Equity and Inclusion: Sustaining Commitment

By Chekemma Fulmore-Townsend, President and CEO, Philadelphia Youth Network

140414_Hoff Comm_8648This blog is a lead-up to the Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund (OYIF) May 2015 Convening in New Orleans, LA, May 5-8.

In this piece, Chekemma Fulmore-Townsend, President and CEO of Philadelphia Youth Network, discusses the importance of equity and inclusion to Collective Impact. A focus on equity is central to the OYIF May convening agenda. We are also looking forward to May 6, when OYIF convening participants will join the Collective Impact Forum convening for a keynote address from Angela Glover-Blackwell, Founder and CEO of PolicyLink who will discuss opportunities and challenges with infusing equity into collective impact initiatives (join the free livestream).

Collective Impact offers an elegant framework to address complex social problems. However, the scale and strength of change is compromised and weakened when equity and inclusion are ignored. An explicit focus on equity and inclusion is required to address systemic and structural barriers that threaten sustained transformation when addressing systemic challenges. We delude ourselves and sabotage our impact when we ignore equity and forego the intentional inclusion of the disenfranchised and underrepresented.

The Philadelphia Youth Network serves as the backbone to two Collective Impact initiatives, Project U-Turn-which addresses Philadelphia’s drop-out crisis and WorkReady Philadelphia – which promotes access to career-connected education. At the Philadelphia Youth Network, it has been critical to the acceleration of our efforts to acknowledge the necessity of an equity and inclusion lens in Collective Impact. This reality is further underscored by the data underlying the work of both campaigns. For example, the disproportionate representation of youth of color, and the under reported data on homeless youth and LGBTQ youth provides a clear connection to the importance of inclusion in our work. To be effective at moving the needle and creating strong academic and workforce opportunities for youth in Philadelphia, it is important to embrace equity and inclusion in our efforts to eradicate the drop-out crisis in Philadelphia and ensure that all young Philadelphians develop the 21st century skills needed to seize economic opportunity in a global economy.

As a community of practitioners, focused on harnessing and unleashing the potential of Opportunity youth, we cannot disregard the fundamental reality that the barriers we face in this work are far too great to be addressed singularly. The commitment to inclusion and equity augments our efforts and strengthens the quality and credibility of our outcomes. Collective Impact is most effective when we acknowledge and integrate an unequivocal, unapologetic, commitment to review data; define strategy; and evaluate progress using equity and inclusion as our litmus test. Maintaining this focus, assessing your readiness, and acknowledging growth areas can be difficult for some, scary for most. No matter the consequence, professional or personal challenge, we must not shrink our commitment to equity or inclusion as we scale Collective Impact efforts that support Opportunity youth.