Episode 131: Uplifting Communities While Doing Racial Equity Work—with Rumana Rabbani and Abdul Hafeedh bin Abdullah
Deb Zahn: Hi, I want to welcome you to this week's episode of the Craft of Consulting Podcast. So in this episode, we're going to go deep into a really important topic. And that is when consulting engagements involve working with communities and particularly working on the topic of racial equity, which there's a whole lot of consulting activity that's happening right now. I've certainly seen more of it, and I brought on two guests who've been doing this work for a while and do it in a very meaningful and deliberate way for the purpose of uplifting the communities that they work with. And they're going to talk about how they do it. They're going to talk about things to avoid and things that they would like to see other consultants do more of. So there is so much profound important things that came up for me when I did this podcast and so I'm so excited to share it with everybody else. My two guests are Rumana Rabbani and Abdul Hafeedh bin Abdullah. And they are just phenomenal. So again, so excited to share this episode with you. Let's get started.
I want to welcome my guests today. Rumana Rabbani and Abdul Hafeedh bin Abdullah. Thank you so much for joining me on the show today.
Abdul Hafeedh bin Abdullah: Thank you. Appreciate the opportunity, Deb.
Rumana Rabbani: Thanks for having me.
Deb Zahn: So let's start off and I'll have one of you describe what it is that you folks do together, and then we'll hear a little bit about what each of you does and what your background is.
Rumana Rabbani: Me and Abdullah came together to lift up CBOs and community health workers in the work that we're doing. Especially looking at racial equity and violence prevention. So it really is thought around Abdullah being a champion within CBOs and as well as the CHW field, and then I've been working in the academy and healthcare system. So our approach was to come together and have representation from CBOs and community health worker field, and then coming together with the academy and representation of CBOs and being able to establish shared language and understanding and bringing that into the institutions that we work with. And uplifting the voices of community health workers and CBOs, especially those in historically marginalized communities. So that's really how we came together. And then I'll let Abdullah also share some pieces around that if you'd like.
Deb Zahn: Wonderful. Abdullah, would you add to that?
Abdul Hafeedh bin Abdullah: I think she pretty much nailed it. The main goal is two individuals, I think, who have similar passion and connection through the work that's happening on the ground. Realizing that you know her positionality in terms of her career inside of institutions of academia and kind of tapping into the whole science of valuation and implementation science, whereas my piece is on the ground like actually grassroot mobilization. So having that linkage of goals and objectives and also similar passions rooted in our life experiences. Bringing those two worlds together and what we did is really what I think we would like to see more of. We're literally like that old saying, be what you like to see in the world. We're trying to reflect that on a small scale.
Deb Zahn: I love that. And I love in particular how you've brought together experience, expertise, and also your lived reality into the mix and not just sort of what you've studied. And then Rumana. How do you come to this work?
Rumana Rabbani: That's an interesting question. I was in this work before I became a graduate student. I was working with community health workers in 2014, actually out of Connecticut at Yale, on sustainable payment models for community health workers. From there, it led to me going to a master’s program and I kept doing those interviews because I just realized, in looking at payment, how important community health workers are to address social determinants of health. That then turned into racial equity when I started working with IHI and another organization called [RELAC 00:04:41]. It was with RWJF, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, where it really took off and my dissertation work became looking at CHWs and what they're experiencing with inequitable systems.
I think my understanding of the institution versus community-based organizations really shifted and changed when I met Abdullah. I didn't understand the true essence of the need, not even the need, but I knew the need of a CBO, or how important it was, but how little we're doing in our health care systems. As much as you write abstracts and go to presentations, it's not enough to get those resources to historically marginalized communities. So I've been to Sokoto House and stayed there for a little bit at a time and just immersed myself in the environment and saw the kind of disparities that are coming in due to systemic racism, and how we're not even breaching the root of that, or even the surface of that in healthcare systems, or the academy.
So my understanding has really shifted where, yes, I'm interested in using tools and assessments, but that's the language of the academy and the institutions. My whole viewpoint on it now is giving those tools to CBOs and CHWs, having them uplift the work, and then being represented in these systems that have institutional power. How do I do that as an evaluator, as a researcher, as someone in the academy, to give power to them?
So that's where I'm at, and also for evaluation not just looking at quant data, which is fine for funders, but we have to be able to lift up the experiences of our communities who are going through extreme racism, oppression and trauma and get those experiences and be able to say you own this story, this is your story and it can empower you. And then at some point, we can use that for quantitative data. But we have to also think outside of the academy and colonization kind of methods to have those communities own their stories, own their evaluation. So that's where I'm sitting as far as being a representative from the academy.
