“Dream, we did. Act we must”: A Commitment to Action

By Mike Kubzansky, CEO, and Simone Hill, Senior Manager, Equity & Belonging

Wallace Quarterman was 19 years-old when Union soldiers reached the plantation where he was born into slavery. He recalled that momentous day when he was told he was a free man: “And … the people then throws away their hoe then. They throwed away their hoes, and… they call we all up … and give we all freedom, said we are just as much as free as them now, you understand.”

As we approach the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth, a commemoration of the last slaves being set free, we are reminded of how much work we still have left to do, and, despite the promise of that day, true freedom remains unequally distributed in the United States. We must build a world in which diversity can exist without domination, and everyone’s voice is heard, listened to, and appreciated.

This past month we have witnessed a renewed fervor for condemning police brutality in the wake of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, David McAtee, Rayshard Brooks, and so many others. The call for action and accountability from lawmakers, leaders, and organizations has resounded across the United States and around the world.

As this movement to eradicate systemic racism continues to press forward, we at Omidyar Network recognize our responsibility in this realm of change, and also our significant failure to speak out and act in the past. We intensely believe in the righteousness of the cause and its direct connection to our mission. White supremacy, power, and racism have insidiously seeped into the systems and structures we are challenging in our US work:

  • We are reimagining capitalism because people of color have been denied equal pay for equal work, and prejudice, oppression, and racism have constrained opportunities for generations. In the US, the net worth of a typical White family is nearly 10 times greater than that of a Black family.
  • Technology can only be beneficial if its power is governed. With uncurbed power, tech giants have enabled and abetted racism, erasure, and the “othering” of groups, too often, Black people.
  • And as we begin a deeper exploration into our third main area of focus — Pluralism[1] — we see growing levels of tribalism, authoritarianism, and intolerance — much of which has existed for centuries. We must rebuild positive connections so there can be diversity without domination, and all in a pluralistic society meet as equals.

As funders, we recognize our privilege. We intend to use that privilege and the power that comes with it, to do our part to dismantle white supremacy. As we announced two weeks ago, we have committed $500,000 to organizations that are fighting on the frontlines for racial justice. But we understand that speaking out is only the start, and words without action, specifically without looking at our internal operations, are meaningless. Our own internal journey has only recently begun, and this global movement has shown us how much more we have to do. Over the past 18 months, we have:

  • Created a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Council made up of staff from diverse backgrounds and functional areas to create and implement a strategy that embeds equity and belonging into all of our policies, practices, and systems
  • Conducted an in-depth review of our hiring practices, leading to a new recruiting philosophy that incorporates and expands on the Rooney Rule helping us create a more diverse pipeline and equitable process
  • Refreshed our firm-wide values and behaviors and started to embed them into our core processes (e.g. recruiting, performance management) to ensure that equity and respect are embedded into our culture
  • Completed a comprehensive equity review on our compensation process and policies, allowing us to address and reconcile pay equity across the organization
  • Changed the structure of our Executive Team to include diverse perspectives and staff from different levels of the firm, and improved our gender balance in leadership
  • Asked those we fund to share data on the diversity of the organizations’ leadership and Boards
  • Started the first of many tough conversations internally about power dynamics in the funding space, laying the foundation for change in the way we run our grantmaking process including experiments with participatory grantmaking approaches.

But we are cognizant that we still have a long way to go to ensure we are practicing what we preach. We are committed to:

  • Increasing the number of staff at our organization from underrepresented minorities, especially in senior management
  • Examining our grantmaking process, embedding equity and anti-racism measures, and actively seeking partnerships with organizations focused on issues impacting the Black community
  • Setting meaningful targets in key areas, regularly reviewing progress, and sharing results internally with staff
  • Educating ourselves on ways to continue to create an anti-racist organization

Additionally, we are planning a regular blog series that will use our platform to integrate this work through a series of conversations, announcements, and reflections of our own journey, as well as highlighting Black leaders who are leading the way in a variety of industries and sectors, and in our own portfolio as well. As we move forward both internally and externally with this work, we know that we will make mistakes along the way, and that we must then continue to educate ourselves and try harder.

Frederick Douglass said, “I prayed for freedom for twenty years, but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.” We must follow his lead. Change will not come unless we act. And we are all committed to action.

We Rose

From Africa’s heart, we rose

Already a people, our faces ebon, our bodies lean,

We rose

Skills of art, life, beauty and family
Crushed by forces we knew nothing of, we rose

Survive we must, we did,
We rose

We rose to be you, we rose to be me,
Above everything expected, we rose

To become the knowledge we never knew,
We rose

Dream, we did
Act we must

Kristina Kay, We Rose © 1996, Juneteenth.com

[1] We use Diana Eck’s definition of pluralism:

1. Not diversity alone, but the energetic engagement with diversity

2. Not just tolerance, but the active seeking of understanding across lines of difference

3. Not relativism, but the encounter of commitments

4. Based on dialogue