Moses Kanhai explores ways to develop a strategic plan to end racism.
This blog post is part of a series for the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, March 21, 2021.
Over the past few weeks, I have observed a heightened sense of interest and probably anxiety in the public about the perennial problem of racism.
This is an issue many of us have been wrestling with for years, if not our entire lifetime. And when we see racism acted out in such a gruesome manner like mass shootings in places of worship, our anger and frustration increase, as well as the urgency to find a solution. People everywhere in every walk of life are struggling to find answers. Community leaders, spiritual leaders, educators, academics, politicians, law enforcers, adults, youth, children — everyone is seeking answers.
The day designated by the United Nations as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination provides a timely opportunity to engage in conversation and exploration of the topic. Doubtless, many excellent ideas are being generated, and we are moving ever so slowly to understanding the issue and identifying possible solutions.
Typically, the solutions to combat racism come in the form of lists of possible actions such as increased dialogue, better understanding, stronger interpersonal relationships, information gathering, and so on.
In fact, the pursuit of answers to most problems comes in the form of lists of action steps and tactics. And the more thinking and brainstorming and discussions there are, the longer the list. In the final analysis, we have pages and pages of possible actions while there are continued acts of violence against people because of their religious beliefs, skin color, race, language, looks, ability, gender, or economic status. It is important that we continue these conversations and to be relentless in our search for answers.
The approach to finding answers by identifying projects and activities is a programmatic process. An alternative approach is to address the issue strategically. This basically adds to or expands the programmatic approach that may be described as tackling the problem from the middle. The strategic approach adds a front end and a back end to the process and potentially makes it a long-term and possibly cyclical process.
The strategic approach assumes a possible solution is vision based. This means participants in the process collectively reach a consensus on what is their vision or dream about racism. It could be simply the dream as stated by Dr. Martin Luther King, that one day all people will walk hand in hand, or his other hope that a person will be judged by the quality of his or her character rather than by their skin color.
A vision gives one a long-term, futuristic, inspirational, aspirational state for which to strive. It may not be achievable in our lifetime, or ever, but it gives those on the journey something worth pursuing. The journey itself could be life giving or life changing.
The next step on the front end of the strategic approach is to articulate a mission. State clearly in simple, brief language the purpose of the exercise. That will include who you are, what is your task, and why it is important. Like the vision, the mission requires consensus among the participants and should be created and owned by the participants.
The third core step on the front end of the strategic process is to state about three or four goals for the project. One must be clear on what goals are. They are directional statements, not end points. They may be, for example, to create awareness, to change legislation, to form organizational units, to raise funds.
Tied to goals are objectives for the process. While goals may be valid for several years, maybe five or 10 or more, objectives are for a defined period of a year or less. Objectives state specific targets or end results or outcomes that can measured at the end of the period.
A goal may state “to create awareness,” and an objective may identify what level of awareness. If research shows a current level of awareness of 10 per cent, the objective may be to reach 15 or 20. The target needs to be realistic so that it can be measured.
It is well worth the exercise for the entire approach to be preceded by some formal and or informal research. This helps to get a picture of the scope of the problem and the nature of the environment. It gives a baseline on which to identify measurable objectives.
The vision, mission, goals, and objectives represent the front end of the strategy. They form the basis or a context for the broad or specific actions that would otherwise have been the solutions for addressing the problem. This is the middle of the process. It answers the question “how” will the objectives be achieved?
Rather than being simply a list of actions, the actions or strategies are integrated with the vision, mission, and goals. They are also tied to the available resources, including budget, human resources, time, equipment, and information.
Monitoring and Reporting
The core elements of the back-end of the process include a plan to monitor progress of the project and a plan to measure the results based on the stated objectives.
Once implemented, the actual results should be reported, including how objectives were achieved and reasons why some objectives may or may not have been achieved.
This strategic approach to addressing this issue of racism or any other issue does not represent a magic bullet or guarantee of success, but it does increase buy-in from participants, offer a more collaborative process, and increases the chance of success. It is based on evidence and results.
Typically, most issues or problems are handled with the more programmatic approach. This model is offered as an alternative that may increase chances of achieving important social change.
— Moses Kanhai is a native of Trinidad and Tobago and has been actively involved in the United Church locally, regionally, and nationally for several decades. He has also provided leadership in the multi-faith community in Regina and Saskatchewan. Moses is a retired strategic planning consultant and has spent more than four decades in corporate communication. He is currently on the Board of Regents of St. Andrew’s College and holds an Honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from that institution.
The views contained within these blogs are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of The United Church of Canada.