Deb Zahn: That's wonderful, and I know we're going to dig into this being a really different way for consultants who do work in communities to think about what they do in a different way. But Abdullah, I want to hear a little bit from you. How did you arrive at doing this work?
Abdul Hafeedh bin Abdullah: I guess it's just a natural progression for me, so of course you know being in close proximity to you know the crisis, born and raised in Southern California, kind of grew up in that 80s, late 80s, going through 90s era where a lot of African American young children, and young men, I was a young boy at the time, got caught up in the whole era of mass incarceration, war on drugs, which produced this whole enterprise of gang culture which was unprecedented as far as being seen. It existed in the 70s, but as far as an enterprise where drugs were a major contributor to capacity because of the money that came along with being able to sell crack cocaine. But then also this whole process of actually herding those populations into prison through mass incarceration, the war on drugs created this process of development, like a heightened level of criminality was able to be organized because people were behind those walls and they would have a lot of time and energy to organize themselves in ways that weren’t always positive.
So me coming through that same process, being incarcerated and being in prison at some point, my response to my crisis went from tearing things up to learning how to build them. Maybe four years into an eight-year sentence, I started to start applying tools that look like what is it? What would it take for me to build my community instead of destroying my community? And upon my release, it was just a natural progression to figure out, how do I give back? What I immediately noticed is that people like myself, and people in the communities would spread their necks to where most of the actual most intense activity is happening. They have very legitimate and very sound ways of responding to that crisis, which is the reason why the condition hasn't collapsed upon them, right?
There are people on the ground, volunteers, people in the community. There are these pillars, there are these connectors that are naturally providing solutions to some of the problems. The issue is that they're not necessarily being supported. They're not being heralded as solutions because a part of their actual identity consists of also being advocates and being champions to the fact that we didn't just wake up one morning and become like this. There's this historical, systemic behavior that's contributed to why we see this trauma playing itself out in this self-abuse type of culture, whether it be through gangs, drugs, prostitution, like people in crisis, people are living in a state of scramble because of scarcity of resources so those behaviors begin to manifest themselves.
Next to that problem, though, are those people who are solutions, but they're not supported. They're not funded. If they are funded, they're funded with certain restrictions and a certain type of string that's regulated what they can actually do to address the issue.
So after shifting from basically taking a grassroots approach and realizing there wasn't really enough finances and you couldn't make a living, at least for me. I couldn't make a living on the ground, doing grassroots work I wanted to...and then also, most of the people that was really doing the good work, they wasn't necessarily grassroots. They was trying to use language within the system. They had went to school, and they had tried other ways. So I knew grassroots wouldn't work. I tried to make a career out of it, most of what my world dealt with in terms of dealing with violence, and trying to address crime in the community, and address gang activity in the community looked like dealing with public safety. I just felt like at a certain point it was like this abusive relationship, you know what I'm saying, where the only solution to our crisis was to bring in more police, and when they come they're gonna bring guns, they're going to bring handcuffs, and they're going to bring jail cells.
I kind of pulled away from that world and was trying to think about what else can I do beyond these other two options I have. I stumbled into a program that was being facilitated inside Multnomah County in Portland, Oregon around 2010 and it basically introduced me, through some funding through the CDC, how to look at violence through a public health lens. I became a community health worker, had a very successful run, about five years’ worth of learning, leading, and I just realized after I left there I was like, "Man, you know what? I wouldn't mind seeing this program duplicate itself around the country," and a part of that is being able to actually help these community-based organizations, these community health workers increase their capacity to learn the value of who they are, being community based and being rooted in the community and having these existing connections, having these relationships that they can lean on for solutions but then arming them, or equipping them with legitimate science and identify public health as being a legitimate science that inherently doesn't compromise their position in a community. You know what I'm saying? Literally, health promotion is something that communities already do. They educate children on a daily basis. Prevention is something that they live and breathe. They're out there on a daily basis trying to keep their children out of stuff.
It just was consistent, so that's how I stepped into it, with naturally doing the work and then stumbling upon this science and saying, "Hey, look man, I wouldn't mind taking this science and learning how to actually give it back to my community in the same way that I was able to use it and not compromise what I was most passionate about. Not compromising my ability to advocate and to actually hold systems accountable, while at the same token trying to change behaviors." We need more people across the country that's community-based organization-supported in that particular type of way.
