Diversity in foundations: experiences from both sides of the 2027 programme


Katie Boswell and Fatima Asif


Katie Boswell, NPC’s Deputy Head of Funders
When I first heard about the 2027 programme, it sounded truly exciting (if long overdue). The programme takes brilliant frontline workers from working-class communities and prepares them for decision-making roles in grant-making organisations through a 12-month salaried programme. Most of us working in philanthropy know that the sector has a diversity problem. We’d been talking about it for a long time, but 2027 offered a means of taking practical action.

My colleagues at NPC could see the appeal, but they also had lots of questions. How could we ensure the person selected is a good fit? How could we create a welcoming and inclusive environment? What did 2027’s focus on class mean for our wider diversity efforts?

These questions opened up important but difficult conversations. As people committed to increasing the impact of the sector, it was painful to admit that we might be part of the problem on diversity.

We quickly realised that 2027 wasn’t going to solve all our issues overnight but it was an important first step. Alongside a placement, we received employer support around building inclusive cultures. We also joined the Change 100 programme—which works with talented disabled graduates—so we could learn from both at the same time.

For me, the programme also prompted reflection on my own journey. At the 2027 launch event I learned the phrase ‘coercive isomorphism’—where people change themselves to fit the mould. Going from a working-class background to university and onto the charity sector, I’ve done this myself many times. I found myself wondering if I’ve inadvertently pulled up the ladder for others by changing myself rather than challenging the mould itself.

Halfway through the first year of the 2027 programme, we can see the impact it’s already had for NPC. Firstly, we’ve brought on a brilliant colleague in Fatima. Secondly, through participation in both 2027 and Change 100 we’ve made practical changes to our employer brand and recruitment materials, interview processes, and induction. Last but not least, we’ve started some vital conversations that continue to challenge us.

Fatima Asif, consultant at NPC
Many people who enter the funder or charitable world come with the hope of both contributing to it and also transforming it. My motivation was similar, it was a desire to break down barriers to opportunity in society that prompted me to apply through the 2027 blind application process. I was matched with NPC, despite it not being a traditional grant-making organisation targeted by 2027, and I add diversity of thought and perspective to my fellow 2027 change-makers. In addition to my professional experience, I offer perceptions of our communities from my network to NPC.

It’s vital that the host organisations understand that they benefit as much from the 2027 programme, by adding high performers with lived experience to their teams, as the associates placed with them. At the same time associates taking part in the programme should not think that they are immune from challenges, it’s a journey where you are balancing exposure, opportunity and influence at your organisations. I have faced challenges ranging from questions around lived experience and programme’s legitimacy to remuneration. And I know feeding my responses to these challenges back to NPC (with support from 2027) has provoked thought and encouraged changes in practice.

Having been in the programme for some time, I’m beginning to understand how conversations around diversity, equity and inclusion are evolving, but disappointed that majority of the sector still has no strategic plans to walking the talk. I’m fortunate to have joined a program that gives me a holistic view of the sector and brings in the voice of the communities when that often seems to be the afterthought.

Challenges faced by me and my peers in 2027’s pilot year have reinforced the need for visionary programmes bringing in ‘alternative’ talent into the sector. Not just as another tick-box exercise to hire optically diverse workforce, but to grow closer to the people we serve. Furthering dialogue on lived experience is key to achieve 2027’s 10-year vision of having community representation in decision-making roles.

NPC recently launched Walking the Talk: Putting workplace equality, diversity and inclusion into practice a major collection of essays and podcast exploring the causes of, and solutions to, the lack of diversity in the social sector. See it here: http://www.thinknpc.org

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