Operationalizing DEI, Part 2: A Conversation with Dr. Samukeliso Dube & Amie Batson

by Samukeliso Dube, Executive Director of FP2030, and Amie Batson, Executive Director of WomenLift Health.

 A few weeks ago we shared Part 1 of our two-part conversation on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in global health. These issues are top-of-mind for both of us as we lead and grow our organizations.


In the first half of our conversation, we discussed building equitable and inclusive organizations, the value of women’s leadership, and the importance of sharing power. Our conversation continues below with a discussion of best practices in DEI and the need for inclusive accountability.


Localized partnership and decentralized funding


Amie: Localization is a key concept for DEI. At WomenLift, we prioritize working with partners that know the local context so we can invest in their capacity and learn from their understanding. By working together, we more effectively foster women’s leadership in health and accelerate the advancement of talented women into decision-making roles.


Samu: The need for greater localization — community grown strategies and solutions — is really the overarching theme of FP2030’s new decentralized architecture. We know that homegrown solutions are the most effective and ultimately the most sustainable in ensuring transformative change. I think of Theresa Kachindamoto, the chief in Malawi who dissolved child marriages and insisted on education for girls as well as boys. That’s a local leader with a vision: she saw what was needed and intervened powerfully for her people’s benefit. I think of the district nurse who has 20 years experience, understands exactly how to deliver family planning, and just needs a platform where her voice can be heard.


Amie: Yes, 100%. And the need for diversified funding goes right along with that. We value raising local funds—funds that will be kept in the country to finance local priorities and interventions that support women’s leadership in health.  A core part of country ownership is local philanthropists investing in the leadership capacity in their national and regional health institutions. Providing talented women leaders with the tools and support to bring their expertise and experiences to decision-making tables is a game-changer.


Samu: In our Donor Engagement Group, I’m hoping that we can change some of the dynamics around who gets funded, what we are not funding, along with where and how. That alone starts to shift power to root it where it matters. We need to get past entrenched donor patterns and siloes os funding so that we can open up new avenues to change, bring in non-traditional partners, those who have not seen family planning in the nexus of health and human and economic development, and build truly inclusive platforms. For example, we want to engage regional commercial blocks, regional banks, private sector , those working on climate change and strategically bring men as we delve into changing social norms.



Diverse governance


Amie: WomenLift currently has three hubs—East Africa, India, and North America—and all three are on equal footing. They all have as much to learn from each other as they have to give. This isn’t the old development story, where all the solutions supposedly originated in a high-income country and then were passed on to the rest of the world. Instead the diverse leaders and teams in each of our hubs have the power and responsbility to co-create and share with each other.


In line with that, we are grateful for our very diverse Global Advisory Board with one-third of members African, one-third South Asian, and 85% identify as women.  They bring tremendous experience and wisdom from their own leadership in health and gender research, policy, and practice.


Samu: That is brilliant Amie. You are really practicing power sharing in your strategy. Perhaps the word is sharing- and you know sharing is still very difficult! F2030 is also building out regional hubs, as you know, and like you, our approach is that all the hubs are equal. We’ll eventually have five Regional Hubs across the globe, working directly with country and regional partners and taking their cues from local agendas and priorities. Our global support roles — such as communications or our youth advisor — are spread across the different hubs. As Executive Director, I’m currently based in South Africa. In this way, neither leadership or expertise isn’t concentrated in one location.


The diversity of our Governing Board is also really exciting. Our chairperson, Mereseini Vuniwaqa, is in Fiji; she’s a former Member of Parliament and former Minister of Women. We have designated seats for country governments, donors, youth leaders, international NGOs and civil society organizations, multilaterals, academics and the private sector. That range of skills and viewpoints and geographical contexts is so important for meaningful leadership.


Organizational culture


Amie: One of the things we’re realizing more and more is that DEI isn’t just about the work we do; it’s also about how we operate as an organization. Our culture, our practices, how we function. We are deeply committed to “walking the talk” by building DEI into every aspect of how we work.


Samu: We will get there, if we work at it everyday. At FP2030, our goal is to cultivate a feedback culture, with space up and down the hierarchy for people to speak out, to question, to express discomfort, and to share ideas. We want to make it safe for people—especially young people—to participate honestly and openly. We want to create an organizational culture of transparency and inclusiveness, with team members who know they are valued and are empowered to bring their perspectives and experiences to the table.


Amie: At WomenLift, the team has made an agreement to “listen generously.” And sometimes that means you have to slow down. If you’re going to listen to diverse voices, you can’t assume you understand; you have to stop and ask questions. And it also means investing in a culture in which it is safe to have the hard conversations because it doesn’t always go smoothly. But we’ve learned that when we are all committed to coming together rather than going back into our little corners, we are able to change the system.


Inclusive accountability


Samu: I think that touches on the issue of “inclusive accountability.” It’s something that applies across the board, from the work we do with partners to how we conduct ourselves in our own organizations. When we lead, we shouldn’t shy away from being held accountable for our decisions. So as we’re creating platforms for inclusive leadership, we also need to figure out how to create platforms for inclusive accountability.


Amie: It’s a learning agenda, and I think we’re all trying to figure it out. The WomenLift Health team has been investing in our monitoring, evaluation, and learning agenda. It’s hard work. It takes time and resources and energy to establish the mechanisms to hold ourselves accountable—accountable for the diversity of our board and the diversity of our team, for the sources of funding and for distributing budgetary power. Its also about our hiring practices, and how we recruit people, how we interview, how we make offers, and how we retain staff: all of the day-to-day actions that determine whether our organization is being truly inclusive.


Samu: It’s a lot of work to be accountable. To be accountable is also to be vulnerable, so you can see why people don’t want to do it. But the richness that comes from inclusive accountability! We’ve learned that if you do it right, you actually propel an agenda that is sustainable, and transformative – both for you and your mission.