Building an international movement of diverse decision makers

Oct 15, 2012 |

by Tina Edan, Maytree

It was an exciting moment when Maytree’s DiverseCity onBoard program won a United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) Intercultural Innovation Award in late 2011. It opened a new chapter for the program to be replicated both nationally and internationally.

It was equally as exciting to meet Riana Shaw Robinson (pictured on the left) from Urban Habitat who runs the Boards and Commissions Leadership Institute (BCLI) in Oakland, California.


She’s doing what we’re doing: addressing the disconnect between the leadership of agencies, boards and commissions and the communities they serve.

Together with UNAOC and the BMW Group, we invited Riana, along with 25 other delegates from 20 cities around the world, to the recent DiverseCity onBoard Learning Exchange. Since we launched the program seven years ago, we’ve made more than 600 board appointments. The result? Participating organizations have benefited through better decision-making, increased creativity and improved financial outcomes as well.

While in Toronto, participants learned in-depth how the DiverseCity onBoard program works.  According to Maytree’s President, Ratna Omidvar, “we brought people together to share what we learned and build an international community of practice on good governance. It was an opportunity for our global partners to learn from each other and recognize that when matched with governance, the benefits of diversity are powerful.”

They also heard about the good work being done in Oakland where Riana and her colleagues noticed “[h]istorically and still, people of color and low-income communities have little say in the decisions that most (negatively) affect their lives.” And, “there’s only so hard you can push from the outside.”

Riana describes the result: “Urban Habitat launched BCLI in 2009 to identify, train, place, and support low-income people and people of color for priority boards and commissions in the Bay Area region. By priority, we mean those decision-making bodies that influence our core equity areas of transportation, public planning, land use, housing, health, and jobs. We target those boards and commissions that have the most potential to have an impact on the communities we advocate for.”

Some participants, with Maytree President Ratna Omidvar, at the Learning Exchange.

While each delegate at the Learning Exchange is operating in a different context and at a different stage of the diversity in governance journey, common to all was the importance of shifting from influencing decision makers to being decision makers.

Another common point was the desire for action. And, action is what some of them committed themselves to. Here’s what’s next for a few participating cities:

  • Boston: The Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition – MIRA will take a leadership role in implementing DiverseCity onBoard in Boston.
  • Calgary: United Way, Calgary, and the Ethno-Cultural Council of Calgary will start to make the business case for diversity among allied organizations and find champions for the cause.
  • Copenhagen: KVINFO will work with the women in their network to become decision makers, starting with finding the right funding partners and allies.
  • Dublin: The Immigrant Council of Ireland will brief the City of Dublin, Department of Justice and Public Transportation Dublin on the importance of diversity in governance and propose an advanced leadership training for people with migrant backgrounds.

Building on the momentum from the Learning Exchange, delegates will stay connected as a community of practice. As the decision makers begin to change, so too will the decisions.