC), where she led the development of the first IRC Diversity Equality and Inclusion strategy, as well as the IRC leadership diversity goals related to gender identity, race, and nationality at all levels of the organization. Cica is deeply committed to social justice and has over 17 years of experience assisting organizations in challenging and shifting structures that perpetuate inequality, as well as building inclusive cultures that value diversity and ensure equal outcomes for people of diverse backgrounds, social identities, and conditions. Prior to joining the IRC, Cica worked with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and UN agencies on the design, implementation, and evaluation of gender, diversity, and social inclusion programs in emergency and development settings. Cica is a Benin native and currently resides in Dakar, Senegal with her family. She has previously lived and worked in different countries including Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Tanzania, and Belgium. Cica has a Master's degree in governance and development as well as professional qualifications in gender, diversity and inclusion, leadership development, and coaching.

Fezile Kanju

Fezile Kanju is the equity, diversity & inclusion (EDI) facilitator at the MSF International Office. She credits half of her 11-years-plus experience to the MSF Southern African office, where she contributed to the radical and innovative advocacy efforts of the former Dr. Neil Aggett Unit. These includes the first Southern African regional humanitarian training program, anti-xenophobia and anti-racism campaigns, and an assignment in Pakistan. Her most recent roles focused on human rights-based approaches to global health concerns, including managing a Global Fund-supported initiative, Breaking Down Human Rights-Related Barriers to HIV & TB services in South Africa. Fezile holds a Master's degree in Security Studies and a Bachelor of Social Science in Diversity Studies. She also serves as a member to the Developing Country NGO Delegation to the Global Fund (GFATM) Board.

Charlene Donald

Charlene Donald is a Sociology of Religion research scholar focusing on gender and sexuality. Professionally, she is the global program manager for We Lead at Positive Vibes Trust, where she works as a sexual and reproductive health and rights expert on the global cross-cultural inclusion of intersectional minority rightsholder groups. With the lived experience of being the "other" and an activist to end othering, she brings to the conversation practical insights on how to look in, before looking out. 

Allison Westfield James

Allison Westfield James, director of strategy for diversity, equity, and inclusion, joined MSF-USA in October 2021, bringing extensive experience in building sustainable ecosystems of belonging that support the human infrastructure. Ally has been recognized as a diversity and inclusion champion by Baruch, Pace, and Stony Brook Universities. In 2013, Ally and her husband, Russell, received the African American Inspirational Leader of New York award from the New York African American Chamber of Commerce in recognition of their work in the community. Prior to joining MSF-USA, Ally spent 14 years at INROADS, where she was the North-East regional director. There, she supported an awesome team of DEI professionals who coached, trained, and developed more than 600 college students and early-career professionals. Ally is active with several professional, civic, and cultural organizations. She has participated in several community boards mandated to serve disenfranchised youth and adults in Jamaica, Queens, and on Long Island. Ally holds a Bachelor of Science degree in social work from York College, in Queens, NY. She also holds certificates in DEI management and leadership, and is Six Sigma Green Belt certified.