Episode 14: Why trust, bravery, and democracy matter when challenging racism at the organisational level. Arbie Baguios interviewed.

About this episode:

In this week’s episode, Arbie Baguios talks us through the Anti-Racist and Decolonial Framework he has developed with Start Network, which finds that racism and colonialism are based on structural superiority.

Arbie dives into how to actually tackle racism and coloniality as a systemic or structural issue and tells us about how he supports organisations in helping them recognise how they produce racist and colonial outcomes through their systems at the organisational level.

Arbie emphasises that trust, bravery, and democracy are necessary and essential values when attempting any kind of organisational change towards anti-racism and decolonisation. We discuss double standards when it comes to INGOs ‘failing’ and how to reframe notions of capacity to provide space for both learning and failure.

Episode 14: Full Transcript

The Power Shift: Decolonising Development

Episode 14

Why trust, bravery, and democracy matter when challenging racism at the organisational level. Arbie Baguios interviewed.

Charmaine: [00:00:00] Hi everybody. Welcome to the Power Shift: Decolonising Development, the podcast series seeking to bring together thinkers, practitioners, and activists to share ideas, inspire change, and identify tools for practical action. I am Charmaine McCauley, a body psychotherapist, director of Kokoro and lead facilitator of the groundbreaking training program called Racism in Real Time.

And my co-host is Professor Kate Bird, director of the Development Hub. As a Black psychotherapist and a White development professional, we’re using our own lived experience and professional skills to frame the way that we approach the topic of decolonisation. Over to you, Kate. It’s good to see you.

Kate: Thanks Charmaine. And I’d like to introduce today’s speaker, Arbie Baguios, who is the founder of Aid Reimagined which [00:01:00] initiates advocacy for a more effective and just aid system. Previously, he worked for humanitarian organisations including Action Aid, Save the Children, Red Cross and Unicef.

He’s the author of the Anti-racist and Decolonial Framework for the Start Network and is currently a doctoral researcher at the LSE. If you take a look at the show notes, you can find out more about Arbie. So back to you, Charmaine, for our first question. 

Charmaine: And welcome Arbie, so good to see you. Arbie, you work with the Start Network to write the Anti-racist and De colonial Framework. It finds that racism and colonialism are based on structural superiority. In other words, White people consider themselves to be culturally superior to BIPOC folk. When people work internationally, this can be overlaid by White people from the Global North generally using power over to ensure that their priorities, ideas, and actions are [00:02:00] dominant.

Can you describe the work you do with the development organisations to address White superiority and interracial and international power asymmetries. I know it’s quite wordy, but I hope you’re getting what I’m asking you. 

Arbie: Yeah. No, thank you very much Charmaine and thank you very much both of you, for having me in your podcast.

Yes, so I work with organisations in tackling racism and coloniality in a systemic level, in a structural level. We often hear people say that racism or coloniality is a systemic or a structural issue. But, we rarely, you know, from my experience at least, I rarely see it being tackled as such.

A lot of popular ways of dealing with racism and coloniality are kind of like in bias training or awareness phrasing and recognition. And while these are important things, I think it still misses kind of like the systemic issue [00:03:00] of these problems. And so what do I mean by system?

So somebody once told me that an organisation can have zero people who are racist or have a colonial attitude, and that organisation can still have a racist and colonial outcome. And I think that speaks to how racism and coloniality is a systemic and structural issue. And so I work with organisations in helping them recognise how they can produce racist and colonial outcomes through their systems. And what I mean by this is a lot of organisations do processes, practices, bureaucratic procedures that may, from a first glance, seem harmless and that some of these processes and procedures are actually there for the right reasons.

But, because international organisations are entangled in their own society with a context, a [00:04:00] history of racism and coloniality, then these seemingly harmless bureaucratic processes can be experienced as racist and colonial. As simple as, for example, funding mechanisms within international organisations, project management systems, hiring practices that, you know, from one glance, it makes sense because of things like benchmarking, et cetera, salary systems.

So these things that may seem harmless and are there for the right reasons can in fact be experienced as racist and colonial. 

Charmaine: Thank you. I think, just adding to that, I think what you’ve done with, I watched your video on ethical encounters in aid, and I think that’s where you really focus on four guidelines that you’ve conceived of, I believe, to have better outcomes for the recipients of aid.

