COVID has challenged One Acre Fund to re-think so much about how we serve farmers and work together as a team. On the plus side, I have seen the extraordinary way our team has flexed to transform the entire organization. On the minus side, this crisis also meant difficult layoffs in some countries and teams. While this was necessary to keep the organization financially healthy, we have had to say goodbye to colleagues whose work has shaped One Acre Fund and improved the lives of the farmers we serve.
Today, I want to return focus to the top organization priority of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)–and add new urgency to the conversation. With full support from all One Acre Fund’s General Partners, Country Directors, and Board of Directors, I am committing to new actions on DEI on clear timelines for holding us accountable. These new commitments are particularly focused on increasing top leadership diversity in the organization and represent the first in a series of new steps that are intended to significantly increase the pace of progress at One Acre Fund.
While all aspects of diversity are important, given that we are an organization operating in Africa, we feel it is important to put a particular focus on race and nationality. In this key area of diversity, simply “making progress” is inadequate when most of our senior leadership team is still white and American. We must seek not only to improve, but aspire to become proactively antiracist at every level of the organization. By this crucial measure we have not gone far enough.
In particular, I have still not done enough to increase diversity in senior leadership - and without that, it is impossible to structurally ensure true equity in every corner of our workplace. I have heard feedback from some African colleagues that it is more difficult to advance in the organization when senior leadership is still majority American and white. That our culture does not consistently feel inclusive across all of our teams. That our diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts are too slow and will struggle to be systematically successful without top leadership diversity. I have heard feedback that while we are able to accomplish astounding things operationally in the field, we have failed to capture that same sense of urgency and importance in our internal team efforts.
This will change, and we must set aside other short-term priorities to achieve change. We are a social justice organization that is deeply committed to the equal realization of human potential for the people we serve. Going forward, we must apply the same urgency and importance that we have for farmer services to our internal team, to our work culture, and to truly living our values. How we do our work is essential to unlocking stronger results in farmers’ fields. Successful diversity and inclusion make decision-making stronger and create an environment where talent of all nationalities can flourish. This is essential to reach our shared mission.
These new commitments build on the existing work of our teams, which I want to briefly acknowledge. For example, 70% of management hires are now African; we replaced part of our twice-yearly senior leadership team meeting with a more inclusive Leadership Summit; and we have made progress on diversifying the leadership groups of each of our country operations. These earlier steps put us in a position to make new commitments that are authentic. However, we need to dramatically improve our pace of change - as discussed in my October letter, we are still far from where we need to be.
What does this mean in action? Below are the concrete targets we are setting to see more rapid and meaningful progress - again, these are just the first in a new round of commitments.
- Within our country leadership teams, we commit to having at least 50% African representation on Steering Committees within the next year for any teams where that is not already the case. We also commit to having an African Country Director or Deputy Country Director on all country teams, with a target date of one year for any teams where that is not already the case.
- We will create a new senior leadership body. We will restructure One Acre Fund’s most senior leadership team to better represent the staff, farmers and countries we serve. The new group will have at least 50% African membership. Over the next six months, we will work with a broad and diverse group of internal staff and external experts to design the new team. The new leadership group will be gradually phased in, and fully operational by December 2021, if not sooner.
- We need more outside and impartial expertise to identify and address every potential source of systemic bias within the organization. We will invest in reputable external DEI consultants to work with a diverse group of staff to accelerate review of our policies, practices, and governance structures; and to conduct high-quality training of at least our top 200 leaders around bias. The consultants will report to our Board. We target completion and full rollout of this work within one year.
These commitments are not exhaustive, and as noted above, are just an initial round in the coming 12 months of more frequent dialogue around DEI, and new, concrete initiatives that advance progress. Though incredibly urgent, I feel we must balance speed with substance. We are in a position where this balance is possible because of the important and courageous steps that many current and former One Acre Fund staff have made to lay the foundations for bolder change. Over the coming months I will continue to provide regular updates on our progress toward these commitments.
I helped start One Acre Fund because I am deeply committed to achieving a more equal world. I remain ready to improve how we go about accomplishing this mission.
Co-Founder and Executive Director of One Acre Fund