Three Ways Intermediaries Can Keep Equity at the Center of Their Policy Work
Striving for equitable policy has never been more important. Almost two years into the current pandemic-induced economic turmoil, one thing remains clear—COVID has dramatically changed the labor market, and trends that were already underway before the pandemic have accelerated. The pandemic has exposed a severe divide between those receiving preparation for the new economy and those who are being left behind. Young adults, in particular ages 14 to 24 who are Black, Latinx, or experiencing poverty, need support gaining a solid footing in our dynamic economy.
JFF’s Building Equitable Pathways (BEP) Coalition—a group of 14 innovative intermediary organizations from across the country—is crucial at this time. The BEP Coalition is striving for racial equity—an environment where a person’s racial identity no longer in a statistical sense determines how they fare—and works to ensure that, at every stage and key transition point in the lives of Black and Latinx youth and young people experiencing poverty, these young people have the knowledge, skills development opportunities, support, and relationships necessary to thrive in education and the workforce.
But confusion among the general public, policymakers, and key leaders around the concept of “equity,” particularly racial equity, presents challenges for the work of intermediaries and other stakeholders. Scaling equitable pathways is no small feat. It requires federal, state, and local policy shifts that close historic economic opportunity disparities.
How can intermediaries across the country lend their expertise, insights, and advocacy efforts to ensure progress, particularly for policy that supports racial equity? Answering this question is a key component of the BEP coalition and Yolanda Watson Spiva, president of Complete College America, offers coalition members three tips for how advocates can keep racial equity central to their policy advocacy work:
- Meet people where they are
- Keep the “customer” in mind
- Engage a diverse set of partners early, and regularly
Meet People Where They Are
In our view, meeting people where they are requires that advocates have a general understanding of stakeholders’ knowledge, perceptions, motivations, and interests around specific topics so they can tailor their policy and advocacy messages to build buy-in and bring diverse stakeholders along. This will help advocates best understand how to introduce the topic of equity, provide data and evidence to document the pernicious impact of systemic inequities, and counter the argument that greater equity for Black and Latinx young people means less for others. This may be the most uncomfortable and challenging work facing the Equitable Pathways coalition. Dealing with this issue is why the other two tips are so important.
Keep the Customer in Mind
In our view, this means reminding policymakers of their customers—their constituents—and their customers’ needs. One example of customer voice influencing policy is the work of BEP member Northern Illinois University’s Education Systems Center (EdSystems), a mission-driven policy development and implementation center. EdSystems shapes and strengthens education and workforce systems to advance racial equity and prepare more young people for productive careers and lives in a global economy. They strive to reflect the voices, perspectives, and needs of the populations most impacted by potential policies, in part through their Illinois 60 by 25 Network Student Advisory Council (SAC), co-created in partnership with other Network organizers. By intentionally selecting students who represent the state’s racial and geographic diversity to get varied perspectives, the SAC gathers feedback on how students experience various policies and initiatives that the Network supports and helps us better understand what supports are most useful as students navigate the education system.
Engage a Diverse Set of Partners Early, and Regularly
In our view, this means joining with partners to advocate for policies that advance common interests. Strong partnerships invite stakeholders from across sectors and systems to help in policy development and strategizing, ensuring that partners have time to negotiate their differences and build a consensus on areas of alignment rather than bring up objections late in the policy development process. Educate Texas is an educational initiative of the Communities Foundation of Texas and a trusted statewide change agent that strengthens Texas’s public and higher education systems, with a primary focus on supporting Black, Latinx, and economically disadvantaged students. Their Student Success Council brings together a diverse set of stakeholders from across the state to engage in joint advocacy efforts on equity-focused policies that support students’ success in higher education. The Council is composed of various state and field stakeholders and has direct influence with several state policymakers, particularly the Chairs of the Texas House and Senate Higher Education Committees, the Commissioners of Education and Higher Education, and the Chairman of the Texas Workforce Commission, who all serve as ex officio members of the Council. The Council’s collective advocacy activities and regular touchpoints with policymakers help ensure that policymakers consider all their diverse sets of perspectives during policy development and that they will be prepared to act as a collective group after a policy proposal is passed.
The Personal and Political in Policymaking
The voices of 5,700 young people, recorded for the “Striving to Thriving” Youth Quote Library from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Equitable Futures, highlight the personal side and perspectives of young people ages 15-22 on various equitable pathway policy initiatives: the removal of obstacles and barriers to success so young people, whatever their backgrounds, can achieve their dreams.
It is crucial for advocates to understand and center the perspectives of young people and the Striving to Thriving participants, such as the young woman identified only as “Hispanic, female, 15-22, lower income.” “Being Latina naturally comes with many obstacles and barriers that we have to face,” she said, “but in the end we can succeed by overcoming these barriers and working hard for our dreams.” Her voice symbolizes why JFF's and the BEP intermediaries' goal of obtaining equitable policy is important, and why we must further cultivate and mobilize intermediaries’ perspectives in policy conversations across the country.