Pulse on the Principles: “From Dialogue to Action: Looking Inward for More Inclusive International Development“

The Principles for Digital Development work and advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion in international development projects. They were created with the belief that digital technologies can be the great equalizer if leveraged properly, and that begins with greater representation in technology.  

However, intentional or not, racism and exclusionary practices are realities of the development sector. After the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others sparked powerful, global attention and activism into the Black Lives Matter movement, the Digital Principles team released an official statement standing in solidarity, along with a pledge to be more vocal and active advocates for diversity, equity, and inclusion in international development projects. 

Combined, this movement and our aim to offer more accessible means of knowledge sharing is why the team launched the new Pulse on the Principles series with a webinar titled From Dialogue to Action: Looking Inward for More Inclusive International Development in order to discuss critical issues such as:  

–> Barriers and challenges within organizations that have intentionally or unintentionally resulted in racist or other exclusionary polices, practices, or procedures

–> Changes that can be made within our respective teams to avoid doing harm to BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) colleagues

–> Ways in which the Digital Principles and other community-driven initiatives can move beyond “recommended reading” and education initiatives and shift to useful, actionable steps toward equity and equality in the workplace

–> Ways we can hold ourselves accountable and ensure we are not just moving toward diversity, but true inclusivity

Digital Principles‘ Senior Associate, Claudine Lim, hosted the webinar. Featured guest speakers and their key takeaways included: 

Angela Oduor Lungati, Executive Director at Ushahidi 

“There is a perception in development that those who study outside of the [African] continent have more skill and knowledge than those who have been educated and work locally.”   

Assess hiring policies and where value is placed.  Locals tend to be hired as implementers but not decision makers, creating a situation where individuals in Global South are valued much less, despite doing the same work.  

— Development agendas are set elsewhere rather than by local people based on lived experiences or challenges 

— The responsibility of organizational change falls more squarely on leadership to create safe space for junior staff to lobby for change without fear of retribution 

Dawn Seymour, Senior Director for Program Operations, Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL) 

“We need to do better not only as a sector, but as individuals. We need to do more understand and confront our unconscious biases and prejudices.”  

— One of the Digital Principles’ key components is in Design with the User: look at who’s sitting at the table and if those voices reflect the community you are trying to serve.  

— Continue to look at different organizations and broaden our comfort zone. Be comfortable with being uncomfortable 

— Think about how many times you have taken on a new project and parachuted into a country that you have no context around the economic, colonial, or anthropological history  

Marissa Germain, Founder and CEO, Reedoe LLC 

“There is a lot of trauma with certain groups and to ask them to lead that conversation is a lot, so allies need to step up and provide support. This isn’t going to end at the end of the summer. Institutional racism will always be an issue.” 

— The challenge of international development is that we have very high ideals and values, but the reality is if you hold senior colleagues accountable, there is the possibility of blowback. People then move on to the next organization and hope it gets better. 

— Understand the history of racism, but don’t stop there: nudge the conversation forward.  

Identify realistic changes that can take place within your organization. There are so many ways to participate in dismantling of white supremacy.  

Carolyn Florey, Technology for Development Lead at International Rice Research Institute 

“We need to take a step back – how can we make sure we can iterate and integrate more people into the Digital Principles, as living guidelines? We need to recognize they weren’t created by the most representative group.”  

— It’s hard to “measure” diversity and inclusion; it needs to be interwoven, lest it becomes a checkbox, like how gender is now 

— International development is hard because we consider ourselves good people, doing good work. But that can be harmful if we don’t accept that we may be causing harm. 

— I’m trying to recognize my own actions, like my privilege of being an American woman and the times I have used that to my advantage. I’m thinking of my own behavior and seeing how I can change. 

The Principles for Digital Development team recognize that this is only a step, but hope it establishes a strong precedent of diversifying our perspectives, putting promises into action, and amplifying voices of traditionally underrepresented stakeholders and partners.  

For the full webinar, visit the official event page

For more Pulse on the Principles content, check out our podcast series. The first mini-season explores how technology can inform the COVID-19 response and social inequities exposed by the pandemic. 

Claudine Lim

Manager at The Principles for Digital Development

Claudine first joined the Digital Impact Alliance in October 2017, shortly after receiving a dual masters in international relations and public relations from the Maxwell School and S.I. Newhouse School at Syracuse University. After working as a Program Coordinator and Researcher for DIAL’s Business Operations, she is currently working with the Principles of Digital Development.