My Nigerian roots in the UK charity sector
Updated: Sep 7, 2022
I feel like my roots were always in the voluntary sector. My first experience was in the early 1990’s. My father was the co-founder of Bradford’s Nigerian Friendship Society (NFS), (now known as Nigeria Community Association Bradford), and from a young age, I became aware of community organising and the positive impacts of volunteering.
Whether it was summer school clubs, Nigerian fashion shows, music and drama, or seaside trips to Blackpool, I always had access to a community where I made new friends and was able to learn about my culture and meet people from backgrounds like my own.
It was powerful, invaluable and helped me learn about history from a new perspective, and the importance of solidarity, celebration and friendship.
The NFS was a community organisation, led by volunteers and existing due to donations from members and other pots they were able to access. The volunteers were from professions including accountants, pharmacists, doctors, lecturers, and charity CEOs - they all saw the benefit of charitable organisations and gave up their time to support.
Without knowing it, I was already part of a sector that I remained in for the first part of my career, as part of the charity sector workforce.
As a new member of the workforce in my early 20s, it was clear to see that the UK’s charity sector did not reflect the diversity that I saw in the NFS as a child.
"The charity sector as a whole is failing to reflect the racial diversity of the individuals, communities and geographic it serves. Fewer than one in 10 voluntary sector employees (9%) are from Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups (BAME), a lower proportion than both the public and private sectors1 (both at 11%) and a lower proportion than the UK as a whole (14%).” (ACEVO & IoF)
It's hard to understand why a sector based on the needs of communities, is not representative and fully embracing of those communities.
A study by Nottingham Trent University, NCVO and Sheffield Hallam University asked this very research question and found that the main barriers they found were limited financial resources, staffing capacity, lack of human resources skills, knowledge and capacity, and lack of equality, diversity and inclusion knowledge or skills.
17% of people reported seeing a more diverse range of service users post Covid 19 pandemic
15% saw an increase in volunteers from different backgrounds
Only 9% reported an increase of diversity in their staff during the same period
People from a range of backgrounds require the services of the charity sector, yet people from these same backgrounds seemingly do not have the parity of opportunity to take up employment in the roles to serve their communities.
The problems with this disparity, are many, not least the cultural capital that is being lost within the sector to enable it to attract, understand, innovate and serve a diverse range of people with different experiences and different needs.
At a time of rising health inequalities and economic crisis, it is imperative that the sector is able to respond quickly and competently to meet the needs of people from different cultures, ethnicities, genders and generations, and to be relatable to a broader range of communities.
It is also important that charity leaders have an understanding of the importance of prioritising this work, learning from best practice in recruitment, retention, development and co-production, to ensure their services meet the needs of the population as a whole, and particularly those that are disproportionately affected by inequalities due to their identity.
It is important to also understand and reflect on the lack of diversity within senior leadership in the charity sector.
Statistics show that
Only 5.3% of people in senior leadership teams were from an ethnic minority background in the largest 500 charities
Black and ethnic minority women represent only 2.25% of leaders
A recent study by Green Park found that Chinese and other Asian ethno-cultural backgrounds are virtually non-existent, making up only 0.3% of charity leaders in the largest 100 charities by income. (ACEVO & IoF)
The challenge for the sector to meet the needs of the population are rising, and the need to understand and intentionally plan to meet different needs are also firmly here. However, even as financial burdens and barriers face the sector, there are ways to move forward and embed improved practices no matter how large or small.
Acknowledge if there is a diversity issue in your organisation and make a commitment to change it, revisit your commitment regularly
Ask yourself why increasing diversity matters in your charity
Explore networks/partners that could help you on your journey to improve your understanding of different communities.
Learn about biases and spend time reflecting on your own views on these issues
Value the lived experience of staff and amplify and respond to historically unheard voices
Follow best practice recruitment advice
Keep going and don't give up on your commitments (no matter now large or small they seem)
Want to learn more?
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