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Black History Month: PwC’s Colour Brave Charity Committee

“Relief money should go where the need for relief is greatest” said Vicky Browning [1] in a piece that eloquently evidenced the issues facing at risk Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic communities and the (often small) voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations propping them up.

As my previous blog indicated: to reach those who are specifically and differentially impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, we need to work with the organisations who are closest to those individuals. However, from far before the pandemic was upon us, these organisations were often missing out on funding due to high competition, lack of connection with decision makers, and a lack resources and/or capacity to identify and apply for such opportunities.

This summer, Black Lives Matter broke through the pandemic to create national headlines and mobilise further this movement that has been advocating socially and politically against systemic racism and violence towards Black people for more than 7 years. Because of this heightened issue, many organisations, of all sizes and from all sectors, spoke up about racial indifference across the globe and in their workforce, often concluding with a series of commitments.

PwC’s Chairman Kevin Ellis’ statement spoke of how the firm would “increase…support of social enterprises founded and run by Black leaders; work to identify charities we can support with donations and volunteering; [and offer]… wellbeing support for those affected by the Black Lives Matter movement. [2]

We are grateful to receive support on our Mental Health Sustainability Programme from PwC, and it felt timely to address these commitments through the lens of their recently announced Colour Brave Charity Committee, through which PwC are administering financial grants to UK-based, Black-led or BME-benefitting organisations.

I had the opportunity to ask some questions of David Adair, Head of Community Engagement, PwC, about the Colour Brave campaign and its associated grant-making, as well as PwC’s efforts on racial equality.

Hayley Alton: PwC launched the Colour Brave campaign through its Foundation some years ago now, can you tell us more about this campaign?

David Adair: It was an initiative to recognise difference within the firm; and to start the conversation about linking this to wellbeing and how people feel coming from different cultures, with different ethnicities [to work at PwC]. The campaign started a couple of years ago but recently was amplified by the Black Lives Matter campaign.

HA: So the events of the summer were a driver behind the Colour Brave Charity Committee (and others) then?

DA: The main launch for us was when our Chairman [Kevin Ellis] had a conversation with three of our Black leaders at PwC. We were overwhelmed with interest; 8,000 employees watched it or participated in the conversation, so there was a swell of interest in the firm to recognise difference and white privilege, and to have discussions around that.

The Board decided to support us through several initiatives:
• One was Colour Brave Advocates – in each business unit we have advocates who people can go to and talk about any issues that they feel comfortable, and they can be signposted onto other support.
• Another was the pot of money to give grants to Black-led social enterprises or charities, or those that have a high proportion of BME beneficiaries [The Colour Brave Charity Committee].
• We are also supporting Black social enterprise leaders with a programme we are running in partnership with The School for Social Entrepreneurs;
• And then the final part of that was developing a programme with Place2Be, to deliver mental health programmes in schools focussing on Black students.

HA: Are you able to tell us more about the committee and what PwC have done to ensure the experiences and cultural sensitivities of these prospective organisations will be reflected in those administering and making decisions around the grants?

DA: We encouraged all staff who were interested in being a part of the Colour Brave Charity Committee to apply and we got hundreds of applicants. It is chaired by one of our Black partners, Saye Mkangama, and we wanted to ensure representatives were regionally diverse but also diverse in ethnicity. We really wanted to reflect the fact that Black members of staff – and particularly junior members of staff – do not always get involved in decision making so 50%~ of the committee are junior, Black members of staff.

HA: What does the committee hope to connect these organisations with, beyond the funding itself?

DA: Again, we really wanted to use this to get to know some of those small Black-led or BME-benefiting organisations that are having a real impact, so we may want to get to know them through our social entrepreneurs club, get them to join our supply chain, or partner with a mentor – to achieve this we have asked in the application if there is anything they want from PwC apart from the financial support.

We have been inundated with applications, so we are going to be sifting through them after our 30 October deadline. This is the first year we are doing it this way and intend to continue to offer this programme for the next few years, so we will be learning from this as to how we proceed.

HA: What is your advice to Black-led or BME-benefitting organisations that may be considering an application to this programme to make it as strong as they can for the application pool you are expecting?

DA: Well I would say don’t be put off by applying to PwC [as if it’s a] big monolithic beast – if you’re a very small, grassroots, Black-led or BME-benefitting organisation having a real impact in your local community, we want to hear from you. If you don’t have all the relevant paper work, we have said those that are applying up to £5,000, can just submit one page of what the impact is and who the beneficiaries are – we are trying to make it as simple a process [as possible].

For more information on the Colour Brave Charity Fund, including eligibility criteria and how to apply, please see here. Information about our work on the Mental Health Sustainability Programme can be seen here.

The interview has been edited and condensed for the purposes of this published blog post.