A previous blog in this series stated: ‘COVID-19 brings with it different experiences for different parts of the population. It is exacerbating existing inequalities and creating new ones’.

This is certainly true for ethnically diverse communities across the UK.

Data from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, Public Health England and the Office for National Statistics shows that these communities have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. They are more at risk of catching and dying from the virus for reasons including pre-existing health conditions, living conditions and occupations. Organisations which would have stepped in to support these communities are also experiencing difficulties as a result of the pandemic. Research carried out by The Ubele Initiative found that Covid-19 has had a disproportionate impact on organisations led by ethnically diverse individuals which deliver services to ethnically diverse communities.

The most transformative outcomes for ethnically diverse communities will result from decision-makers incorporating the inputs received from these communities...[and] understanding and addressing the socio-economic causes of inequalities exacerbated by Covid-19.

We know that Covid-19 will increase racial inequalities and have a knock-on negative effect on the ability of ethnically diverse communities to recover from the pandemic. Whilst ethnically diverse communities were increasingly being invited to contribute to decision-making either as individuals or organisations before Covid-19, their views rarely influenced the outcomes of the decision-making processes. During this pandemic and post Covid-19, decision-makers need to commit to pursuing equity as part of their short, medium and long-term responses. Although an explicit commitment to equity is the first step, active strategies need to be in place to hear from ethnically diverse communities either as individuals representing a certain social perspective or as organisations representing communities they serve. The most transformative outcomes for ethnically diverse communities will result from decision-makers incorporating the inputs received from these communities. That is, decision-makers who are responsive in understanding and addressing the socio-economic causes of inequalities exacerbated by Covid-19.

For me, ‘Build Back Better’ is about working with and strengthening ethnically diverse individuals and organisations they lead to bring about racial equality for ethnically diverse communities.

As the pandemic unfolded and continues to unfold, general resources and support have been made available to individuals and organisations. Participation and deliberation with the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (B.A.M.E) Voluntary, Community, Social Enterprise and Faith (VCSEF) sector before the launch of programmes would have been beneficial as some of the support that has been made available by government and funding bodies has been exclusionary. For example, the majority of the members of the Greater Manchester BAME Social Enterprise Network hosted by GMCVO (Greater Manchester Centre for Voluntary Organisations) are micro-businesses. Eligibility criteria such as minimum annual income or payment of business rates renders them ineligible for support. These issues are not peculiar to ethnically diverse communities but they bear these exclusions more deeply. This is due to the years of underfunding, especially during austerity, that has hampered the sector’s ability to successfully apply for funds and adapt business/delivery models quickly.

Research carried out by GMCVO and the Black South West Network details some of the barriers and issues experienced by the B.A.M.E VCSEF sector. These reports offer recommendations on what could be done differently: for example, early involvement in design of support earmarked for the sector to make process improvements to the application process. Where funding bodies that support the VCSEF sector have encouraged participation of, and deliberation with, organisations led by ethnically diverse people, we have seen an increase in more appropriate and targeted support for the very organisations which are supporting ethnically diverse communities through the crisis.

Now is the time for decision-makers to actively seek out and cultivate more equal partnerships – one in which power is distributed - with organisations led by ethnically diverse people who can serve as conduits to the knowledge, experience and perspectives required to build back more inclusively.

The ‘Build Back Better’ slogan is gaining traction across the UK but what does ‘build back better’ mean for B.A.M.E communities and how can decision-makers tap into their knowledge and experience of COVID-19? For me, ‘Build Back Better’ is about working with and strengthening ethnically diverse individuals and organisations they lead to bring about racial equality for ethnically diverse communities. Plenty of evidence exists that the relationship between organisations led by ethnically diverse people in the VCSEF sector and decision-makers is not always positive. Now is the time for decision-makers to actively seek out and cultivate more equal partnerships – one in which power is distributed - with organisations led by ethnically diverse people who can serve as conduits to the knowledge, experience and perspectives required to build back more inclusively.

Based on my personal and professional experience (as a researcher and supporting B.A.M.E social entrepreneurs), I offer some thoughts for decision-makers who wish to build back better in a way that is inclusive of ethnically diverse communities;

  • Care should be taken because B.A.M.E. as an umbrella term may hide the experiences of specific communities (such as Black, Bangladeshi, etc.) under this label. It is important to know the particular population(s) you wish to work with and to go to the spaces they inhabit to encourage participation.
  • Frame participation and deliberation opportunities and how you want ethnically diverse communities to get involved in a way that matters to the population you wish to work with.
  • Ethnically diverse communities are more trusting of people who look like them. Consequently, organisations led by ethnically diverse people are in a much better position to facilitate non-exploitative participation of individuals and organisations in a culturally sensitive manner.
  • Participatory and deliberative spaces should create an inclusive environment for a deep-dive into issues and offering up of solutions. These spaces can be online (during the pandemic) or face-to-face in community hubs, post-COVID.
  • To enable deliberative processes, employ highly skilled facilitators with deep knowledge and understanding of structural issues and barriers that ethnically diverse communities face as well as the ability to draw out the unique perspectives of individuals and organisations.

COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement have shone a spotlight on racial inequalities this year. I am hopeful that we can pause, take stock and do things differently in the pursuit of racial equality. Going forward, doing things differently will entail more participation and deliberation as part of the decision-makers’ toolkit. If undertaken inclusively, it will ensure building back better supports ethnically diverse communities in a sustained and sustainable manner.

This piece is part of the "Democratic Response to COVID-19" series curated by Involve and the Centre for the Study of Democracy at Westminster University.

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Dayo is Communications Officer at the GMCVO co-ordinating the ‘Connecting BAME Social Entrepreneurs’ project which seeks to connect ethnically diverse social entrepreneurs to opportunities for the development and growth of their enterprises.