I had a ‘feeling my age’ moment last month. I talked about seeing the first Star Wars movies as a kid, and the thrill of the big screen experience. The young woman I was meeting with said she wasn’t born when the Star Wars movies launched and was barely out of nappies when the prequel trilogy came along. I felt positively prehistoric.
Star Wars came from a time when the baddies wore black, the good guys wore white- and everyone could tell the difference. But the Jedi of old have given way in modern times to a new force for good. JEDI now refers to Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.
What’s the difference between them and what does that mean for you?
You might be familiar with corporates looking for partnerships to burnish their diversity and inclusion credentials. The Sydney Mardi Gras were so inundated with approaches from corporates that they cleverly developed an Ethical Charter to ensure that partners had a genuine and long term commitment to the cause, rather than ticking a box for PR. But there is more to JEDI than diversity and inclusion- and there are some important differences.
Diversity asks the question ‘who is in the room?’ and is more about an increase in numbers. This can be seen in corporate press releases about a doubling of female board members, when all they’ve done is go from 1 to 2 women. Growth is incremental and can sometimes be tokenistic. A good friend from Zimbabwe was always being invited as a panel speaker to find that she was the only African in the room. Plus, people kept asking her – a private school educated woman with two degrees – if she was a former sponsored child.
Equity is about equal access; who’s trying to get in the room but can’t? It addresses the conditions created that result in some people, usually minorities, feeling isolated, unwelcome or unsafe. Equity challenges the issues that create a perpetual majority of the same people.
Inclusion is about encompassing differences and ensuring that everyone’s voice has been heard. This can lead to some obnoxious views being aired, to meet the imperative of an inclusive forum. You can see this in public debates where a well-intentioned organiser includes an extremist panel member, just to ensure inclusivity. Personally, I’m willing to hear from someone with a lived experience of genocide without the need to have a holocaust denier on the panel for the sake of inclusion.
Justice is about ensuring individual dignity and addresses the question of whose ideas won’t be taken seriously as they’re not in the majority. It’s about creating fairness and balance and dismantling the systemic disadvantages and barriers to opportunity.
You’ll hear the DE&I buzzwords from your prospective corporate partners and they’re looking for help with addressing both the problems in society and the challenges within their own organisation. Sometimes a DE&I program within a corporate setting is focused heavily on avoiding litigation, bad PR or being cancelled on social media. The evolving JEDI approach is a better way of ensuring that individual experiences and voices of people who have traditionally been marginalised are at the centre of every initiative.
For NFPs the shift to a JEDI focus provides the opportunity to have a deeper and richer conversation with your corporate partner and get better social impact as a result. There are some simple things you can do:
- Role model JEDI principles and help your corporate partner to do the same. Corporates are under more public scrutiny now than ever before. When the Black Lives Matter demonstrations were taking place, as big corporate tweeted its support. An activist shot straight back “thanks for the support. Now post a picture of your board and leadership”. Your NFP has a big role to play in ensuring that a corporate acts authentically, with meaningful impact from the partnership, rather than going for cheap goodwill.
- Create measurable objectives and regular monitoring for JEDI principles in your programs and services. It will help to deliver on a corporate’s ESG scores and also avoid vanity metrics that lack substance (i.e. the token African woman on the panel). How confident are you that you’ve put the voices of marginalised people at the centre of your work?
- Help a corporate partner incorporate JEDI principles as part of their institutional identity. That means going beyond just funding a worthy program or service but challenging them to incorporate best practice within their organisation.
The Star Wars version of Jedi may have been simpler but was far from perfect. Otherwise we wouldn’t have seen Princess Leia in a teensy slave girl bikini. Modern JEDI is a significant opportunity to make lasting change throughout your partnerships. But don’t forget that your corporate partner may ask you some searching questions about your own organisation in the process. May the Force be with you.