I’m just going to read them. The first one you have is tremble in our ignorance, live with contradiction, be a plumber and enjoy pluriverse.[00:05:00] And the one that really struck me a lot was live with contradictions. Now as a psychotherapist, one of the things I help my clients with is the level of anxiety and when things don’t go smoothly or direct and they have to learn how to live with contradiction, it is really high anxiety provoking.

So I’m really interested in how you then take the thing of contradictions, because this tends to be in the Western world, we don’t like ambivalence, which is contradictions. We like things to be sure, which I think you talked about. We like things to be goal-oriented, focused, one-on-one always equals two.

So I’m wondering how you work with people who generally don’t like contradictions and really want a sure-fire aim that we’re going to have a success. 

Arbie: I think this is really interesting, especially from a psychology perspective, right? So this really comes from a number of things, this insight. Firstly, within the aid sector, in the process of reforming the aid sector, there are people who [00:06:00] believe in different kinds of things.

There are people who believe in reform, so working to change the system within the system. Or people who believe in, for the lack of a better term, revolution. So, burn down the house and just, start everything from scratch , no international involvement whatsoever, et cetera. Then, there are these identities, there are these binaries that, you know, separate people from international versus local or a White person versus person of colour.

And I think these sharp distinctions can be helpful in some context. But ultimately I’m a believer that we need all these things, right? All of the things we do and even us as individuals, we have some elements that are maybe more reform oriented and some elements that are more revolutionary.

I’m someone who is from the Global South. I was born and raised in the Philippines, but I have spent half of my life now in the UK. And so I see myself as someone who is in between the Global North and the Global South. And [00:07:00] so our identities are complex and sometimes contradicting, right? An experience that I can share is I was working with this philanthropy foundation who gets most of their funding from a corporate entity whose past has a title to the colonial enterprise.

So it’s a British historic corporate entity that in the past was involved in the colonial enterprise, and then they got a lot of money out of that. And then now some of that money is being invested in philanthropy. And they’re working with activists in the Global South.

And the way that they work with these activists, it’s actually, to be fair, quite radical. They provide unrestricted funding. And they fund causes that normally wouldn’t get funding from any other sources, especially institutional donors or governments. And so I ask the activists that they’re working with, what do you think, what’s your own reflection, [00:08:00] given that the philanthropy that you are dealing with has ties with the colonial past? And they said, you know, we’ve learned to embrace this contradiction. We’ve learned that this tension, this contradiction, can be harnessed, in order to do something radical and something good. And finally, at the same time, like in this social justice space, I think there is a tendency, recently for purity.

You know, people should always be morally pure, not doing any wrong thing. And especially online, there can be a sort of like witch hunt for people who may have done something that isn’t pure in their past. Or may have some outlying opinion that needs to be corrected.

And so people say this is cancel culture. Although, I don’t entirely believe that as well, but that’s for another topic. But I guess, this insight of embracing contradiction also pushes back a little bit on this search for purity amongst progressive people in [00:09:00] the cause of racial justice and social justice more broadly.

Because no one’s perfect. We all have the complexities, even within us. And so this is what I mean to say when, we really need to embrace our contradictions. 

Charmaine: So just giving that, when you introduce that kind of concept, contradictions, can you talk about some of the emotional, perhaps, response when you say that?

I’m just looking at from a psychotherapeutic point, and that feels very difficult for a lot of people with the level of anxiety now that you’re gonna be getting in the room and like when you say it goes in the face of cancel culture, it also ascribes that you can’t always be responsible for your past actions.

And I’m thinking it’s like you’re saying the past is the past, but there has to be room for growth. There has to be room for doing something better. There has to be room for the good of the people where perhaps in the past it wasn’t there. But how do you actually deal with that when you’re telling people it’s okay, how do you [00:10:00] calm them down?

Arbie: Yeah, so whenever I work with organisations, I think an important aspect that I always do at the very beginning is to try to set a constructive, a respectful and a safe tone, right? It’s about the tone and it’s about the way that the message is delivered. I am aware that there are other kind of like performers or activists within this space and more broadly where it’s more antagonistic.

And I think that has its place definitely and I respect people who are so passionate in theory when they advocate for social justice and racial justice. But for me, my style personally is to work with people and to identify and to determine shared values and shared goals.

