Systemic racism hitting funding bids by ethnic minority linked charities, meeting told

Jennifer Ogunyemi founder of Sisters in Business Pic: Aysha Imtiaz

Systemic racism in commissioning and funding initiatives means smaller voluntary organisations and charities run by ethnic minority leaders in Tower Hamlets are most hard-hit, a meeting was told.  

Being an ethnic minority leader of a voluntary service organisation or charity means the odds of achieving financial security through funding become nearly insurmountable, with a system that is skewed towards larger organisations, Vicky Scott, chief executive of Tower Hamlets Council for Voluntary Services told the meeting. 

The meeting in Bethnal Green was arranged to help ethnic minority leaders discuss strategies to overcome systemic barriers in the field. It was supported by THCVS and had representatives from Hackney CVS as well.

Both organisations work to empower local, independent community groups and independent charities to achieve greater impact. They provide advice, casework and training support to community sector organisations. 

Scott said: “We supported 96 organisations to put in bids [for funding]. Larger organisations were successful. The smaller ones, more likely to be run by the global majority, didn’t win the bids. This is a structural issue.”   

Jennifer Ogunyemi, the founder of Sisters in Business, the biggest award-winning network of Muslim businesswomen in the UK told the event: “Every time we walk into a room, we have to defend our right to be in [there]. Constantly. I’m always having to show three times, four times, five times more than anyone else why I deserve that funding.”   

Allison Robert, partnership manager for the THCVS said: “It’s striking. Nearly half of charity organisations aren’t sure if they’ll be open in a year’s time.” 

Robert presented the sobering reality from THCVS’ state of the sector report during a deep dive discussion about the ‘silent struggle’ faced by female ethnic minority leaders in the borough.  

Jessica Lubin, Director of Health Transformation, Partnerships and Networks at Hackney Council for Voluntary Service and Vicky Scott, Chief Executive Officer of THCVS Pic: Aysha Imtiaz 

“The way we are commissioning right now is not okay. It’s not helping communities. It’s racially biased. Bigger, more embedded organisations are often white-led (…) and they’re getting the funding,” said Jessica Lubin, Director of Health Transformation, Partnership and Networks at Hackney CVS.   

“The issues faced in Hackney are very much the same…If you want to change healthcare equity, you need to change the way money is funnelled from the public sector to the community,” Lubin added.    

More than 500 charities operate in Tower Hamlets, said Robert, ranging from the very small to very large. But there may be thousands more, a participant in the event added, as many don’t make it to the charity registration stage in the first place.  

Inequities persist in the geographical spread and number of people each charity serves, explained Robert. Larger charities are clustered on the fringes of the borough, around Bethnal Green, leaving some areas scantily served.   

Geographical spread of charities by ward in Tower Hamlets. Pic: THCVS State of the Sector Report, 2023    

“80% of these charities want THCVS’ help in connecting to funders,” Robert said.   

Even beyond funder connections, small charity leaders at the event voiced their desire for assistance in networking, bid writing, full integration, confidence-building and opportunities to be mentored or collaborate with each other, as many are currently operating in silos.   

“One of my very big passions – beyond funding – [is identifying…] Who is someone I can sit next to for one hour a month and [learn from to bring something] back to my community?” said Ogunyemi.   

Gohar Ghouse, Founder and Chief Instructor of the Thai Boxing Fighters Academy in Hackney, called for more visible grassroots-level involvement of decision makers: “If that diversity is not there at the top level, it’s difficult…When there isn’t grassroot involvement of commissioners, it makes policies a bit less in touch with reality and ‘delusional’.”

However, as Sayeeda Ashraf, Founder & CEO of award-winning voluntary sector organisation SHEWISE said: “We have more global majority representation than ever before,” referring to all levels of government. “Why, then, is change so slow?”   

“If you look at systems, the status quo is very much built into those systems,” said Scott.   


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