Tzedek’s Commitment to Racial Justice; Our Response to The Board of Deputies’ Commission on Racial Inclusivity

This article is written in response to the Board of Deputies’ Commission on Racial Inclusivity (the Commission). The report is a critical step in recognising the diversity of our community and making it a safer and more inclusive place for Jews of Colour. We are grateful to the Board for their leading role in this and particularly to those witnesses who shared their personal experiences. It is essential that we all read, listen and understand these experiences. We hope that the witnesses’ honesty and bravery is truly recognised by our communal institutions, and that it leads to real, practical change. It saddens us that even a single person has felt excluded due to the colour of their skin, and we all must play our part in upending this reality.

The Commission has outlined over 100 recommendations, some of which relate to our work as an International Development and Education organisation. We stand committed to anti-racism and continue to listen, learn and better ourselves alongside the Jewish community and International Development sector. We are pleased to have contributed to the report and also welcome the recommendation that International Development be a priority to for the community. At Tzedek, International Development is one of our outlets for social justice. As we enter the Decade of Action to deliver the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, we look forward to leading our Jewish communal efforts and to welcoming more diverse voices to the table, which will be paramount to our collective success. We explore this concept further here for those who would like to read more.

What’s the Conversation? The Commission, Our Organisation & Racial Justice in International Development

Anti-racism, diversity and inclusion are vital features across all sectors and all areas of an organisation. At Tzedek, we have a dual mission: reducing extreme poverty in some of the poorest regions of the world while simultaneously building the UK Jewish community’s sense of global responsibility.

As the UK Jewish community’s International Development charity, we are deeply aware of and embedded within conversations about how the sector functions and evolves. In recent years, these sector-wide discussions have shifted towards looking at decolonising and depoliticising development, with debates surrounding anti-racism and diversity at the forefront. Alongside other International Development organisations, we are constantly learning and adapting our approach so that we can deliver our programmes to the highest and most ethical standards. As a small and nimble organisation, we are well placed to manage change within this ever-evolving sector quickly and effectively. This relates to how we implement our programmes tackling extreme poverty and to how we educate our UK Jewish community.

What Are We Doing Already?

Our International Development Approach

In 2019, we made the decision to transition to a 100% locally led model, removing all UK staff from our focus countries. This was the final step to becoming an organisation entirely driven by the expertise of our overseas partners; people who come from the communities we work with. This move reflected changes within the wider sector and came in good time for us and our partners to adjust to this model before the pandemic hit. Not only is it right for the actions of International NGOs like us to be fully led by local partners, over the past year it has been proven necessary. While many organisations had to deal with repatriating Western staff who had been working overseas, we had strong partnerships in both our focus countries who understand the needs of our global community. We were able to meet the varying needs of our programme participants, driven by our partners who saw the pandemic’s impact first-hand, and who had direct access to our partner communities to then implement our response.

Everything we do works towards making long-term impact. Our programmes enable communities to drive their own change, all based on their own self-identified priorities. By empowering local people to lift themselves out of extreme poverty, their agency is at the centre of progress within the community, rather than the decisions of external actors, also making it the most sustainable way to reduce poverty.

Over the years, we have invested over £1.8 million into locally led projects overseas, and today we are working with 27 partner organisations in Northern Ghana and across four States in India. Our work is currently tripling the income of 470 women and youth in India through vocational and skills training, while indirectly benefiting three times that number. In Ghana, our partners work with 1,200 people across 14 communities, soon to be 1,800 people as we move into the next phase of our Empowerment for Life programme. Fast forward four years and this work will be improving the lives of an entire district of 85,000 people.

Engaging the UK Jewish Community

Achieving “a better and more sustainable future for all” requires everyone to have the skills and knowledge to promote sustainable development, and this is something we enshrine in the second arm of our mission. The past few years have seen us pivot in the type of programmes we offer, moving away from overseas volunteering and towards UK-based education. This shift means that we do not offer any opportunities for unskilled volunteers to travel overseas with us, eliminating what has come to be known as ‘voluntourism’. This practice risks presenting poverty as a tourist attraction and promoting unskilled volunteering that is unsustainable, a burden on the host communities and an exploitative activity reinforcing neo-colonial ‘white saviour’ attitudes. We would only facilitate members of our UK community volunteering overseas if our partners requested specific support, at which point we would recruit a volunteer with the required expertise.

