By Shiro Gnanaselvam, Social Impact and Alicia Phillips Mandaville, IREX

For many organizations in the United States, attention to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) increased exponentially after the brutal killing of George Floyd in the summer of 2020 and the massive racial justice mobilization that followed. It was equally visible in international development and humanitarian organizations, a sector that also grapples with legacies of systemic racism and colonial attitudes. Many issued statements condemning the violence, pledged to support changes within and embarked on increasingly tangible pursuits of greater organizational diversity, equity, and inclusion.

However, as many of us who work in the industry are painfully aware, there have been few concrete efforts at the sectoral level to document – and therefore meaningfully address – the extent of our DEI challenge. For years, a lack of detailed, public, sector-wide data on diversity hid the pervasiveness of the problem and thus limited the extent to which individual organizations addressed it. That is about to change.

Data Gap

In the early fall of 2020, a small group of us came together in the spirit of collective action to address the fundamental data gap we had noticed. The only comprehensive, publicly available data we found was for the US government – specifically USAID over the period 2002-2018. On the research, advocacy, and implementation side of the equation, there have been a few ad hoc efforts (such as spot polls conducted by Humentum of some of their members who are participating in a particular event). Still, they have been limited in scope in one way or another. The reality is that we have no comprehensive data on the state of DEI among the hundreds of organizations that comprise our sector.  We don’t know what the diversity snapshot looks like at the staff, leadership, and board levels across organizations. We don’t know whether this profile varies between for-profit and non-profit organizations or by organization size. We don’t know what strategies and approaches others are taking to promote equity and inclusion in their organizations so that we might learn from them. And because there is no data on what is, we are limited in our ability to make commitments to improve individually and collectively, hold each other accountable and ultimately change our sector for the better.

Bridging the Data Gap

Our small coalition of organizations set out to leverage our own strengths to address the aforementioned gap by launching an initiative to establish a DEI baseline at the sectoral level. On a purely voluntary basis, we brought together Social Impact, a highly regarded measurement and evaluation company that is contributing its survey expertise; IREX a leading non-profit which brings its long history working to advance prosperous and inclusive communities worldwide; Humentum, a global nonprofit providing community, learning and operational solutions to the humanitarian and development sector; and the WILD Network, a leading global convener about best practices to advance women leadership, equity, diversity and inclusion in the global development sector. This group has been supported by a working group of Humentum members who have provided advice, guidance, and DEI expertise to the initiative.

Which brings us to this moment. In March 2021, our coalition will field the BRIDGE survey—the first sector-wide survey aimed at Benchmarking Race, Inclusion and Diversity in Global Engagement. We hope to reach approximately 400 organizations that work in our field. The survey will be anonymous with no ability (even for the survey administrator) to attribute responses back to responding organizations.

While a variety of actions at the individual, organizational and sectoral level are needed to meaningfully address the legacy of structural racism in our sector and the organizations within it, we believe that this is among the first steps we need to take. When the baseline has been established, we will know where we stand collectively at the industry level and how we compare to other industries. Individual organizations will be able to compare their internal DEI data to the industry-wide benchmark. With this information in hand, we will be able to take action individually and collectively to change the patterns we see in the data and play a part in dismantling the structures that have perpetuated the inequities we continue to see in our industry.

Call to Action

The more participants we have, the better the data we collect. We, therefore, welcome and encourage any and all US-based organizations working in the development/humanitarian sector – non-profits, foundations, for-profits, research entities, advocacy organizations – to take part in this survey. The top-line data will be public. Further, organizations that contribute to the survey will receive access to detailed survey results that will directly benefit their own organizational DEI efforts. To get more information about the survey and/or to ensure that your organization is included in our list of survey recipients, please visit the BRIDGE site.



Since the BRIDGE survey launched in mid March, we’ve learned about two efforts to measure or track race and diversity issues in the international development and humanitarian sector, and want to also acknowledge their contributions.  In 2018, Quantum Impact released its State of Diversity in Global Social Impact Report, which drew on qualitative and quantitative methods to provide analysis of the representation of race and gender in leadership for the global social impact sector.  Currently, the Racial Equity Index is also conducting a Global Mapping Survey as one of the first steps to explore the dimensions of racial equity, and help the sector create a true and authentic index and definition of Racial Equity for the global development space. We are especially enthusiastic about the potential complementarity between BRIDGE (with a narrow focus on diversity) and the Racial Equity Index (with a wholistic approach to equity) and look forward to seeing how both projects reinforce needed progress in our sector.

Minding the Gap: Collecting Data on Diversity in the Development and Humanitarian Sector was originally published to Humentum on March 10, 2021. View the original post here.