That's what I was kind of on until I stumbled into Rumana and it was like, "Hey, this is the perfect little, you know..." because she could bring this component that I can't bring. I'm not an epidemiologist. I don't have no letters behind my name. That's not an interest that I have, but she has them and our stuff align, so let's make this happen. So that's how I stumbled into it naturally. It's just scrambling and then grabbed hold of a few tools that was like, "Hey, this is what I'm working with now. I'll make the best out of it."
Deb Zahn: That's wonderful, and I love...I know you folks have done work around the country, and so as a community-based organization but also acting as consultants, which is refreshing because...I have a masters in public health, in community health and I know that a lot of times folks like me are who get hired to design, implement and evaluate community-based programs and we're generally and often not the right folks to do it because we don't have the lived experience. And we don't even necessarily have all of the knowledge we need to be able to do it.
That's why I love talking to you about this because I'm hoping that folks who do this type of community work think of who they are relative to it, and what their particular role could and should be relative to this work. I'd love to hear, before we get into some of the nitty gritty of how you do your work, is if you woke up one morning and you fulfilled your mission what would it look like? What would you know? We got there, we got where we wanted to get.
Rumana Rabbani: So I think for me, and Deb I wanted to add that I also have lived experience with inequities that has really driven my work, and using my lived experience to channel me into the work I've been doing, it's been a source of empowerment for me to able to help communities and community health workers.
Going back to that question, what it would look like to me is an implementation of policy throughout the systems, and then having that policy, and this is something we're working on right now which is wonderful to say that we're working on this, community health workers as racial equity advocates and also recognizing them as violence prevention professionals. So being able to not only have a systemic kind of change across our country being recognized nationally, but then implementing that regionally and within states. I'm not saying that's the end all. There are many more things that come with that, so distributing funds to CBOs to address racial equity, racial equity interventions, making sure they're front and foremost when we were talking to health care systems, making sure they know how to measure those kind of interventions, racial equity interventions, leading into sustainable payment for community health workers.
Having equitable systems and practices in place that lift up the voices of CBOs and community health workers where we not only see them as equal, but beyond equal. The problem is being faced by these communities, so they should be the ones that we're hearing from and that often doesn't happen. Those are, I think, some of the pieces, and then also one of the things we're working on in this policy proposal is certification of CHWs being led by CHWs, and why aren't other systems and other health care organizations being certified to hire CHWs? Why is the onus on CHWs when oftentimes their systems are not set up for CHWs and those programs fail? Then ultimately, what happens is you don't save money in the health care system and your communities of color are dying, which is happening during COVID-19. So that's a very pie in the sky, lots of details. Then at some point, I would love to be able to do international work where we then are helping marginalized communities across the country. Those most disparaged and traumatized. I'm from Bangladesh, so I've always wanted to help a Third World country that's going through immense poverty. I think that's what an ideal world would kind of look like to me.
Deb Zahn: That's wonderful. Abdullah, would you add anything to that?
Abdul Hafeedh bin Abdullah: Yeah, I would just simply say that you know, for me it's a little bit more for the work. As far as a professional, I do this work whether I'm working up with the hat of a professional or I'm just living and breathing.
So when it comes to this, the professional component, if there was a model, an evidence-based model or evidence-based process, in which community-based organizations were equipped with the capacity to support and advance evidence-based programming that doesn't require them to request or even feel like they need to beg individuals to support them but almost being in a position to demand the support. An actual formula that says, as a community-based organization, I'm doing this amazing work on the ground, and here's this model I can grab ahold of that will teach me how to leverage capacity within my community to demand that what I'm doing be supported and be identified as what it is, which is an asset, and to ignore it is a form of actual, deliberate disenfranchisement.
And there will literally be something in place that, kind of like a matrix, that they can show, "I'm doing this, I'm doing this. Here's X amount of in-kind service hours we put in just because of volunteers. It's just because of what our staff is doing. In the course of a year, we produce this much of services to the community. This is how much were being supported by the funds that is coming into his community. This is what we're delivering as far as actual product, but we're not supported." And then be able to show that strongly to a position to where that matrix then shows that this is not a speculation that I'm being disenfranchised. This is not a speculation that there's an inequity here. This is an actual fact, and then begin to look to see if you don't change this, is there some type that accountability? Where you're choosing not to recognize these organizations simply because they don't fit within a nice cute box that you've set up for yourself that keeps certain people's careers thriving, and other people still live in their crisis and not being supported to help the crisis.
That's the ideal situation for me, some type of model or formula where we could begin to look and then community-based organizations being able to say, "I did this. I went through this process right here. I used these tools right here, and it's a fact that this is the situation I'm in," and then be able to demand that something be done to change that.
Deb Zahn: Yeah because it's not like there aren't invoices flying around, and it's not like people aren't getting paid, it's just...
