Reflecting on our FREA audit

Why racial justice is important to Smallwood

The Smallwood Trust has been helping women across the UK out of poverty for 135 years. Our programmes provide grant funding and support to enable women to become financially resilient and to ensure economic systems work for them rather than against them. While we will continue to meet the immediate needs of women facing financial insecurity, we will also increasingly focus on tackling the systems that cause gendered poverty.

Our work as an organisation on anti-racism and wider EDI initiatives is about ensuring we have a culture (which includes Board members, staff, consultants and any volunteers) that encourages people of all backgrounds and experiences to feel they have a key role in delivering our mission. We believe that by having a diverse organisation we will be able to meet our objective of reducing gendered poverty more effectively.

Experience and changes we have made as a result of using the audit tool and FREA membership

Since becoming members of the Funders for Race Equality Alliance just prior to the pandemic, the audit has been instrumental in helping us review our funding portfolio and identify and build on our actions in supporting Black and Minoritised-led women’s organisations. This has resulted in us increasing our funding to Black and Minority-led groups from 3 to 7 to 21% in 2020/21.

This is the second year we have completed the audit, though we have been using the tool to monitor our grant-giving for the past three years. Smallwood has applied the same principles to help increase individual grants for Black and Minoritised women to c.40% of grants awarded. Black and Minoritised women are disproportionately affected by the rise in the Cost of Living, and therefore are one of five priority groups for our Cost of Living fund.

Next steps and future challenges

One piece of learning we will take forward is to incorporate more of the information required by the audit into our application processes, for example collecting information on the diversity of boards and senior leadership teams direct from applicants.

One aim is to close the gap between the percentage of grants given compared to the total amount awarded to Black and Minoritised-led organisations. We know many of these organisations have smaller incomes which sometimes corresponds with the amount they are eligible to apply for. For Smallwood, the audit has been instrumental in highlighting this particular gap. We encourage more funders to complete it – with more uptake it will allow individual funders to compare their own results against the overall findings, has the potential to highlight sector wide gaps and encourage conversations and collective action.

Anti-racism and EDI are core components of Smallwood’s Governance Action Plan and the 2022 – 2024 Strategic Plan. For example, Our CEO is member of the Just Foundations Initiative, a group of foundation CEOs that are promoting racial justice within their own organisations and wider.

This year we will recognise Black History Month with a month long celebration of all things related to Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. Each staff member will research an area of interest and report back to the whole staff team during an away day. This offers the chance to encourage engagement and curiosity and interact around a highly meaningful topic, to develop both professionally and individually, and promote a positive learning culture.

In October we also recruited four participants for our second Board Shadowing Programme which provides women with lived experience an insight into the roles of trustees and boards as well as the opportunity to contribute their own invaluable perspectives in helping us to end gendered poverty. 

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