So I often go to organisations or even when I give a talk, I start out with what I call good faith principles. And I believe other people within this space also use them. Good faith principles where I [00:11:00] usually say, you know, this is a safe and brave space. We are in this conversation, we are doing this work because we trust one another and we are common citizens of the aid sector or common citizens of the organisation where we have shared goals. We all want the aid sector to be better. And so with that understanding by setting that tone, then I’m hoping at least to get everyone on board and to lower down the defenses so then we can really get to the deep work that’s necessary.

Kate: Thank you. I wonder if you could expand on something that you’ve said in your framework for anti-racism and decolonisation, you describe individuals as the seed, organisational culture as the soil, and norms in the sector as the weather. And in your framework you say that individual change is very difficult to achieve and you kind of park that to one side for other people to address later.[00:12:00] 

But you say that also individuals can be nudged to change by their organisation. And you identify norms in the sector as being beyond the scope of your work. So you zero in on organisational culture as the work that you are going to focus on, and you suggest that organisations should seek to build an organisational culture that highlights trust, bravery, and democracy.

And, I wonder if you can expand on that. And tell us a little bit about how you think that those pillars of progressive organisations can be achieved.

Arbie: Yes. So, firstly I think I’m going to say that, I recognise that, this work, racial justice work, social justice work within the aid sector and beyond is an ecosystem. And people will have certain specialties, expertise and roles that they can contribute. And for me personally, I see myself as [00:13:00] contributing at the organisational level. So there are people who work at the individual levels, the seed, where their specialism is bias training and changing the mindset of individuals. And I think that’s great. And there are people who are tackling more sectoral dimension where it’s enacting different policies, et cetera.

But I think a neglected part, and where I find this work really interesting is at the organisational level. So, I frame it this way because yes, individuals are hard to change. Individuals who come and work in organisations are hard to change. And sometimes changing individuals can be, to be honest, outside the remit of organisations.

So if you are an employee of an INGO, fair enough that you have your own beliefs. But for me, what is the interesting work is when you enter and represent and work within that international organisation, within the international aid sector, how then can the system incentivise or nudge you to the direction that can [00:14:00] lead to equitable outcomes?

And then I think this is really important. In tackling racism and coloniality and in beginning to do that long and hard task for organisations, I recommend that their organisational culture should have trust, bravery, and democracy. Without these things, it can fail. So if stakeholders of an organisation do not trust one another, if they don’t feel a psychological safety and they don’t feel brave enough to open up and discuss problems within their organisations and their wider communities, if there is no listening and if perspectives and voices of people are not being heard, then even if you do workshops or even if you change your policies and practices, then that initiative is bound to fail. So it is important to have trust, bravery, and democracy. And obviously this is a complex thing. These are complex values [00:15:00] to cultivate within organisational culture and it cannot happen overnight. But there are some things that can be done. For example, acknowledging and embracing failure. So our sector is really bad at this. When you read a typical donor report from an INGO, it will seem as if failure doesn’t exist. All the projects are successful and reach this impact, and we’ve targeted this many people and this many communities. And you read dozens, dozen, dozens and dozens of these reports, and no one is going to say, oh, we’ve failed. And that’s because they’re not incentivised to admit failure because then they’re not going to get funded anymore and they’re not going to get money from the donors anymore, et cetera. And so I think there is a real need to shift from this culture of just looking at successes and really embracing failure. Because failure is how we can improve and how we can learn. And by being more honest about [00:16:00] that, then we can really improve better and deliver better for people and communities.

And related to that is honesty, right? Some people, some academics have described the theater of development. There’s even a Spanish anthropologist who was working in the Philippines and described it as the comedy of development, people fall into certain roles, people fall into certain patterns of “oh, okay, needs assessment, and then this is what people need. Okay, we’re going to fund it, we’re going to monitor and evaluate it.” And then it’s successful and because we’re not honest, things just become like a copy paste, a churning of the mill of humanitarian and development assistance.

And we’re not critical enough sometimes in our sector, and we’re not honest, but if we’re only honest and we can say, “oh, okay, we’ve conducted a needs assessment and actually those are not the needs of the [00:17:00] people, or our organisation actually cannot deliver on their needs because it’s not in our mandate.”

 Then I think that’s the right step and organisationally that can happen, but also individuals within the organisations. And finally, epistemic humility. And what I mean by this is being humble and recognising that other people know things that you might not know. And it sounds so simple.