Abdul Hafeedh bin Abdullah: That's the big piece though, right? You have people in cities where there's hundreds and thousands of dollars to send in their organizations, and they're using data to show that they're providing services to their community that every year the crisis increases. Every year the same place where you're funding, and you're getting funding, is being streamlined through the organizations you're choosing. That issue is not getting better, it's getting worse and they're securing more funding. But all along, here is these people on the ground doing this amazing work and it's not being measured, it's not being recognized, and more importantly it's not being supported.
Deb Zahn: Yeah. One of the things that I've seen that looks like that, unfortunately, is whoever, whether it's some form of government, or a funder, or somebody else who has dollars, who wants to do a project or an initiative and they will often look for a consultant, or group of consultants, and they're going to say, "Oh, and we want you to do community engagement, and that's going to be part of what your scope of work is. That's going to be part of what you getting paid to do." Then that looks however it looks along the continuum of checking a box to folks who are actually listening.
What you've touched upon in a few of the things that both of you have said, is a really different model than someone on high says, "Here's what we want to do." They hire a quote/unquote "professional" who's going to do X, Y and Z for this amount of money. What's different than how you folks approach this type of work, recognizing that, yes, you need to get paid. You need to be able to support being able to do this good work.
Rumana Rabbani: Well, I think for me and Abdullah, he may have a different perspective, but for me what's centered and grounded for me is our core values. So always having our core value centered in the humanity. Looking at racial justice and social justice, empathy, authenticity, those values are really important no matter how much I lift up from the academy. No matter how much scientific methodology I bring in, the humanity piece is very, very important, and that's what grounds the work. No matter how many models we have, it's those core values, its humanity, it's people dying, it's those oppressed and traumatized that have been built in the fabric of our society, that is front and center.
So really, the scientific method, as important as it may be in the academy, and it brings in buy-in from those stakeholders and that's where the funding is, that is not the crux of the work. That's just support to show that look, humanity and core values in the work we're doing is backed up by scientific method. I think that is always the number one thing to me, is keeping that centered and making sure that those who are the most oppressed and traumatized are the ones that we lift up. Lived experience. We need to lift that up. Oppression, trauma. We need to lift that up and put that at the forefront because at the end of the day, if we don't lift those things up, we're not creating a society that can be better, but the root cause, the root driver for inequities in our country, poor health outcomes, poor social determinants of health, is racial inequities, i.e., more specifically, racism that's built into our society. I think, for me, that's the biggest thing is lifting up those that we want to serve.
Deb Zahn: That's great. Abdullah do you want to add to that?
Abdul Hafeedh bin Abdullah: Yes. This is basically the same thing and I guess what it looks like in practice is similar to what I do in any city I've been in. I've been to California. I've been to Oregon. I've been here to North Carolina and in Oregon and in North Carolina, my objective, my goal, was never to bring visibility to me. My goal was to identify the people that's been doing the work in those communities that so to identify the me that's from San Bernardino, California. In that community, there's always someone like me. In that community there's always someone like this other paradigm of a human being that's just like this mother that you go to, this father that you go to inside the community that when it comes to...or this young brilliant mind who went from destroying their community to now building it up. They're in the community, active, and they're driven. In every society you have those elements of balance. When you go into the environment, that's what I'm looking for. I'm looking for those people, and I'm engaging those groups of people, and I'm saying, "Listen bro, I've got something that can help you. If you take this tool right here and shift your hand a little bit like this, it's gonna better position you." And then what happens is, the more visibility they get, the stronger they get, the more successful they are, then everything that I'm bringing to the table matters.
If I go into a community and they like, "Oh, Abdullah. He used to be a gang member. He used to be this, and now he's this. He's recognized nationally and all this." If it's just recognizing me, if it's just recognizing CHASM, it means nothing. You know what I'm saying because I'm new to that environment. I may have some experience that they can relate to because we all live in crisis, but I didn't grow up in that elementary school. I didn't grow up in that high school. They didn't see me running the blocks. Seen me inside the community, scrambling and trying to figure it out. They see their own peers, and if they can see their peers over time, if they can see their peers be able to go to a table and represent them, they're going to support their peer or the people they grew up around 1,000 times more than they're going to support me, and they're going to be inspired more easily by those individuals than they're going to be inspired by me.
