In the wake of the national day of remembrance for the victims of the Quebec mosque shooting on January 29, Capacity Canada’s Cathy Brothers and MAC’s Memona Hossain offer six practical steps leaders can take to close the charitable sector’s diversity gap.
Addressing Islamophobia effectively in Canada starts with leaders who are invested in meaningful relationships and collaborations. The Muslim Association of Canada (MAC), the largest Muslim charity in Canada, has focused on building such partnerships across various sectors to actively dismantle the drastic rise in Islamophobia. In the most recent collaboration, MAC and Capacity Canada, a pioneer in social innovation, joined together to foster discussion about what this means for the Canadian charitable sector.
Online hate activity in Canada has produced 3.2 million pieces of content this past year. Canadians have witnessed an increase in violence targeting visible Muslims and vandalism of mosques across the country. The intersectionality of various identities has resulted in overwhelming hate crimes and incidents against Black Muslim women. This experience for Canadian Muslims over the past decade can be explained by 54% of Canadians having an unfavourable view of Muslims, according to an Angus Reid study.
The elimination of Islamophobia is a societal obligation and a government responsibility, but it also … must be confronted by the charitable sector.
While most people think of Islamophobia in terms of ordinary individuals who may be passive receivers of socio-cultural messaging and narratives that foster mistrust and hatred of Muslims, this is not the only way it is manifested. Islamophobia is a system of racism and anti-religious bigotry fuelled by key actors, who play a role in the manufacturing of anti-Muslim hatred, thus framing Muslim communities as irrational, incompatible, and as a security threat – and therefore impacting policies, legislations, and systemic behaviours that target Muslims. We have seen this recently with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) and reports – by the University of Toronto Institute of Islamic Studies and the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group – of prejudice and Islamophobia in its audit practices toward Muslim charities.
The prevention and elimination of Islamophobia is a societal obligation and a government responsibility, but it is also a problem that must be confronted by the charitable sector, which plays a key role in addressing and dismantling hate within communities. With more than 170,000 registered charities across Canada accounting for 8.7% of Canada’s GDP, the charity sector is undeniably an essential element of Canada’s economy, employing more than 2.5 million Canadians. The most recent Blumbergs’ Snapshot of the Canadian Charity Sector reports that registered charities generated “revenue of over $321 billion and expenditures of about $283 billion.” Along with the economic impact, Imagine Canada indicates that charities play an essential role in communities across Canada, providing expertise and support in every aspect of our lives and contributing to Canada’s public policy process. This includes services and supports in social, religious, educational, healthcare, settlement, poverty reduction, social justice, and environmental causes. Simultaneously, for the sector to be truly reflective of the needs within communities, organizational leadership must represent Canada’s diverse communities.
As vital as the charitable sector is in combating Islamophobia in society, it must consider the reforms that are required within the sector itself in order to effectively address the issue.
Islamophobia remains absent in institutional vocabulary and EDI policies and resources.
In 2021, Statistics Canada released its Diversity of Charity and Non-Profit Boards of Directors: Overview of the Canadian Non-Profit Sector report, based on a crowdsourcing survey of nearly 9,000 individuals involved in the governance of charities and non-profit organizations across Canada. The study shows that 47% of the respondents indicated that their organization does not have a written policy related to diversity, and 23% did not know if one even exists. This points to two key factors in addressing diversity within organizational leadership: the need to purposefully develop a plan of action to increase diversity and then champion that plan of action and ensure there is adequate education and understanding of it.
Islamophobia, like anti-Black racism, anti-Indigenous racism, antisemitism, and other forms of structural and systemic racism, is compounded and becomes more complex when it is considered in the context of issues of equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI). Yet unlike other forms of racism, Islamophobia remains absent in institutional vocabulary and EDI policies and resources – and most importantly, debate and discussion.
Capacity Canada recognizes that, for any non-profit, the board of directors plays a critical role in making a powerful and positive impact as it advances an organization’s mission. Without the right education, resources, and guidance for their directors, boards may fall short of reaching their organizational goals.
In its December 2021 Board Governance Bootcamp, Capacity Canada brought together more than 200 sector leaders to discuss emerging issues. Led by Indigenous, Black, and Muslim speakers, a discussion around “transforming governance” brought together presenters who authentically and unapologetically spoke to current realities and challenges of anti-Indigenous racism, anti-Black racism, and Islamophobia.
Studies show that diverse organizations outperform their peers by 35%.
