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How Inclusive Africa aims to end the white-only panels talking about Africa

by James Musoba
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Diversity and inclusion has been an active topic for the past 5-10 years in Western Countries. However, it is not uncommon to find panels at conferences consisting of white-only panelists discussing Africa.

​This article spotlighted this problem in which during a startup event in 2018 it featured an all-white panel of experts discussing on African startups and the role they can play in the German economy and how German startups can potentially enter African markets. This was a missed opportunity for experts to knowledge share and have discourse. But is this right to have all-white panels discussing Africa?

Inclusive Africa knows there has been a lot of focus on creating diversity in corporate, startup sectors and even in the creative economy. Panel discussions with no female representatives are usually deemed to be unacceptable especially in light of the #MeToo movement, and so, gender diversity has received priority. However, when it comes to speaking about Africa with no African representatives it is accepted, so why is this deemed acceptable?

“White people need to get better at seeing race, addressing it, and addressing our own complicity. Taking part in all-white panels – especially on a subject where race is central – simply isn’t good enough.” – Katie Bruce

Why do Organizations have this kind of problem?

Africa has many experts and many more all around the world from Africa, so, why do these organizations have this problem?

First, many development agencies, impact investors, foundations working in Africa have employees in management with no to little African background. Research already shows that just 3 percent of Charity CEOs are from black, Asian, and minority ethnic backgrounds, therefore, when asked to talk or represent African perspectives, they lack employees from Africa hence, not inclusive panels.

Second, ethnic inclusivity is not being prioritized unlike gender diversity. ​A Washington Post article highlighted this differences during the Berlin International Film Festival in which actress Merryl Streep had this to say on an all-white jury;

“I am very committed to equality and inclusion of all genders, races, ethnicities, religions,” Streep said. “There should be inclusion and this jury is evidence that at least women are included and, in fact, dominate this jury.”

At Inclusive Africa, we are big supporters of gender equality and are working with development agencies, impact investors, foundations and relevant organizations to drive more diversity. But we are also aware of the continent’s colonial history and believe ethnic inclusivity should be a priority. Organizations working in Africa have to look at the past and where they came from and work towards driving ethnic inclusivity within their organization systems.

While we know, depending on the geographical area of the development agency, foundation, impact investor, it may be easier or much more difficult to find panelists in some areas. However, if we look at the impact of covid-19 in which there are now more digital events; access to good speakers shouldn’t be a problem anymore.

Lastly, many organizations working in Africa tend to pick the usual suspects when selecting their panelists rather than inviting different panelists with different backgrounds and expertise from Africa. It is ironic when many panels are discussing the importance of driving diversity in Africa but then do not have any African panelists contributing to this discussion. ​Katie Bruce advises event organizers and change-makers to ask; who has the power to redesign justice? Who is at this conference? Who is missing? Why are they missing?

How do we move forward with this?

At inclusive Africa, we want to drive more awareness about what is happening and how organizations can improve. At inclusive Africa, we are involved in developing models and activities for system change for these sectors, that is DFIs, development agencies, foundations, impact investors etc. We are responsible for this and we all need to contribute in creating a better and inclusive ecosystem. Inclusive Africa will also launch a new service to connect African speakers with organizations that are organizing events and need panelists for Africa-related topics. We therefore make it easy for these organizations to find industry and/or experts or technical experts as well as people who are located in the continent and can explain from a local perspective and from their point of view.

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