Moving towards Social Inclusion — Tips for Project Managers

Nassrin El-Gosi
5 min readJan 10, 2021

An earlier version of this post was published in June 2020. Please make sure to review the ‘do no harm’ statement at the end of this post.

Organizations — particularly nonprofits in the Global Development Industry — are at different stages in the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) maturity journey.

Through socially inclusive programmatic mandates, nonprofits have strived for social change. Today, they are responding to a rapid call to 1) examine existing equity gaps in their programmatic mandates, and 2) transition to institutional-level change.

To transition from a programmatic-driven DEI mandate to an integrated effort for the entire organization, an intentional and integrated approach is crucial. As a global development practitioner, I have observed that organization-wide change efforts are often defined by the following outcomes:

· Establishment of working groups/communities of practice

· Preliminary assessments

· Development of resources and tools

· Adopting a defined approach as policy/framework/commitment

· Trainings and follow-on assessments

To advance DEI organizational change, nonprofits need institutional commitment, effective project management strategies, and DEI expertise, including knowledge of best practices and benchmarks. This article will highlight project management strategies and recommendations.

7 Strategies to Get Started

The DEI space in International Development is rapidly evolving, underscored with decolonization and anti-racism efforts. If you are a new project manager tasked with DEI project management responsibilities today, the following strategies and tips could be useful to you in your effort.

1. Identify Resources

Do you have the necessary resources to conduct this effort?

Determine (a) whether your firm has the necessary expertise on these topics in-house, and (b) what your needs and budget are for successfully completing this project.

When designing the DEI resource strategy, you may find — based on the required expertise and project scope — that combining external expertise (advisors, facilitators, assessment consultants) with internal staffing resources (employee resource groups, working groups, community of practice) is the best way forward.

Recommendation: While internal staffing resources can support long-term change, external expertise could be essential in facilitating group conversations around equity, justice, and belonging.

Recommendation: To secure future funding, consider working with internal stakeholders to identify funding streams to procure ongoing external or internal DEI advisory services.

Recommendation: Prepare for onboarding DEI experts by ensuring access to various resources that the organization has produced to date. These may include access to key stakeholders and access to materials (i.e., strategy documents, impact reports/data, and open-source materials).

2. Develop a Project Work Plan

As a project manager, developing a high-level document outlining expectations and success metrics, coupled with a work plan, will be essential in getting you started.

The work plan should include (at minimum) stakeholders, illustrative meeting schedules for interviews/focus groups. It should also describe success metrics and expectations for the DEI effort. Success metrics may include: policy change; holding trainings on DEI; reviewing hiring practices; defining values around equity, empathy, respect, and diversity; and/or introducing equity metrics and accountability measures.

3. Preliminary Meetings to Build Consensus

Meet with decision makers with written content to solicit feedback on the defined project approach, seek approval on the resources required, and hold in-person meetings with allies and sponsors to gain additional input and secure follow-on support.

Recommendation: Leverage the support of allies in executive leadership and/or decision-making roles. After your first initial meeting — depending on your office culture — immediately block time on their calendars for future check-ins or decision-making meetings.

4. Leverage Data

Each organization is at a different stage of its inclusion and accountability-measurement change-journey. For an organization-wide effort, consult the DEI expert(s) to assess institutional-level practices — such as recruitment practices — for possible areas of inequity.

Additional considerations when leveraging a data-driven approach:

  • If cost is a factor, consider partnering with your internal data team (as members of the DEI Committee), and identify assessment tools that permit for anonymous responses.
  • Does the proposed data-approach measure your firm existing or newly defined DEI values at all levels?

Recommendation: Adopt an intentional, integrated and intersectional lens and discuss with your DEI experts how to measure outcomes across the board.

A flowchart linking 3 components of a participatory approach: access, participation, and inclusion.
Is your approach inclusive in itself? Participatory approaches can help.

5. Engaging your Stakeholders

To promote agency and ownership, using participatory approaches can drive engagement with stakeholders at all levels (community, employees, and leadership). Coordination with other related efforts in the organization are also critical towards achieving the intended results by: (1) aligning effort goals, and (2) forming a DEI working group.

Recommendation: Consider holding focus groups, interviews, or distributing an organization-wide survey (if your budget allows for a comprehensive assessment). In interviews with staff, gauge their opinion and interpretation of the organization’s DEI approach.

6. Industry Best Practices

Engaging with working groups in the industry through multiple workshops and webinars can be useful if you have no access (or limited access) to a dedicated DEI expert.

Recommendation: Be prepared with questions for each webinar/workshop as well as objectives and/or goals for what you wish to take away.

Recommendation: Remaining open to DEI strategies beyond the industry is essential and could offer you key insights on equity and belonging and its impact on overall employee engagement and psychological safety. This knowledge could well position you to collaborate with HR functions from an employee-engagement lens and support institution-wide change initiatives.

7. Prepare for Road Bumps

Adopt an adaptive management approach and be prepared for the process to be interrupted (but also informed) by the consensus building process as well as doing your daily job.

Recommendation: Rely on your team and allies to support you negotiate and re-negotiate ever-changing priorities. And as with any project, do build a cushion into the schedule to manage unexpected shifts in the timeline and manage expectations across the board.

To Conclude

In the context of the Social Justice Movement — and the economic devastation and further inequities resulting from the COVID-19 global pandemic — organizations are answering a rapid call to assess their inclusion efforts at an institutional and adopt an INTENTIONAL and INTEGRATED approach toward change, particularly racial equity.

With the necessary commitment, resources, and expertise, they will not only demonstrate intentionality toward conducting comprehensive and ongoing DEI efforts but also undergo the often-difficult organizational change process towards diversity, equity and social inclusion.

Do No Harm and General Disclaimer: The DEI space is evolving and it is imperative to engage with DEI experts for this organizational change process. In observation of ‘do no harm,’ please rely on your independent research and on DEI expertise to identify the best approach for your firm. This post should not be interpreted as advisory services rendered.

Unless otherwise stated or referenced, the above opinions are my own and do not represent those of my former/ current/ future employers/clients. The content may not be used, circulated, referenced, or shared without prior written consent by the author.

About the Author: Nassrin El-Gosi recently developed social inclusion approach resources for an International Education Firm to inform program design at the proposal development stage. A Global Development practitioner, her 12 years of experience span youth development, education, and organizational development. Follow her on LinkedIn.

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Nassrin El-Gosi

Unpacking program design, grant writing, business development, DEI, and career readiness approaches. Opinions are my own.