That's kind of like that piece right there, so whenever I go to an environment, like CHASM is doing work for the CBO. CHASM is a CBO but the reality is CHASM only matters to the degree that CHASM can actually activate other CBOs to do what CHASM is doing. Other than that, CHASM really is just something that sounds good, and it kinda looks good because the website has a lot of information and stuff that we're doing. But if it doesn't translate into other human beings as doing great work in other communities, getting seen for the work that they're doing and then being herald in the same way that CHASM is being herald, then CHASM is not doing its job.
Deb Zahn: That's wonderful, I love that. So if you were talking to, which you are right now, other consultants, many of whom, including myself, will be asked to...the language is always different...do community engagement. You know if it's about diabetes, it's about asthma, it's about urban planning, whatever the topic is that consultants get brought in to do, what do you want to see them do differently than what they're doing right now? Than sort of what the status quo has looked like? What would you encourage them to, no matter what, do these things?
Abdul Hafeedh bin Abdullah: I would definitely say that there needs to be two things and really only two things. One is, do a proper assessment of the landscape that you're stepping into and find out...I always give this example in training. It's the jungle. Anytime I go into a jungle I got a choice. Someone say "Hey, look you going through this jungle, I need you to get from this destination to this destination right here. Like? Alright cool, here's all these resources." OK, that's cool, right? But when I get there, I need to link with somebody to find out how to navigate that jungle. Now I can go link with the guy that's an expert map reader. Got all the credentials, and he's very astute, looking very confident inside of a boardroom when it comes to what's going on with these maps and what's going on with these lines. But when it comes to actually going out there, I ask him, "How many times have you been out there in the jungle?" He's like, "Oh yeah, no, you know there's this local that I actually go reach out to, we'll be OK if we connect with the locals."
Deb Zahn: Yeah, I'm afraid of snakes so I don't go there.
Abdul Hafeedh bin Abdullah: Exactly, yeah, and if I do go there, I'm afraid so I don't go. But the other piece that some do go. But if I go, what I go do is I toss a few dollars to one of the locals and one of the locals then help me get through. Keep in mind the keyword there is a few dollars. So the pieces for me, the one or two things, either when you go in, if you have a choice between the map reader and the local, go to the local who's traveling that jungle every day. Because all of the nuances and all the details, all the actual you know, monkey wrenches and the solutions to potential things that happen. That local person is going to be able to help guide you to be most effective in whatever your contractual obligations are.
And in that, compensate them in the same way that you would compensate, if not for more, the actual map reader. Compensate them, be equitable in how you share your resources. And if you don't have resources per se that subcontract out to someone in the community, you need to ask yourself how much of the actual contract that I personally have been given to do a job that I have not the capacity to do, how much am I willing to share of that in order to make sure that I'm getting the job done, and getting the job done well?
So those are the two pieces. Link in with the people who really know. If they're in proximity to the crisis, 100% of the time they're gonna have more valuable assistance for you than someone who is not in close proximity to the actual crisis. And when you engage them, engage them equitably and fairly, and compensate them. If it has to come out your own pocket because keep in mind, as a contractor, if you're getting paid to do something that you yourself don't have the full capacity, it would be really crummy for you to go in and actually lean somebody else who volunteered to do your job for you, and you eat, and you feed yourself and don't actually compensate them. But if you have some actual contracting funds, make sure it goes to people, one that's most in need, that's equitable, and two, it's the most wise decision because the ones that's most in need are the ones that actually can help you get the most optimal results. So it's a win-win. That would be my advice.
Deb Zahn: Love that. Rumana?
Rumana Rabbani: Thanks Deb. I have been working, as you were saying, with consultants on some of this. I'm looking at equity. There's so much, I don't even know where to start. I don't even have just two. I wish I did, but I see so many barriers in the process that's taking place right now. It's coming from a lens of the academy and institutions. So we have to understand. I took an amazing decolonizing methodologies class which actually, until I came and presented it as a community health worker, our research, the way we do research in the academy, the way we practice in our institutions is based on a colonization. The culture of colonization. The system of colonization. And that's been carried out into our academy and our systems.
So when we're going into communities as consultants, what we're doing is we're using those practices that have already oppressed these communities and they still have the trauma from. So we're doing that all over again. So how are we going to collect data? How are we going to get information to empower these communities? At the end of the day, we have to ask ourselves and the community, what is it that they want? So why am I doing this research question? Why am I doing this implementation or intervention if I don't actually know what the communities want? What's driving me is what the system was. We're not going to get to the kind of outcomes we're looking for if we don't address that first.