The presentation by MAC on “Perspectives on Islam and Muslims in Organizational Leadership” sparked a conversation on the fundamental understandings of Islam, what drives Islamophobia, and how to counter it.
MAC believes the following considerations are required for boards to effectively embrace changes toward greater board diversity:
Conviction that diversity is necessary: To effect real change, organizations must reach a collective understanding and be deeply convinced that diversity and inclusion are not only important or good to have but necessary as a means of positively impacting decision-making, management, and evaluation criteria for success within an organization.
Diversity creates success: An organization that understands diversity in its external service offering and internally in its culture will have a better reach and a higher chance of success. Studies show that diverse organizations outperform their peers by 35%.
Diversity drives growth: Diversity and meaningful inclusion are effective ways to challenge the status quo and drive change and growth – and provide a better chance of surviving societal change.
Meaningful inclusion has a chance only when the participants believe that the value of diversity is higher than the cost that comes with it. In its presentation, MAC stressed the importance of bringing together leaders of organizations to envision systemic and long-term change. This will result in a more prosperous charitable sector.
Six practical steps in particular relate to increasing the presence of Muslims and others from minority communities:
- Prioritize diversity and inclusion: Include this as part of the strategic plan, with clear and specific measures and indicators.
- Address internal biases: These may exist in very subtle ways, and recognizing and dealing with them in a way that the collective leadership is committed to helps get everyone on the same page.
- Invite external consultation: Engage Muslim consultants and Muslim organizations to educate board members about Islam and Islamophobia and to facilitate the recruitment of diverse board members. Network with other organizations to exchange knowledge on diversity and inclusion practices.
- Be consistent: Engage in ongoing internal and external feedback regarding progress on plans for inclusion and diversity, and ensure that addressing inequities is a recurring agenda item for board meetings.
- Question the dominant framework of operation: Engage in a self-assessment of the narratives and assumptions that dominate board practices, protocols, and culture and that possibly interfere with the organization’s diversity policy.
- Engage in public advocacy: Participate in public discourse and contribute to educating and sharing values of diversity within Canadian society to encourage wider adoption.
When it comes to diversity on charitable boards, the presence of Canadian Muslims in positions of leadership is helping to bridge understanding. Several prominent Canadian Muslims serve on boards of directors, including Sarah Attia of the National Alliance for Children and Youth, Mariam Hashmi of United Way Greater Toronto, Walied Soliman of SickKids Foundation, Abdul Nakua of the Ontario Nonprofit Network, Usama Khan of the Humanitarian Coalition, and, most recently, Ahmad Attia of Human Rights Watch Canada. Although this is not a new phenomenon, these leaders are still in the minority. Results from the 2021 Statistics Canada survey verified a truth that many in the sector are well aware of: visible minorities comprise 11% of the leadership of charities in Canada on average. Only by diversifying their boards and bringing a broad range of thoughts, experiences, and viewpoints to the table will the sector be able to successfully engage in dialogue and solve challenges such as systemic Islamophobia.
The diversity gap within the charitable sector is undeniable, but awareness is the first step toward change.
On a legislative level, Senator Ratna Omidvar, who was a keynote speaker at the 2019 Capacity Canada BootCamp, has addressed the need for further follow-ups to the Statistics Canada diversity report and tabled a motion in the Senate calling on the government to commit to data collection on diversity analysis, whereby the CRA should include questions on diversity representation on boards of directors in the T3010 and the T1044 tax forms.
The diversity gap within the charitable sector is undeniable, but awareness is the first step toward change. Acknowledging that racial equity is a societal issue that must be addressed is the second step. Following the presentations by MAC and other speakers at the BootCamp, 98% of attendees expressed their commitment to board-level engagement and action on issues of racial equity to ensure that their boards will not avoid racial equity issues in their conversations. Last year, Canada officially designated January 29 as a “National Day of Remembrance of the Quebec City Mosque Attack and of Action against Islamophobia.” In commemorating the fifth anniversary of the tragedy this year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reminded us of our nation’s commitment “to fight against Islamophobia, and all other forms of hatred, as we build a stronger, more diverse, and more inclusive Canada.” This commitment must be made not just by the Government of Canada, but by all sectors, industries, and communities throughout our country. Together, we must inspire real change in order to combat Islamophobia. The continuation of forums for honest and meaningful collaborations that courageously drive constructive change while responding to the true needs of Canadian communities should be a priority for leaders within the charitable sector in the coming year.