Cultural competency is a critical asset of every high-performing nonprofit yet little exists on the topic within the publishing world. Author Patricia St. Onge would argue that’s because cultural competency is a highly complex and challenging aspiration.
In her book, Embracing Cultural Competency, Patricia St. Onge explains there are five reasons why achieving competency in this arena is such a tricky prospect:
Paying attention to culture is considered by some to be among the “soft” skills that are often seen as less important than “hard” skills, such as fiscal management, fundraising and governance.
This conversation takes time.
It is largely an emotional interaction.
Our experiences are so different.
Many communities of color tend to be weighted down by internalized oppression.
Increasing your cultural competency is an ongoing journey that nonprofit executives must take because they know their outcomes will involve a more inclusive, connected, and effective organization.
In Embracing Cultural Competency, the author presents a useful framework that facilitates this journey and emphasizes the “three Cs” of effective capacity building:
Context: understanding historical and cultural realities that relate to the current situation
Community: using a process that stays centered in a group of people who face their own unique challenges and possibilities
Change: altering conditions in ways that advance equity for people and communities of color.
Cultural Competency as Discovering Context
Patricia St. Onge first describes a helpful diagram of concentric circles around an inner circle. The inner circle should contain a shared value or common goal with all the cultural groups orbiting around it. The dominant group should be one of the many circles, not the inner circle. Affirming all perspectives and giving attention to all cultural perspectives, including your own, will lead to cultural competency.
The author provides nine ways to discover key contexts associated with cultural competency. Here are two:
1) See differences as always present. St. Onge shares an exercise to illustrate this point. She hands shapes of different colors out to a group, each one designating cultural characteristics, including birth order, generation, religious tradition, sexual identity, class, ethnicity/race and geographic origin. After each person on a team or in a training chooses his/her combination of colored shapes, very few will have the same handful, illustrating that diversity exists everywhere.
2) Locate your own cultures. The author encourages everyone to name three cultures to which s/he belongs and list overt and subtle attributes associated with each. She stresses that if you don’t understand the cultural perspectives you bring, then you will assume they are the norm and will not be able to relate to/understand other viewpoints. St. Onge also provides a self-assessment in Resource F in the Appendices.
Cultural Competency as a Community Process
Cultural competency should be a process t