Building on last week's podcast on the foundations of anti-oppression, this week we look at the case of Adil Dhalla, the Executive Director of the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI) in Toronto. Adil reflects on his ongoing journey starts with a self-reflection.
recognizing your power
For Adil, it’s hard to talk about the process of diversity and inclusion without talking about his own journey. Throughout his life, Adil introduced himself in a way so that most people can pronounce his name.
Over the years it went from /AH-dil/ to /ah-dell/ and eventually landed him the nickname “pickle” since they figured that a good way to remember his name was a dill pickle. From a beautiful Arabic name meaning “just” or “fair,” his name was reduced to pickle.
Looking back, Adil recognized his need to conform in order to be included by his peers instead of standing up for something as simple, but important to his identity. For him, it was easier to say, “that’s not me or my community” when we hear examples of discrimination. But to acknowledge that we have our own lived experiences that are different than those around us is a crucial part in becoming honest with yourself and making that leap in education.
You need to first recognize your own power, privileges and biases in order to know what to improve and unlearn. We need to start where we are today and take action.
sharing your powers with others
Especially as an executive director, or any other positions of power, it’s important to recognize what your power looks like and what are the opportunities that you can give to those who aren’t in similar positions as you are. As a leader, Adil tells us that it’s not necessarily the responsibility of those around you, but instead, it’s your responsibility to create an environment where people can feel comfortable to speak up.
Make yourself open to receiving feedback on your work. Sometimes it may be hard for others to speak up about their ideas, so try inviting another person in the room to give you feedback as well.One of the best things Adil suggests leaders do is to let go of their need for power or position and not feel like it’s a disempowering thing. In fact, the most empowering thing you can do is actually share what you have. And the best way to acknowledge your power and use it for the benefit of all is to be transparent.
making yourself accountable
The heart of diversity and inclusion is transparency. One of the things that the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access (IDEA) committee at CSI did was to publicly release a demographic survey which serves as a benchmark for their community. While information such as gender, race and religious practices are private, if collected for the purpose of improving one’s diversity is legal and appropriate. This lets their community know that if they aren’t being recognized, they are aware and will work hard to be more inclusive. Having this information publicly available makes your organization accountable and communicates your commitment to creating a more diverse environment.
By taking the information and turning it into a more personal journey, we can understand who’s in our community and who isn’t. Be careful not to focus on communities you may be missing and accidentally tokenizing them. Instead, Adil suggests that we should use this information to build the community we aspire to be. This starts with making sure your board and staff reflects the community we are striving for. You can also compare your city’s data to your own and see where the gaps are.
education and re-learning
Another way to share your power is by giving others the opportunity to have it. At CSI, Adil makes it mandatory for all staff and volunteers to take anti-oppression training at multiple levels. In addition, the entire community gets access to free anti-oppression training on a wide variety of topics. By doing so, CSI creates a culture of learning and openness within their community.
Sometimes, it can be hard to see our own privilege. Sometimes, when it's pointed out to you, it can feel like an attack. But Adil challenges us to drop our defences and become open to reflect upon yourself. When you recognize your power, make yourself accountable for creating a comfortable, inclusive environment, you become part of the solution.
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Resources from this Episode
Centre for Social Innovation
The Small Nonprofit podcast is produced by Eloisa Jane Mariano