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MSF UK Board of Trustees statement on institutional racism

Statement by the MSF UK Board of Trustees on institutional racism

29 June 2020 | Jump to 2021 updates below

Racism is a human tragedy. As has been laid bare by recent discourse, it is embedded in institutional systems and structures. It is painfully clear that MSF is not exempt from this and that institutional racism exists in the movement.

Our origins, and the very name of the movement, are synonymous with the idea of the foreigner, the outsider, bringing medical assistance and external eyes to bear witness to people’s experience in the midst of crisis. This inherently puts us on the frontlines of some of the deepest power imbalances in the world.

This has many consequences, one of which is a responsibility to be even more deliberate in our actions on equality in all its forms. The protests that followed the killing of George Floyd, and the globalisation of the Black Lives Matter movement, have provoked much debate, which has caused us to reflect and take stock of our failings in this regard.

We acknowledge and are sorry for the pain and exclusion experienced by many of our Black colleagues and colleagues of colour and we commit to do our utmost to humbly listen, learn and act.

We, as the MSF UK Board, commit to the following anti-racism action:

1. Working on ourselves as a Board:

- We commit to ensuring our Board will be diverse at all levels including in thought and background. We will actively encourage and support applications from candidates of colour to the UK Board. For those who are passionate but may not feel ready to apply, we will create mentoring opportunities to support future applications.

- Take our understanding of the issues to the highest level, with anti-racism training to be completed by the UK Board within six months, which then becomes regular and continuing.

- Create and support safe spaces for discussions within the Association where we, as a board, actively listen to and learn from the experiences of our staff and Associative Members, particularly People of Colour.

2. Support the MSF UK Executive and hold them to account on their intent, by the end of 2020, to:

- Revisit commitments in our strategic direction, “Valuing People”, to ensure the aims are fit for purpose and are delivered. This includes prioritising existing global career initiatives such as the Global Health and Humanitarian Medicine (GHHM) course and Leadership Education Academic Partnership (LEAP), our two flagship UK education programmes.

- Take up anti-racism training within the MSF UK Office, starting at Senior Management Level.

- Implement internal auditing of MSF UK policies and procedures and, where needed, develop anti-racist adaptations. This would include:

  • In HR: strengthening equal opportunity interventions in hiring, retention and progression.
  • In communications and fundraising: reviewing internal and external language and imagery to ensure it is reflective of MSF as a global movement.

​3. Use our voice and influence in the wider MSF movement to:

- Amplify anti-racism action.

- Push for the realisation of the ongoing “Becoming the MSF We Want to Be” discussion, ensuring we revisit the MSF architecture of power and privilege currently concentrated in European offices, to create a better MSF for the future, becoming a truly global organisation.

- These commitments will form the backbone of a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Roadmap which we will publish. This will be work that is always ongoing. We must constantly be challenging ourselves, listening, learning and improving.

NOTE

MSF UK is part of an international movement of legal entities, commonly referred to as MSF, which are bound by a shared name and identity, and shared commitment to the MSF Charter and principles.

The statements in this article relate to both the international movement’s global field projects and to the MSF UK office.

Board updates

8 October 2021

1. Working on ourselves as a Board

Commitment: ensuring our Board will be diverse at all levels including in thought and background. We will actively encourage and support applications from candidates of colour to the UK Board. For those who are passionate but may not feel ready to apply, we will create mentoring opportunities to support future applications.

Diversity was included as a key criterion in board recruitment for 2021, ahead of Association Trustee Elections at the MSF AGM, June 2021. This included the wording:

“The MSF UK Board recognise that the skills and diversity collectively represented on the Board should reflect the diverse nature of the environment in which MSF UK and our operational partners work. This will improve the Board’s effectiveness through diversity of thought and approach. Considering this and our desire to reflect the diversity of the communities which MSF serves in our governance, we particularly welcome candidates from diverse backgrounds and lived experiences to apply to both roles.

"See the Board Diversity and Inclusivity Statement and Policy for more information.”

The Nominations Committee (NomCom), a sub-committee of the UK Board, has been reviewing options for mentoring, potentially opening one to two spaces at board for trainees, looking to target candidates with lived experience from the UK and/or a locally hired member of staff with one of MSF’s projects.

The UK board undertook its first iteration of the board skills matrix since 2019, to expand its skills and competencies, led by a desire to encompass a more diverse and inclusive lens at governance level. A new skills matrix including the metrics lived experience, cultural competency and navigational, resistance and linguistic capital have been approved and trustees were measured against these competencies in August 2021. On this basis, the NomCom has agreed the need to recruit a co-opted Trustee in the Autumn/Winter 2021/2, looking for lived experience as a member of a population served by MSF, a migrant/refugee living in the UK or similar.

Commitment: Take our understanding of the issues to the highest level, with anti-racism training to be completed by the UK Board within six months, which then becomes regular and continuing.