It sounds so simple that ” oh, I might not know how it feels like to be a refugee, or I might not know how it feels like to be someone whose family has been affected by flooding or by earthquake.” But it’s surprisingly a difficult concept, especially within our sector who are full of technical experts who are ready to impose their advice and their knowledge in people and communities affected by crisis.

But recognising that we have to be humble, especially in terms of what we know and what we don’t know, I think is a good step [00:18:00] in cultivating this trust, bravery, and democracy. And can help organisations towards this journey of tackling racism and coloniality. 

Kate: Yes, I absolutely agree and I think this last issue that you’ve raised around epistemic humility, I think is actually something that would be very powerful within international teams, not just within organisations, but when organisations are working with other organisations or individual consultants are working with other people internationally, because as you’ve just said, there’s a lot of currency placed on expertise.

So in development, a lot of individuals are interacting with others through their status as expert. So if they then present themselves in a situation and say “Well, I don’t know. This isn’t something I know about. What can you tell me?” That’s quite a big step because they are having to be humble.

And actually quite a lot[00:19:00] in the development sector goes against humility, doesn’t it? Of saying, “I don’t know,” and “what do you think?” So creating that space for listening is quite scarce, I think. 

Arbie: Exactly, and I think especially within the humanitarian sector, and my background is in the humanitarian sector mostly.

The humanitarian sector is rooted in what the academic Michael Barnett calls paternalism, where what this entails is somebody saying that “my knowledge is better than yours and my knowledge is for your own good. So you have to listen to me because I have the knowledge.”

And so if you have the entire sector built on that, concept, it’s really hard to be humble about what you know and what you don’t know. 

Kate: Absolutely. Right. So, just returning to this issue of humility. What I hear you saying is that it’s not just humility and listening, but also related to this previous point you were making about acknowledging [00:20:00] failure and the need for honesty.

It’s also learning, it’s being open to learning. So what you are encouraging is for individuals and organisations to create space for learning, learning from mistakes, but also learning from each other. 

Arbie: Absolutely. I think this speaks to the issue around the concept of capacity and capacity building.

 This issue of capacity is a lot of international organisations go to their local partners and say, “oh, you don’t have capacity. We’re going to help you with capacity building.” And understandably, a lot of people do not like this term, especially people from the Global South.

They do not like this term capacity and capacity building, firstly, because they already have capacity, right? For many local actors, people of colour, indigenous people, Black people within their own communities in the Global South, they’ve already been doing this work for years, decades, even [00:21:00] before Global North organisations came in.

And so they have capacity. In my work with this framework, I actually propose to reframe the notion of capacity. And I say actually what Global North can give to Global South is not capacity or capacity building, but space. Space to learn and investing in their space so that they can learn and they can grow as local stakeholders.

And people forget that the big INGOs in the Global North, the Oxfams and Save the Childrens of the world didn’t start out as great, amazing, excellent organisations. At some point, they were a small organisation who were prone to making mistakes as well, but because they had the space to learn and to fail and to experiment, then they became these successful NGOs, right?

And so I think that’s what’s also necessary in the Global South. And by giving them space, by literally backing off and letting Global [00:22:00] South actors make their own decisions. But at the same time, and this is a role that the Global North NGOs can do is providing a safety net for Global South actors to experiment and to fail and helping them through that journey.

Kate: Yeah, I think that’s really interesting. But I’ve got a follow on question really, which is bearing in mind what you’ve just said about organisations. Presenting everything as a success. Many development organisations present everything they do as successful, and they’re very tentative about acknowledging failure because they’re concerned about how that will be presented publicly and how it’ll affect their funding streams and so on.

And I think that actually cuts across this issue of capacity because do they actually have the capacity that they’re presenting themselves to have? Because there’s a lot of smoke mirrors going on, isn’t there? There’s a lot of, [00:23:00] “I know what I know because I’m telling you what I know.” Versus the humility and the lesson learning and the self-reflection of “well, what could we have done better and what should we learn from this experience?” And so on. So that’s part of it. I think part of the capacity that I have developed over the years that I’ve worked in development is how to present myself in public. And it’s that thing of stepping into the role of being an expert.

People called me an expert long before I felt that I was an expert, and it was how I had to market myself in the sector. So a lot of that is about how you present yourself and learning that in public forum, that you are one of the first people that asks a question because then people remember you. That kind of thing.

It’s about PR basically, and a lot of international development organisations are very good at how they present themselves. As you’ve already said. They’re not very good at acknowledging failure and lesson learning. So actually they lack capacity in those areas. [00:24:00] So this idea of “we have capacity, we in the North have capacity and we are going to share this capacity with you in the South.”

