Council Commentary

Sharing Progress on the Population Council’s Agenda for Change

In June 2020, the Population Council joined organizations around the world to condemn incidents of racial violence, police violence, and racism toward Black Americans and asserted our intolerance for silence and inaction. We made a commitment—to our ourselves, our colleagues, our partners and peers, our donors, and the individuals and communities with whom we work—to undertake the hard work of looking inward and examining what more we could and should be doing to create a more just and equitable world both in the work we do and in how we operate. The following month, based on discussions with Council colleagues in the US and our international offices, we launched our Agenda for Change—setting out actions we will take to become an antiracist organization and address wider issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

The Agenda for Change commits us to embrace antiracist principles and actions; to build a strong culture grounded in DEI; to continue efforts to decentralize our global efforts to better respond to the needs of the populations we serve; and to ensure our evidence and analysis continue to influence those who have the power and resources to improve the lives of the poorest and most marginalized populations around the world. 

Our First Year

Inspired by progress communicated by others in our sector, and as part of our own commitment to transparency and accountability, we are sharing some of the specific steps we have taken to advance our Agenda for Change.

Our journey was catalyzed by a series of meaningful and sometimes difficult conversations led by staff members about what we could do, and do more quickly, to live up to our values. We created and empowered internal working groups to assess and address DEI across our programs and operations and provided funding to support their time and contributions. Among our other collective actions, we have:

  • Institutionalized meaningful staff participation in recruitment processes—including candidate interviews and assessment most notably to appoint three new vice presidents.
  • As part of wider restructuring, created a new role of Vice President, International Programs and through a rigorous selection process promoted Harriet Birungi (our Kenya Country Director) to lead this work. The creation of the International Programs division, and the decision for Harriet to lead it from her base in Kenya, is part of our ongoing journey to “shift our center of gravity” to the places we seek to have the most impact and to become even more globally collaborative and inclusive.
  • Accelerated ongoing efforts to revise HR policies and practices, for example, to increase transparency internally and externally about job pay and benefits; and to compensate all interns and no longer accept requests for unpaid internships, recognizing that they perpetuate inequity.
  • Developed and adopted a statement on and commitment to Board diversity by our Trustees, which will enhance the process for appointing new Board members.
  • Initiated plans to appoint a DEI leader, reporting directly to the President, to accelerate and advance our efforts and ensure that our workforce, leadership, structures, systems, policies, and practices align with our commitments.
  • Partnered with the Building Movement Project (BMP) to field a survey among our US colleagues to understand experiences and perceptions of the work we have done, and need to do, to become a more racially equitable and inclusive organization. BMP findings are informing our efforts to strengthen our organizational responsiveness, further empower staff, and advance dialogue about racial equity.
  • Initiated pilot activities with colleagues in two of our international offices to better understand DEI issues from their specific perspectives. Findings will inform the scale-up of similar activities in all of our offices in the months ahead.
Moving Forward

We are proud of the foundations we have begun to lay while recognizing that much more needs to be done before our desired culture, systems, practices, and processes become the norm. In the months ahead, we will take additional steps to bring us closer to fulfilling our vision, including:

  • Formalizing an Advisory Council of diverse colleagues to provide guidance, champion our efforts, and further increase transparency and accountability;
  • Systematically tracking key metrics on our change journey—both to monitor progress and as importantly to enable us to achieve our aims;
  • Creating an organizational DEI strategy following appointment for the new DEI role;
  • Strengthening representation on several enterprise-wide bodies including the editorial committees of our two scholarly journals and our institutional review board (IRB);
  • Developing a new organizational wide strategic plan that is framed by, and aligned with, our Agenda for Change, and as part of that planning:
    • reviewing our stated mission and values to ensure they reflect who we are today and our vision for the future;
    • developing a forward-looking research agenda, under new program leadership, that brings the weight of our research to advancing equity and justice around the world; and
    • taking further steps to shift power and resources to our international offices and affiliate organizations.
  • Looking holistically at how we can support progressive changes aligned with our mission in the wider world including through leveraging our resources.

We don’t have all the answers—we don’t even have all the questions—and we know we won’t always get this right. But we are confident that our commitment to continually improve will enable us to make meaningful and needed change. We look forward to providing further updates on our journey and progress in the months and years ahead.