The other piece is evaluation. Everybody likes to evaluate. You're doing measures, they're coming up with theories, they're coming with their frameworks. A big piece for me is codesign. What does it look like to codesign with community members? I'm putting them out front and center. In my research with Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, help positive research scholars, I asked Abdullah if he would be a co-PI and I also asked RWJF and so that should be a practice that happens automatically. If you're doing research on a community-based organization on a community on CHWs, why are they also not co-PI or even PI, equal standing because you're extracting information from them to get your PhD and in effect, at some point if that's implemented, those systems are making money off of it. It's not even going to be done properly, and so evaluation, research all of these things that are incepted in the academy and in institutions needs to be reversed where CHWs, CBOs, marginalized communities are lifted up.
We ask them what do you want? We're here to serve you. We are actually here to serve you, and from the get-go to the very end all the way to dissemination of the report, of the intervention, we're going to ask you and you're going to be the key person that's going to drive this forward.
Deb Zahn: That's great. That says a whole lot, and I know there is so much more behind that, and consultants are definitely drivers of that. They make money off of exactly the model that you just described. Funders and the folks who actually have the money also create the situations where that occurs, and they have their own sort of colonizing, you know framework, that they do that under. So when you're talking with whoever you know has the money, whether it's a government institution or a philanthropic organization, and you want them to think about it right from the get-go so that you don't have resistance the entire time that you want to do things, that might be a little bit different than what they're used to, or a lot different than what they're used to. How do you talk to them about it to try and get them, from the get-go, be off on the right foot?
Rumana Rabbani: So honestly, what has really helped is racial equity being lifted up in our country. COVID-19, the shootings that have happened to African American communities, mass incarceration becoming modern day slavery and, to a certain extent, whatever the intent was for lifting that up by the current administration, that has helped a great deal. Because I would go into rooms and talk about this and people will not pay it any mind, but they kept doing the work. Now people are stopping and saying CDC has stopped other organizations and states have stopped and said, "OK, we need to lift up racial equity work. This is important." But even before that came out I would always say, "Look, the key driver for inequities within the community is racial inequities that's built into the fabric of our society. That's leading to poor health outcomes." Then show them case examples or that's taking place. That was one of the key things I do, and that's where the science comes in is using the science to show the evidence and then what value do they get?
Unfortunately, we live in a system where it's value to the stakeholder involved rather than the community involved, but I think the key thing also is to add that if you don't value your customer, and this is in any business, so we're going to use like business language. If you don't value your customer, you're not going to have a good product. It's the same thing in any organization, from healthcare to any kind of organization you're working in. Your customer is that individual. If that's how you want to look at it, in business terms or institutional systems.
That's how I set it up when I go in and work with an organization, and then use logic models, driver diagrams, to really put it in place so they can see it broken out on, "OK, these are the outcomes we're getting to. These are activities, inputs, outputs and this is where we're going," and that seems to resonate.
Deb Zahn: Yeah, and I recently...we talked about this a little ahead of time, actually... said recently to some funders, if you could advisory group your way out of this, you would have already. You've done it for years, and years, and years, and years and it hasn't gotten you what you wanted. So by all means, do something different. Abdullah, would you add to that?
Abdul Hafeedh bin Abdullah: Yes, I think there's three types of funders. I think there's people who are in the position that they are because they inherited, or they earned it and they choose to buy in to where they want power to reside. And if you are that type of funder and you see that power needs to reside within the status quo, then you know that you're going to keep it within the power structure, the white power structure of America, which is as America as it gets.
Then you have the other funder who may not have that intention. They're not consciously making sure that power resides in the hands of white populations. They're not thinking at that level. They have access to money. There's a side of them that really wants to see help. They want to help people, they want to get money to the places where it's going to make the society better, but they've been trained and conditioned to do that a certain type of way.
Then you have the third category of people within the funder world that I feel like is, they're very innovative in their thinking, but I think that they're being overwhelmed by the way that things are happening on the ground. They're being manipulated by the people that they're sending their money to who are essentially producing these numbers without a narrative. Without details about really where is the quality of actual service that I'm providing? What are the people...how are the people saying that I'm providing the service to them? Am I really reaching the population that's most at risk, and which you're trying to fund me for? And if not, then how am I able to give you a report that say that I am? Well because I have people with me that have credentials behind their name. I have an organization that can doctor up a nice little report and make it sounds good. As long as I get that to you, you're going to be OK for what you're hearing, unless something else forces you to do more of a due diligence in terms of what's happening in that area.
So with those three types of funders there's only two I'm really interested in convincing. The first one, there's no convincing that personality. That's a situation where I call them...it's hard heads it's said make a soft butt. We learned the hard way. So I had to learn. They'll learn as well.