That’s setting up a power asymmetry and an asymmetry of capacity. And I just think it’s intriguing because if the organisations in the South have such weak capacity, then why are organisations in the North so keen to work with them?

 If they’re so poor in terms of capacity. Then it’s intriguing to me that organisations in the North want to work with me. I think it’s more to do with how that capacity is packaged and how it’s presented. And some of that is to do with exposure in certain different fora, not having exposure or having limited exposure, which means you don’t necessarily have the fluency to do the PR on what your capacity is.

Do you see what I’m saying? That there may need to be space to learn. But I’m not sure it’s space [00:25:00] to learn the concrete stuff. It’s maybe space to learn how to present yourself in certain international fora, how to package what you are doing so that it looks all glossy and shiny. I just think there’s a bit of a smoke and mirrors thing going on here, and I also know that I have learned a huge amount from working with Southern organisations and Southern research teams, there’s a process of reciprocal learning, there’s a process of reciprocal capacity development and my career has progressed in the way it’s progressed because of the exposure that I’ve had and the opportunities that I’ve had to work in the global sense. So I just think that perhaps that the humility that you’ve talked about isn’t just epistemic humility.

 It goes beyond that to having humility, being humble about where our capacity has come from, where it has grown. And when I say us, I mean me, where my capacity has come from. It has come from [00:26:00] working in international teams and learning on the job.

Arbie: Absolutely. I think this is very insightful. There are a couple of things here. Firstly in terms of individual capacity, right? I’ve spoken to a lot of Global South and local aid actors and stakeholders. And something that has come up in our conversation is when they’re in meetings in cluster meetings or coordination fora, they sometimes hesitate to speak up because they don’t feel confident enough in these spaces. Especially when the meeting, for example, is conducted in English, which is not their first language. But even if the meeting is in their own country, it’s still in English because you have to accommodate international NGOs and international staff.

 They’re not using the right terminologies and words, et cetera. And I think people need to frame themselves as experts of their own work, especially Global South actors. [00:27:00] I think there is a barrier of them being confident enough to present their own work because of the organisational culture, the culture within the aid system, which prevents their confidence.

And so interestingly, I’ve read this study that they’ve conducted during Covid where in the Pacific Islands, a lot of international staff had to leave and international staff couldn’t come in because of Covid. This was in the early days of Covid, and so a lot of local actors stepped up and they were holding their own meetings.

They were chairing their own meetings in their own language, within their own culture in their own way. And they really said, oh, we’ve noticed such a big difference. We’re able to speak up in these meetings and this is how their expertise can get recognised. So that’s at an individual level, but at the same time you talk about this kind of like PR machine of international NGOs.

And this is so true. And I think international NGOs are digging [00:28:00] their own graves really, because what they do is, with their fundraising and communications materials, especially when they release ad asking for donations for the general public, they simplify the story. They say, “give us five pounds and we’ll save a life.”

“Give us 10 pounds and we’ll buy this donkey that will change this family’s livelihoods forever.” Very simplified stories in which there is a White saviour narrative. Aside from the fact that this does not respect the dignity of people who are affected by crisis, or people living in marginalised communities, what this does is give a simplified story of aid to the general public.

So the general public thinks, “Ah, okay, aid must be easy. Solving poverty must be so easy. We just give money and it’ll be solved.” There is this thing on Twitter where Elon Musk said to the chief of WFP ” if I give you money, you’ll eliminate [00:29:00] poverty” or something like that, right?

They had a Twitter feud or something. But then like we know for a fact that money alone doesn’t solve poverty. If it did, poverty and hunger would’ve been solved years ago. But poverty and hunger are political stuff that are complex to solve and takes not just money. But this simplified story then, so the members of the public have this story and then the members of the public vote, they vote for politicians.

And then the politicians, knowing that the public has a simplified story of development, then has these ridiculous platforms and policies. In the UK, some politicians at least say, “oh, you know, vote for me because I will remove aid from this country that is rich enough. Or I will tackle corruption in aid or whatever.”

And then when you vote for these politicians, and then they enact their own policy, okay? We’re only going to give aid to these countries and not to these countries, to these [00:30:00] programs, and not to these programs. And then the INGOs then wonder, “oh wow, we can’t do these complex things that are more adaptive, that are learning, that are experimental, that are radical in terms of our programming, because the policies of the donors are very narrow and very strict.”

