How 2 young people are tackling systemic racism
“There is still a lot of work to do … which is why our presence is so important”. (Arthur Lima, Founder and CEO, AfroSaúde)
For this year’s World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development, we are highlighting the issue of systemic racism. More specifically, how social enterprises can lead the way in tackling social disparities between certain demographics. A common concern raised by both founders Arthur Lima (AfroSaúde) and Riana Shah (EthixAl) is the accessibility of basic needs and services.
The Afro-Brazilian demographic makes up roughly 56% of Brazil’s total population and yet, they’re more likely to suffer from preventable diseases and mental health conditions. Not only is there an apparent lack of diversity and representation among doctors and health professionals, but many Afro-Brazilians experience difficulties accessing such public services as well. AfroSaúde, meaning ‘Afro-health’ in English, sets out to combat the systemic disparities within the Brazilian public health care sector through a tech platform that focuses on the diversity of practitioners and patients. It connects Afro-Brazilian health professionals that need more visibility within the healthcare system with patients looking for accessible, diverse and representative health care. AfroSaúde also works with companies offering the health service network of psychologists for racial diversity groups in the corporate environment.
The difficulty of accessing basic needs and public services, for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) especially, is also at the core of Riana Shah’s work with EthixAl. Having experienced exclusion and discrimination herself as an immigrant in the US, Riana quickly became aware that the system on which daily practices were built was not shaped for everyone. Simple actions such as a google search, face detection softwares on our phones, or applying for access to healthcare have been shown to reinforce existing stereotypes. Hence, when one’s information is run through these automated patterns for analysis or reports, they are automatically subjected to fit a general mould. Considering that most BIPOC and members of minority groups are affected by social disparities, the status quo on which many systems across the world are built shows that one size does not fit all. Algorithmic bias can put people belonging to a certain demographic at a disadvantage. Thus, Riana founded EthixAl to slowly dismantle systemic bias inherent within our daily technology.
“I will be the last one of my generation to be the “first one”. – Arthur Lima
Their approaches to tackling systemic racism
To tackle such inherent bias within their systems and break down barriers to accessibility, these two social enterprises present two different approaches. For Arthur Lima (Afrosaúde), presence and visibility are amongst the most important factors of AfroSaúde. Following his social enterprise journey and struggle of acquiring adequate funding for his mission, he wanted to pave the way for future generations and make it easier for them to gain traction. With AfroSaúde, Arthur not only set out to provide access and diversity within the Brazilian healthcare system but to open the door for others aiming to tackle the disparities coming at a cost for minority groups.
Rather than filling existing gaps in the system as by-products of systemic racism, EthixAl aims to support tech businesses on how to ‘de-bias their products.’ Through Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) practices, they help build more inclusive teams as well as spark conversations about shifting responsibility and sharing the burden. In the aftermath of the Black Lives Matter movement (BLM), it is especially important to keep these conversations and the momentum going. It doesn’t require another ghastly instance or ‘moment’ to trigger interest and inspiration, as “folks need to decide to want to implement more inclusive practices on a daily basis!” – Riana Shah.
Most important, tackling systemic racism not only requires action from those who face these realities daily. It requires action from all. Allyship is a necessary tool for change as certain demographics do not have the privilege of separating the personal from the political.
“Every single one of us uses technology and therefore each of us has a huge responsibility to actively think about and to be aware of how our technology use and the technologies created today are affecting us and others. Almost no technology is apolitical.” – Riana Shah, Founder, EthixAl
– Written by Tessa Porter
Tessa Porter double majored in political science and international relations at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand and was a contributing writer for their student newspaper as well as for other student-led initiatives. She has a strong sense of justice and equality and places a lot of value on communication, sustainability and transparency. With a deep aversion towards echo-chambers, she aims to help create a more open-minded and constructive discussion culture.