But the other two is different and I believe that when you build power within communities, and you build their capacity to be able to compete on the ground and demonstrate the level of actual value that they bring into their communities, and be able to translate that into numbers, to be able to translate that into an actual report that has some credentials but leans moreso on the real life going on and capturing the real life going on of services, then you create some legitimacy with those community-based organizations, in those community initiatives to produce reports that can actually make it back to those foundations. I think over time, what begins to happen is the people who have just been accustomed to doing things a certain type of way, and the people who are actually trying to do things differently, but it's been limited, think they begin to get exposed to these other opportunities. They begin to realize that, "Wow, if I was investing more in people that was closer to proximity of the issues, I would get better results."
Does that mean that I eliminate other people? No, I can make them partner. I can make sure that people with the credentials, the people with the academic background, the people that decide the official positions or responsibilities because they have credentials to do that, if they're partnering with the people who have the credentials from direct experience. It's the knowledge of taste. I've tasted that, right? So because I tasted, I can explain that and I can encounter that in a way that someone would never be able to encounter if they haven't tasted.
So there needs to be a partnership in that thing. Once that's done and that's made visible to them, what I believe is the two other categories of funders, the one who are just doing what they've been accustomed to do, and they really want to get results. So if someone offered them a better result, they'll do it. Then the other funder who is looking for that better result, but they've got a complete smokescreen over their eyes because they're not in proximity to the issue. As soon as you lay down a little bit of that smokescreen, they take a peek. They're going to be excited to come in and say, "What, are you serious? No." They're going to want to support that particular approach.
I think it's those two individuals that over time will overwhelm...It's the only way that those two individuals over time can actually overwhelm the more dominant voice of people who are in positions of power, and they are consciously aware of their history, their legacy and they're bought into that. Like literally, they're going to have to be challenged by the others, and the others only going to be able to challenge them once they are convinced. I believe the solution in that is not in systems change. I believe the solution in that...that's a part of it, but I believe the real solution is building power and capacity within these communities to present themselves in a way that's almost like irresistible. It's like, "Oh, wow, I can't ignore this."
Deb Zahn: That's great, now I know in the mix also of what you folks do is implementation science, which I love those two words together a lot. I was delighted to see that's part of what you do. So what does that look like in the work that you do, and why does that matter to also include that in the mix?
Rumana Rabbani: Yeah, I think implementation science is very important and what we have to keep in mind too is that if that's incepted out of the academy. So however we're approaching implementation science, it needs to be in a way to implement evidence-based practice that takes into account and tailors according to that community or that population.
So if we're implementing a racial equity intervention within North Carolina for a specific population that has low resources, in say transportation or food, that's going to look different than what it looks like in another setting. So just keeping that very aware, I look at implementation science as a tool rather than a theory because, again, it's grounded in the academy.
So a lot of what we're doing, we're codesigning a racial equity summit that CHASM is putting on with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation HPRS, and it's hosted by the Community Health Worker Section in Boston in 2022. A group of us have come together, so at eight different community health workers and CHW allies, we're codesigning this racial equity summit. We have implementation science in, so it's based off the dissertation work that I've been doing with RWJF and our third aim comes in with the implementation science. So we have a whole theory and framework, a grounded theory, that's actually driving the approach that we're taking, and that's lifting up popular education. I love implementation science because it very much puts in place your facilitators, your barriers, implementation strategies. You can use a hyper type design, which looks at the intervention and the implementation outcomes, especially fidelity. But I think it's important to keep in mind that you also need, if that's how you're tailoring it for the population, and in our case, including Abdullah who's the co-PI on it, we're looking at community health workers. We need to codesign keeping a framework and theory in place that uplifts the practice of the CHW culture and racial equity.
We've been looking at using popular education quite a bit, which absorbs very world first and so I think implementation science is a very good kind of framework to have when you're directly implementing, looking at those stages pre-implementation and carrying on after that all the way up to scale up. But then, also what does and I think the evaluation becomes handy because then you're looking at specific implementation intervention outcomes, but also the question comes into mind, "How are you evaluating for equity?" So those are kind of measures that need to be built in that's not specifically in many implementation science frameworks.
Then, how are you looking at readiness when it comes to implementation before readiness? Or, I think after readiness too is, what are you looking at when it comes to dismantling inequitable practice? What does de-implementation science look like, and what's a framework for that?
I think implementation science works and it's very effective if you have a participatory research approach that takes place, and you're lifting up practices from the community like popular education, looking at the right kind of measures, and looking at implementation strategies that resonate within their communities. But I agree Deb, it's an amazing tool to have and to kind of map out things, it's just there's 54...so which one do you pick? And you can integrate at work, you can actually integrate some of the frameworks as well, but it's really the how you're going to do it, and who's going to be at the table while you're doing it, to make it effective.