Following an initial training session with DEI consultants, the UK and Irish Boards jointly partook in a DEI focus group on the 26th March 2021. The aim of this session was to understand what is going well but also what challenges, barriers and opportunities there are in terms of equality, diversity and inclusion at MSF UK. It also included facilitated discussions around the Board’s views on the wider organisation and a reflection on the Board’s own DEI practices.

The diversity and inclusivity statement will be reviewed in December 2021 in line with the review schedule and will therefore be on the agenda for the December Board Meeting.

Commitment: Create and support safe spaces for discussions within the Association where we, as a board, actively listen to and learn from the experiences of our staff and Associative Members, particularly People of Colour.

The MSF UK association held an event on Learning from Past Mistakes: the risks of the UK’s new immigration plan on 15 June 2021.

The MSF UK President who is chair of the OCA Association Standing Committee, was part of an Associative Life in the Field (ALFie) Webinar on Security on 12 August 2021. The discussion of this topic, regarding the targeting of humanitarian workers, was instigated by ALFies, following the tragic loss of three MSF colleagues in Tigray, Ethiopia. Following the Webinar, the ALFies worked with the OCA Café team to shape the topic as the main OCA café topic. The MSF UK President was part of these preparation discussions. Members of the UK board attended the OCA Café sessions and discussed this topic with a wide group of participants from across the movement.

2. Support the MSF UK Executive and hold them to account on their intent

Two board trustees have taken the DEI board lead and prepared and instigated a board/MT DEI blue skies session on the 31 August 2021. This session focused specifically on how to think as widely and practically as possible regarding DEI actions, including any further “low hanging fruit”, which can be instigated as soon as possible.

This session fed into further discussions held at the MT/Board retreat on 29 September 2021. At the retreat, a DEI consultant facilitated a session that focused MT/Board attention on future possible MSF UK DEI actions. The MT will be working with the DEI consultants over the next few months, to hone these ideas into an MSF UK DEI action plan.

DEI is a standing agenda item at every board meeting and there are regular check-ins on executive progress.

3. Commitment: Use our voice and influence in the wider MSF movement to:

a) Amplify anti-racism action.

The UK board on OCB representative participated in the session at the OCB Gathering chaired by the DARAG (diversity and anti-racism advisory group) in June 2021. The GD of OCB attended a UK Board Meeting to update on the field recentralisation programme which is being rolled out from September 2021.

In her capacity as the Chair of the MSF Operational Centre Amsterdam (OCA) advisory Council sub-committee overseeing the OCA association (made up of the MSF associations of Holland, Germany, UK, South Asia, Sweden and Canada), the MSF UK Chair has worked to progress the roadmap for inclusive and diverse representation of all OCA staff at all governance levels within the organisation. Six ALFies are now full members of each of the OCA sub-committees and two of these ALFies have places to attend governance training in October/November.

The MSF UK President held a keynote speech on racism and decolonisation in MSF and the steps being taken to address the problem to the Friends of MSF online training day in September 2021.

b) Push for the realisation of the ongoing “Becoming the MSF We Want to Be” discussion, ensuring we revisit the MSF architecture of power and privilege currently concentrated in European offices, to create a better MSF for the future, becoming a truly global organisation.

MSF UK continues to take part in the “Becoming the MSF we want to be” process and, following both of its IGA representatives attending a number of Webinars, is committed to participating as fully as possible in topic discussions which are taking place from Autumn 2021 and throughout 2022.

Following the successful visit by the Executive Office to the West and Central Africa Section (WaCA), the MSF UK Board and WaCA chairs are liaising over exploring possibilities for joint working.

The Board is committing to proactively support the timely implementation of the International Reward Review.

The Board will consistently challenge to ensure that development and support is available for national/local/regional staff to take on senior and leadership roles in the field and across the organisation.  

Find out who makes up MSF UK's Board of Trustees

4 March 2021

1. Working on ourselves as a Board

Commitment: ensuring our Board will be diverse at all levels including in thought and background. We will actively encourage and support applications from candidates of colour to the UK Board. For those who are passionate but may not feel ready to apply, we will create mentoring opportunities to support future applications.

Progress: on 4th December 2020, the board completed and approved a new Diversity and Inclusivity Statement and Policy, which states the MSF UK Board’s commitment to diversity and equal opportunity in all areas of their work.

It further recognises their responsibility to champion and cultivate diversity and inclusivity in MSF UK and throughout the MSF movement by:

  • Modelling a culture of diversity and inclusivity within the Board, including setting board composition rules and performance metrics.
  • Ensuring that organisational strategy, culture, policies and practices of MSF UK reflect our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusivity.
  • Enabling an associative culture where diverse backgrounds and perspectives are valued and all are able to participate and contribute.

This Policy is actively being considered and put into practice, such as in the Trustee recruitment process and development of a Board Mentorship Program to proactively identify association members from underrepresented groups. With this, the Board will create clear pathways for diverse individuals from the MSF UK Association to develop the skills and experience they need to be able to be eligible to take on Trustee responsibilities.