Well, where did the policies come from? From the narratives that the INGOs themselves perpetuated where they say it is simple. Development is simple. Humanitarian assistance is simple. Give five pounds and you’ll change someone’s life. And we’ve been sold this story of development and humanitarianism, and I think this story needs to change.

Kate: Yeah, I would thoroughly agree with you, but I think it’s quite challenging in the current media context where everything’s boiled down to soundbites, and if something doesn’t fit into a tight soundbite, it gets ditched because it’s too complex. So I think reintroducing a longer and more nuanced and more complex narrative about:

“What makes sustained poverty [00:31:00] escapes possible, what makes empowerment possible? What is needed to build deeply rooted democracy?” All of those things, those are complex things. And if you actually look at how Britain’s welfare state began, it took 80 years before the poor laws in Britain became a national wide program, and then it took another hundred years before it turned into the welfare state. And international development has a three year window. Generally speaking, projects are a maximum of three years long, and you’re supposed to deliver change within three years.

Even though in the UK it took at least 150. So I think there’s not much appetite for complexity. But I absolutely agree that it’s something that we must fight for. Before we close, I would wonder if you could answer two things from me and then I’ll pass back to Charmaine for some last thoughts.

I wonder if you could tell us something practical that you have done to shift [00:32:00] the dial on decolonisation, localisation, and anti-racism in a major NGO. You don’t have to name them, of course, but if you could just say something practical that you’ve done with them that has helped them to rethink the way they do things.

And then my second question is and we’ll loop back to this later, is what our listeners and viewers can do?

Arbie: Yeah, so something practical that I’ve done, that I’ve changed an NGO. I mean, I don’t know to what extent the change has been, right? Like I don’t want to claim that these problems have been solved. But I think this anti-racism and decolonial framework can help not just the organisation that commissioned this, but any other international organisations that are interested in tackling racism and coloniality within their programs. Because I think this framework really looks under the hood, and tries to see the plumbing, right? The stocks and the flows and the pipes and the structure.

It takes the notion that racism and coloniality is systemic and structural, and really looks at, [00:33:00] “okay, what incentivises people to do this? What disincentivises people to do that?” It avoids going down the path of assigning blame on individuals, “oh, this is bad because you’re a racist or because you’re colonial.”

And, I’m not going to say that there are no racist or colonial people in the aid sector. There certainly are, but it goes beyond that and says, “okay, what or how is the system producing racist and colonial results?” And if organisations can really adapt this framework, then I think it can help them because it’s the international organisations that need to change, right?

It’s not the local actors. Black, brown, indigenous people in the Global South have been doing the work, are doing the work, and will continue to do the work. Meanwhile, what needs to be done, especially in the international domain, is for INGOs to channel their efforts in such a way that it :a) does not [00:34:00] impede in the progress that is being made by local people and local communities.

But b) also makes it more just and fair and makes international cooperation more equitable. And the one thing that I think listeners could take away especially for development professionals and people who are in development of humanitarian aid, is to rethink the narrative that you tell yourself to make sense of your identity.

It’s funny because I always talk about systems, right? And I talk about systems and organisations, but then my final message is about the individual. But systems change is very difficult, I’ve found because the individuals within these systems have attached their identity to being a development worker or a humanitarian aid worker?

For a lot of people, these things are more than just jobs, right? It’s a lifestyle. It’s a career. It’s a mission. A lot [00:35:00] of people have sacrificed so much to be in development work or in humanitarian aid work. Many of them have traded off more lucrative careers, in the private sector, et cetera.

A lot of them have lived in many places, maybe away from their loved ones and families, and so rightly enough, especially for the older generations of development workers and humanitarians, it’s so welded into their identity. And so when reformers and when activists tell them, hang on a minute, the aid system isn’t working.

The aid system is broken. The aid system is racist and colonial, they get defensive and they say, no, it’s not, what are you talking about? And they get defensive because naturally for a human being whose identity is being challenged, you get defensive. But if we can change how we see our own personal stories and really soul search and make a new meaning of our place in this wider [00:36:00] sector. Then I think it’ll be easier if we just recognise and listen to the people who are saying that the aid system is broken. And then we think to ourselves, “okay, now what is my role?” What can I do to make the system better and change that narrative that we tell ourselves? Then I think that will make systems change a lot easier. 

