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United Way Blog

Driving Equitable Change in Our Communities

At United Way, advancing equity is at the heart of our mission. We fight for the health, education, and financial stability of every person in every community – and that’s not possible without explicitly focusing on communities of color and ethnic minorities. So last year, we made that commitment more explicit.

Last July, our U.S. and International Boards and an overwhelming majority of United Ways voted to change United Way’s membership requirements to add an explicit commitment to racial equity. Now, local United Ways must publicly post an organization position opposing all forms of discrimination based on race or ethnicity, provide annual equity training for staff and board members, and use racial equity as a criterion when making community investments.

“Our credo as a United Way Network states that we fight for every person in every community, and in order to do that we must understand what we are fighting against, and acknowledge that not everyone is on the same battle field,” said Ira E. Murray, Ph.D., President and CEO, United Way of the Capital Area in Jackson, Mississippi.

Real change requires meaningful action, which is why United Way Worldwide recently built a website to help local United Ways integrate an explicit equity lens in their work and core business practices. This means drilling down deep and examining the disparities in education, income, and health within our communities and taking concrete steps ―through avenues like policy and advocacy, resource allocation, and targeted community engagement―to close them.

Visit the website to explore some of the tools and resources United Ways are using to drive this work – like the Equity Discussion Guide – and see some on-the-ground examples of United Ways leading change throughout our Network.

For example, United Way of Racine County in Wisconsin is focusing on hosting community conversations about race and equity. They engaged more than 400 residents in kitchen table style conversations about challenges, aspirations, and goals related to race, equity, and inclusion. These weren’t just conversations. They resulted in action steps including the creation of a Declaration of Inclusion, the development of a Diversity Council to engage business leaders to create diverse, supportive workplaces, and hosting a community event to celebrate community-wide diversity.

“Many of the issues that we face today in the sphere of education, employment, housing and health stem directly from the legacy of systemic and institutional racism and white supremacy,” said Franklyn Baker, President and CEO, United Way of Central Maryland in Baltimore. “This adversely impacts our ability to achieve our mission of improving lives by empowering leaders and mobilizing the caring power of communities.”

In South Africa, United Way is working to empower people impacted by the vestiges of apartheid and undo the systemic economic exclusion created during apartheid. Working within the Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment legislative framework, established by the South African government to transform the economy, United Way South Africa is partnering with business and civil society to train entrepreneurs, provide market access for small and medium sized businesses, and provide bursary funding opportunities for academically excelling and financially challenged university students. United Way has also implemented gender and diversity training to high school learners in some of South Africa’s most underserved communities.

“There is no family, community or society that can have continuous progress without diversity and inclusiveness,” said Martha Sarmiento, Board Chair of Fondo Unido Mexico (United Way Mexico).

As we work to rebuild from the pandemic, we aren’t looking to get “back to normal.” We are working to build stronger, more equitable and inclusive communities. United Way is helping to lead this work on the ground and keeping equity at the heart of our mission.