LGBTI civil society organizations can be critical to effectively reaching marginalized populations and navigating complex development challenges in the communities we serve. How can an organization's employee resource group play a key role in building and sustaining these invaluable partnerships?

As countries around the world grapple with the COVID-19 health crisis, the downstream economic and social impacts are particularly devastating for populations that already exist within the margins of society, including those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI). In many countries, the pandemic has amplified the stigma, discrimination, violence, and deprivation that LGBTI individuals already face on a daily basis. At the same time, the pandemic has illuminated the crucial role of civil society organizations (CSOs) that advocate for and serve these populations. Throughout our history of partnering with LGBTI CSOs, including advocacy groups and activists, Chemonics has found that CSOs offer access to some of the world’s greatest minds on development challenges and human rights as well as a direct line to LGBTI populations we hope to serve. These relationships also keep us as accountable and focused on delivering impact in the communities we work. Thus, it is imperative that the international development community incorporates an LGBTI lens in its programming and partners with CSOs to better serve these populations; employee resource groups (ERGs) can play an innovative and important role in building these sustainable partnerships.

We have discovered in recent years that employee resource groups (ERGs) can play an innovative and important role in building sustainable relationships with LGBTI CSOs. ERGs are voluntary, employee-led groups whose aim is to foster a diverse, inclusive workplace aligned with the organizations they serve. ChemPRIDE, Chemonics’ ERG for sexual and gender diverse individuals, helps to build understanding around the lived experiences of members of the LGBTI community within an organization, while also serving as a bridge to connect Chemonics with local civil society to promote meaningful change around the world.

Reflecting on ChemPRIDE’s approach to cultivate meaningful relationships with LGBTI civil society organizations, establishing trust is integral to all of our partnerships. As a large international development organization, it is imperative that we exhibit trustworthiness with local CSOs. We demonstrate trust when we align Chemonics’ corporate values with broader equality efforts. Regarding ChemPRIDE’s specifically, our strategy to-date has devoted focus to three areas: 1) identifying and connecting with CSOs and activists in countries where we already work; 2) being intentional with our engagement; and, 3) building out opportunities that deliver mutual benefit.

Through our work, we have learned several important lessons on how organizations can leverage their ERGs to build more effective, trusting partnerships with LGBTI CSOs.

  • Show up. To gain trust and start building a network with CSOs, we encourage organizations to participate in events such as international conferences organized by leading LGBTI organizations or activists. Attending these events signals to prospective partners that your organization cares about LGBTI inclusion and rights and that you are interested in partnering with others in that technical space. Therefore, be sure to budget for ERG members to attend and participate as thought leaders at LGBTI international conferences and events and to meet activists and build rapport with global, regional, and local civil society organizations. For example, ChemPRIDE identified two esteemed LGBTI events that met our criteria of being international and aligning with our corporate values. We now participate in the Out & Equal Workplace Equality Summit and the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex (ILGA) World Conference to provide our members with opportunities to connect with promising CSOs.
  • Engage. Having established relationships with activists and CSOs from networking and conference attendance, it’s important that you find opportunities to engage CSOs in your company’s internal discussion sessions, panels, workshops, and other events as a way to build rapport and further establish a trusting relationship. An LGBTI-focused ERG can be a useful outlet for designing and implementing programming that includes global LGBTI CSOs. For instance, ChemPRIDE established a Queer Leadership Speaker Series, in which we invited activists from across the world to participate in conversations with our staff that highlight their work, celebrate their accomplishments, and provide a window into the challenges they face within their communities. Similarly, for LGBTI Pride Month, ChemPRIDE designed a virtual panel to discuss the challenges facing LGBTI activists in an era of COVID. This collaborative programming created an opportunity for our global workforce to familiarize themselves with LGBTI CSOs, and it served as a springboard for future partnerships.
  • Sponsor. Once your ERG has established a trusting relationship with LGBTI CSOs, connect them with your company’s in-country leadership to ensure that business decisions are made with consideration to the needs of local LGBTI populations. For instance, ChemPRIDE recently partnered with two LGBTI CSOs, Insight Ukraine and EQUAL GROUND Sri Lanka, to participate on a panel as part of our 2020 Pride programming. Once the panel concluded, the ERG introduced leadership from each of the organizations to leadership of our Ukraine and Sri Lankan projects, opening doors for future collaboration.
  • Partner. Consider leveraging your ERG and their existing relationships with LGBTI CSOs to maximize business development opportunities, including proposal development for new projects. At Chemonics, ChemPRIDE and its CSO networks have played a pivotal role in ensuring that projects are designed with an LGBTI-inclusive lens. Most recently, ChemPRIDE facilitated partnership discussions between Jamaican and Sri Lankan LGBTI CSOs and our Chemonics UK business development team to discuss projects focused on the reduction of violence and discrimination against LGBTI people. CSOs are well positioned to offer insights into the local context and technical challenges around LGBTI inclusion, which can be invaluable for business development opportunities and can provide the CSO with opportunities to deepen its impact.
  • Sustain. Finally, it is important to ensure that your ERG has a plan to sustain existing relationships with LGBTI CSOs. You can do so by scheduling an ERG and CSO quarterly or semi-annual check-in, by organizing regional dialogues between CSOs and gender equality and social inclusion focal points, and through newsletters and other communication strategies. Ultimately, the ERG should serve as convenor between your business and CSOs, elevating and representing the mission of your business and the needs of local LGBTI organizations. ChemPRIDE is planning semi-annual check-ins with our more active CSO partners to ensure that both parties continuously create and partner together.

Whether it’s tackling COVID-19 response or addressing another global challenge, the expertise of people and groups from the countries in which we work will always be necessary and invaluable. CSOs are a powerful resource to connect your organization with their networks and community and to provide fresh insights on the local context and seemingly intractable challenges. The partnerships should provide CSOs with opportunities to expand their reach, strengthen their impact in their communities, and create new relationships to buoy their strategic goals. ChemPRIDE’s strategy to build stronger relationships has centered on trust and mutuality. As our ERG continues to mature, so has our focus on making an impact, not only within our company, but as part of a larger community advocating for greater attention to LGBTI inclusion.

On Tuesday, October 6 at 9:30 a.m. EDT, Chemonics will present on how companies can leverage their ERGs to build effective corporate community partnerships with LGBTQ+ CSOs at the Out and Equal 2020 Workplace Summit. Presenters will include the founder of EQUAL GROUND Sri Lanka and chair of the Commonwealth Equality Network Rosanna Flamer-Caldera; the co-founder of Pink Coconuts and the Barbados – Gays, Lesbians, and All-Sexuals against Discrimination (B-GLAD) Donnya Piggott; and the attorney in the High Court of South Africa Tashwill Esterhuizen. The panel will be moderated by Adrián González, Chemonics’s diversity and inclusion senior specialist and co-chair of ChemPRIDE. View the full summit agenda here.

Posts on the blog represent the views of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of Chemonics.