Kate: Yeah, I agree. And I really encourage the listeners and viewers to take a look at Arbie’s framework because it’s beautifully presented and it goes from step by step in a really clear way with lots of graphics that kind of leads you through the thinking.

So I’d really encourage you to take a look at that and to think about how you can apply it into your work. And if you don’t work in the development sector, that’s fine. I’m sure you’d still find a way to use the ideas in that, in your everyday life. In terms of thinking about how you interact with others and how you interact with people from different ethnic groups.

And on this last point, I’d like to just turn back to Charmaine because [00:37:00] Arbie you’ve just talked about how you are interested in the system and the systematic change, but recognising the importance of the individual and the place of the individual within that system and how we have to reflect about our own self-belief in our own narrative. Now, this is absolutely at the core of the work that Charmaine does, so I’d like to just loop her back into this conversation. And Charmaine, if you could just, if you could just really give us a tight little nugget of what you do, because I know it’s a big story.

But if you could just give us a tight little nugget to finish off the episode, that would be great. 

Charmaine: Well, I really liked your last question to Arbie and I really liked how you brought it from the group to the individual. Because a lot of my work is about the individual. My sense is I work with groups, but I really do agree with the last point, it is how do you change the individual?

And part of that defense when you talk [00:38:00] about, I thought was really interesting, is when you tell someone that the aid system is broken. I think the defense is that you then think that you are broken. If someone says it’s broken, then how do we understand that we are actually not broken, but we actually can fix something.

And I think that that’s a very difficult place for all of us, whether in the development sector or not. So one of the things that my Racism in Real Time, it does really focus on the minutia of when racism is actually happening in that moment, and how are we actually feeling? What is the level of anxiety when you talk about the contradictions, what happens internally to you?

When you are in that predicament that you’re talking about when transparency is not there, when you feel like you need to be pure and you can’t be pure. So that whole internal sense of exactly what you’re talking about is really embedded first and foremost in us. And like you said, if we can [00:39:00] change the narrative, which is what my course actually does, it does help us to reframe it, rechange it.

And one of the things I really like what you’re saying is to bring humility in it. And my course really does address how can you be kind to yourself, because kindness is really important. So if you can’t be kind to yourself and see yourself like “I’m okay”, then you definitely cannot be kind to anybody else in the group.

So that’s what my course does is bring it from the large into basically the heart world, the feeling world, because I think the aid sector is really about the feeling world. I do really believe it is about empathy. It is about sharing. Right? And I love how you talk about that.

And my work, I think adds to that or might even be a foundation to start from there and then take this leap of faith into the framework that you’re offering. It sounds really exciting what you’re doing, [00:40:00] you think?

Kate: I think it is. And I think, Charmaine, the work that you do picks apart and slows everything down in terms of the feelings that people have and the fears that people have that then trigger microaggressions.

Or a kind of clashing, an interracial clashing. And if that can’t be got right, then how can we hope to work effectively in international teams and interracial teams where we can’t really, particularly if we’re wanting to really strip out the power and privilege and just meet each other as individuals and as equals.

So I think what’s really nice in this podcast episode is that we’ve got somebody who’s really working at the individual level and somebody who’s working at the organisational level and thinking about the system. And I think what’s nice is that these can be brought together. So I think we’ve probably come to the end of our discussion for today.

I’d like to [00:41:00] thank Arbie profoundly for joining us on today’s podcast. And, I’d like to encourage listeners and viewers to check out the show notes, for the link to the framework that we’ve been discussing at length and also to Arbie’s website and so on and so forth. So thank you very much, Arbie.

Arbie: Thank you very much Kate and Charmaine, really appreciate it. 

Charmaine: Yeah, I just really liked your smile and your enthusiasm. We don’t always get people who are so oomph with your stuff. I can only go oomph because I can’t think of anything else. But I just really like the way that you brought your passion, let me say, your passion and your insights and your breath of when you talk about humility, I really feel like you’re a man who does the walk and who does the talk at the same time. So thank you so much for showing us that. 

Arbie: Thank you. 

This weeks guest:

Arbie Baguios is the founder of Aid Re-imagined

Aid Re-imagined, an initiative that advocates for a more effective and just aid system. Previously he worked for humanitarian organisations including ActionAid, Save the Children, the Red Cross and UNICEF. Currently he is a doctoral researcher at the London School of Economics.

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