The full text can be found here

Commitment: Take our understanding of the issues to the highest level, with anti-racism training to be completed by the UK Board within six months, which then becomes regular and continuing.

Progress: Immediately after publicly stating their commitments, available board members (nine of twelve) engaged in a workshop in July 2020 which explored board diversity and accountability strengthening mechanisms at MSF UK.

The session involved discussions on:

  • the direction of antiracism for MSF UK(IE) and what the Board would like to see
  • what building blocks for equity are missing at the Board
  • how the Board can expand their recruitment pool

A direct outcome of this workshop was the development of a Board Diversity and Inclusivity Statement and Policy noted in the previous commitment.

The Board are currently considering what additional antiracism and EDI training would be suitable and fit-for-purpose.

Commitment: Create and support safe spaces for discussions within the Association where we, as a board, actively listen to and learn from the experiences of our staff and Associative Members, particularly People of Colour.

MSF UK held three events in July, August and October 2020 for association members and staff. You can find more explanation on the content of these sessions here. Board members remained closely involved in formulating the content of the second and third events and MSF UK board members hosted, presented at, or attended all three. Key feedback was reported at board meetings afterwards.

2. Support the MSF UK Executive and hold them to account on their intent

To increase accountability at the Executive level, the board made Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) and anti-racism a standing item on the agenda for all MSF UK board meetings.

The board also prioritised a new risk “Failure to meet EDI expectations” for 2021, which means this executive workstream receives added scrutiny throughout the year together with two governance deep dives, as per any prioritised risk on MSF UK risk register.

You can see the update to the executive commitments here

While good progress has been made it is fair to say that we have not made as much progress as we would have liked to make on our immediate goals. As we have learnt more of the work needed and the complexity involved, our goals gained more breadth and timelines extended. We do however expect to meet our longer term goals and also recognise that EDI and anti-racism work have no fixed end point – they are ongoing and will be part of everything that we do.

3. Commitment: Use our voice and influence in the wider MSF movement to:

a) Amplify anti-racism action.

MSF UK’s board co-sponsored a motion on “EDI in everything” with MSF Canada. In the run up to the International General Assembly (IGA), the highest governing body of the international MSF movement, in his capacity as the UK IGA representative, the Chair of the board worked with representatives from the institutional member associations of South Asia, East Africa, Southern Africa, Brazil, Germany, Norway and the Movement Wide Association to ensure the motion captured enough votes to qualify to be debated at the assembly. The motion qualified for debate, was passed, and has been assigned to an EDI sub-committee of the International Board for ongoing action. As co-sponsors of the motion, the UK board will continue to engage with the International Board sub-committee going forwards.

Further, over the latter half of the year, the Chair of the board was invited to take part in the MSF France general assembly panel on racism, attended the racism session at the Operational Centre

Brussels annual gathering (made up of the MSF associations of Belgium, Luxembourg, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Brazil, Southern Africa and Hong Kong), attended the MSF Canada general assembly with an EDI focus, attended all the MSF International board EDI sub-committee meetings on racism, and spoke about racism at the Operational Centre Amsterdam’s executive medical-operational platform.

In her capacity as the Chair of the MSF Operational Centre Amsterdam (OCA) advisory Council sub-committee overseeing the OCA association (made up of the MSF associations of Holland, Germany, UK, South Asia, Sweden and Canada), the MSF UK Vice Chair has been instrumental in building and driving forward a roadmap for inclusive and diverse representation of all OCA staff at all governance levels within the organisation. Employing the “no decision about us without us” ethos, she has driven an inclusive consultation which has produced a roadmap fully owned by its participants and has secured approval of the OCA Council, with delivery aimed for the OCA annual meeting 2022.

b) Push for the realisation of the ongoing “Becoming the MSF We Want to Be” discussion, ensuring we revisit the MSF architecture of power and privilege currently concentrated in European offices, to create a better MSF for the future, becoming a truly global organisation.

At the IGA, both MSF UK’s IGA representatives voted in favour of a motion calling for an equitable representation at the assembly, seeking to redress the inequity of the disproportionately large representation of ‘global north’ MSF associations which are reflected at national level versus those of the ‘global south’ which are reflected at regional level.

On the specific dossier of “Becoming the MSF We Want to Be” MSF UK continues to take part in the process being steered by the International Board and, in response to their request, will appoint a board and association focal point for their steering group. The next update webinar is intended for March 2021 and will be attended by UK board representatives.

With the newest member of the MSF movement, the West and Central Africa association (WaCA), the board approved a workstream in the 2021 Annual Plan for the to provide technical support to WaCA to develop governance and executive mechanisms in safeguarding and duty of care. We hope this will contribute to WaCA’s robust development and long term success. Being currently the only non-European MSF section with operational delivery, WaCA is unique in MSF and, for the UK board, represents a positive diversification of the movement’s operational decision making.

Find out who makes up MSF UK's Board of Trustees