Striving to achieve real equality in society - Richa Okhandiar-MacDougall

How do we create a world and a Scotland where equality is a reality beyond social media and diversity and inclusion training? Questions like this are at the root of my own drive and work and something that I believe is constantly misunderstood.

Richa Okhandiar-MacDougall, Senior Administrator at Converge and Art Psychotherapy MSc Student, Queen Margaret University
Richa Okhandiar-MacDougall, Senior Administrator at Converge and Art Psychotherapy MSc Student, Queen Margaret University

Most people want a fairer and more equal society, but it is a daunting undertaking and one that cannot be done alone. Change, even positive change, is scary.

Across the world, and especially since the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement up rise in summer 2020, we know it is not an option to be indifferent to the tragedies and discrimination that permeate the systems we all work within. Though difficult and necessary conversations have been had, how do we use this momentum to implement equality and change the status quo? It’s incredibly important for us as individuals to understand what equality means but we also need to take this further by understanding the systems and processes around us that cause harm.

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We live in an unequal society and face numerous hurdles: racism, sexism, poverty, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, classism and more all within the backdrop of an increasing wealth gap, climate change and a global pandemic. What we know about how the world operates is crucial in order to change our reactions to these systems and behaviours. Equality does not just mean giving everyone the exact same opportunity. We need to understand that we are all coming from different starting points. We should question whether the ‘one size fits all’ approach takes in to account the barriers and institutional prejudices that people are forced to deal with.

Members of the public take the knee to mark the first anniversary of George Floyd’s death, which spurred the Black Lives Matter movement. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

How can we engage with equality beyond our own individual reckoning with discrimination and work to push for institutional change? That requires addressing uncomfortable and difficult issues and working to unlearn and dismantle what we know. An important question to ask ourselves is if the processes we participate in now are even capable of doing this? I would argue, they are not.

At Converge, Scotland’s largest company creation programme for the university sector, we are striving to embed these values of equality in the work that we do and the projects we support. However, we know that this involves asking hard questions of ourselves. Through our work we collaborate with 18 universities across Scotland and a wide network of partners. So how can we use our voice to speak up and implement change within our own programme and what will that look like?

Converge works to support ideas and innovations that care about social impact and are moved to create something that will change people’s lives for the better. As this is one of our core tenets, we also continue to challenge ourselves to ensure we do not become complacent, asking ourselves how we can do better?

We are keen to move beyond the traditional equality opportunity narrative and tackle real issues by giving direct funding and support to those innovative and radical ideas that support systemic change and give real alternative options to the status quo.

It is often a question of power: who has the power and are they willing to give it up? I believe it is vital we open a dialogue to understand power and how the systems we are in benefit those in power. Power can be understood on an individual, organisational and structural level and should be explored thoroughly. I am really interested in redistribution of power and resources. Power as a collective and collaborative strength rather than hierarchal and enforced through domination.

Working towards equality is going to involve all of us. It can and should be a mutual shared goal, but it will be confronting and difficult for many. Recentring power and challenging dominant narratives and systems is something worth fighting for.

Richa Okhandiar-MacDougall, Senior Administrator at Converge and Art Psychotherapy MSc Student, Queen Margaret University

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