This standard also applies to the Office of the Chief Rabbi’s Ben Azzai Programme (Ben Azzai), the focus of Chapter 5 in the Commission’s report, which is currently our only programme taking members of British Jewry to our focus regions in Ghana or India. The aim of this educational initiative is to create “a group of ambassadors attuned to the place of social responsibility within Jewish identity”, and it does not include any elements of volunteering. Tzedek is the delivery partner on this programme, chosen for our expertise and the expertise of our Ghanaian and Indian partners, whom participants have a valuable opportunity to learn from in country. Our partners also facilitate meaningful opportunities for dialogue between Ben Azzai participants and participants on our overseas programmes, highlighting their agency in the programme and contributing to dismantling existing assumptions our Ben Azzai participants may hold.

We are acutely aware that this programme, and all of our education, must include unlearning harmful assumptions, challenging dangerous narratives, and understanding the historical and current power dynamics between the West and previously colonised and poorer regions of the world. In addition to their experiential learnings and educational sessions with our partners, Ben Azzai participants receive hours of education before, during and after their time overseas, including from external organisations like Water Aid and focussed on these crucial matters. We are continually adapting and improving our programming to proactively meet these standards, and incorporate content beyond the subject of poverty, looking at the global system as whole and wider injustice, including within our own country. We also consult with and bring in educators and external experts to deliver aspects of our education where possible and appropriate, diversifying the voices our participants learn from.

For our youngest learners, we are increasing children’s identity as global citizens while challenging stereotypes and widening perspectives on our Primary Schools Twinning Programme. Our Teen Activism Training looks at local and global social action through the lens of famous and topical campaigns. This programme teaches the relevant skills for responsible activism (including critical thinking, communication and leadership) while addressing issues from the impact of COVID-19 to Black Lives Matter and the climate movement. On our Internship Programme and Fellowship, university students and young professionals explore a variety of the Sustainable Development Goals and human rights, and address harmful perceptions and representations of poorer regions of the world, including where this is a problem within the International Development sector. On these two programmes, we have been joined by speakers from our focus countries (India and Ghana). We make it a priority to bring in external expertise, and these two programmes have welcomed a variety of speakers, including but not limited to our partners and other experts from our focus countries (India and Ghana).  These are just a few examples of where we are actively addressing global issues that are separate but related to poverty, sketching the ‘big picture’ of global injustice, including racial inequality.

Representing our Work and Partner Communities

These considerations also apply to the way we represent our work and the people and places we partner with, through our communications, marketing and fundraising.

The sector as a whole has been grappling with how we use language both publicly and privately that is consistent with our values, asking questions like: Does the language we use reinforce colonial or outdated thinking? Does the language and imagery we use represent our focus regions and populations with the dignity, respect and agency they deserve? And has our language evolved to capture our efforts to be more progressive, considered, inclusive and locally led? Standards in this area are constantly shifting, but as an organisation committed to global justice and with equitable partnerships at the heart of our model, these are conversations we are committed to having at every level, shifting our approach as best practice evolves.

In the past year, we have proactively removed images from our social media that had been posted years ago, a kind of change that is not unique to Tzedek, but reflective of changes within the wider International Development community. We have also taken other measures to best reflect the highest ethical standards, improving not only our use of language and imagery but refining our messaging and approach to storytelling, including to highlight our partners’ voices more directly.

Importantly, we also educate about these standards within our educational programming, including before taking Ben Azzai participants to our partner communities. We encourage our community to stand by these values and refuse to compromise on them ourselves, including for the sake of fundraising.

So, What’s Next?

Like the rest of the Jewish community and all other organisations in the International Development sector, we are constantly learning and recognise that there is more to be done.

This year, the move to virtual programming enabled us to welcome international participants to our Internship and Fellowship Programmes. We were joined by three Ghanaian, one Israeli and one American intern over summer 2020 and our inaugural Fellowship cohort has enjoyed participants from Ghana, India and Rwanda. This diversity has only enriched the quality of these programmes, and we want to find a way to include a wide range of voices and experiences in the future, especially when in-person facilitation resumes. We commend the Commission’s call for active and deliberate recruitment of diverse voices and are committed to this effort. We know this will only strengthen us and add skills, insights and perspectives that are so valuable.

We are committed to bettering ourselves and we are grateful for the Commission’s feedback on the Ben Azzai Programme, as well as their recommendations that relate to the work that we do, which were largely adopted years ago. It is wonderful to hear that some witnesses feel that communal involvement in international development shows British Jewry at its best and welcome the recognition of international development as a vital area of concern for Jewish communal advocacy. As the UK Jewish community’s international development charity, we look forward to leading on this as we enter the Decade of Action to deliver the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and continue to support our partner communities in recovering from the pandemic and beyond.

 

We are glad to see the British Jewry with us on this journey and welcome any feedback and expertise that will help us learn and grow, both for the benefit of our global community and because it is simply the right thing to do. You can read more about our work in our most recent Annual Review and please feel free to reach out to our team at info@tzedek.org.uk.