Deb Zahn: I love your de-implementation. That's my favorite new word. When I've done implementation work, I've borrowed the definition of sustainability from the National Health Service, which is when new ways of working become the norm. Well, if those new ways of working, or those normalized ways of working are contributing to systemic oppression on an ongoing basis, you can't just layer something pretty on top of it and think that it's going to work, which is what many consultants get hired to do, right? You're supposed to implement this thing, X, and forget about what's under underneath it. How do you approach that when you're working with whoever has hired you to do some of this work to help them understand that it is both a constructive and destructive process quite intentionally?
Rumana Rabbani: Abdullah, do you want to answer that since I went first in the last question?
Abdul Hafeedh bin Abdullah: I think that's your lane. I think she's talking about systems. I think that's kind of like your lane and what not. As far as community, it's not a difficult thing. If you come in, and you offer them tools that you've already proven that's going to leverage them resources, and they don't have to compromise their core values, and it's just an adjustment in tools, then they'll toss the tools to the side in a second and grab ahold of the tool that they feel like they've...If you can convince them and they have confidence that it's going to secure them resources.
I think any community implementation is something that's happening on a regular basis. I think a lot of times, community members are not necessarily as attached to the titles of things, or whether or not these things are recognized by a particular institution, what they're most attracted to is what's working. What's going to save their life. What's going to, you know...I guess it's a question more so for you in that area.
Rumana Rabbani: I agree. I think communities do it all the time. They're implementing, but implementing…
Abdul Hafeedh bin Abdullah: Or de-implementing
Rumana Rabbani: De-implementing but bringing that to what Abdullah said, bringing that to the spotlight. They're naturally doing this. How do we give them the tools to show that they're naturally doing this, and they're natural activators? They're natural champions for those for their communities?
Gosh, de-implementation is a struggle because it's very kind of thought of almost as radical language. I mean it's scientifically proven in implementation science world that there is de-implementation science frameworks. When it's been brought up with stakeholders, they're usually quiet or they'll say, "Well, we can bring this in as a reference," and then it gets used. Or it's kind of glazed over. If it's not a part of the plan moving forward and it's just implementation science, that piece is definitely glazed over. I can say as CHASM does this work, we will always be looking at de-implementation and readiness before implementation. Because if you do all that, it's like you go to a doctor to get help. Say you're going through some terminal disease and they're telling you to do specific things. Or you may have a terminal disease, and they're telling you to do specific things to make it preventive, and you just don't do it. You're like, "No, forget it," and that's how I see not doing de-implementation. It's a hard conversation to have.
There are a couple people that are really rooted in their work in implementation science that will go forward into it, but most weren't familiar, kind of ignore it, or put it as an extra kind of thing on the side. You can use it, or not use it. It's up to you kind of option.
Deb Zahn: Wonderful. And there's so much richness in this, we could go so many different directions. But let me ask you, where can folks find you, particularly if they want to hire you to do some of the good work you're doing?
Rumana Rabbani: So we have a website called chasmnetwork.org C-H-A-S-M network.org and there's an "about us" page, and there is contact information on there if they wanted to email both of us it's email@example.com.
Deb Zahn: Wonderful. And I've spent time on the website. There is so much richness there that we'll make sure we put a link to it in the show notes.
But let me ask you one final thing each because this is really important work that you've obviously dedicated your lives to. But there's also whatever it is you do in the rest of your life that brings you meaning and brings you joy. So how do you bring balance to your life? However it is you define that.
Rumana Rabbani: This is something that I have to work on. I have several colleagues tell me that I need to work on work/life balance. It's hard for me because I love this work so much. It is very personally embedded into who I am and part of my addressing my own lived experience that I've gone through, and finding resilient empowerment through the work that we do.
But my kids and my family are really important to me, including my husband, and so I think just being cognizant of that, when they're with me putting everything away as much as I can. Like if I do have a meeting, making sure it will only last an hour, but usually I try to keep like weekends open and then evenings, at a certain time I'll try to stop unless it's urgent. Then I do a lot. I read. I reflect. I'll go outside and work, and take my daughter outside. Sometimes her and I will do projects together that have to do with this work and make it fun. We did actually, me and Abdullah did a racial equity training for Girl Scouts in North Carolina after Juneteenth. We made it fun and interactive and they got a badge out of it. So I think just making time for myself and people that I love in my life, and keeping that in the forefront and then also bringing some of that into my own personal life with my kids and others that I love being around.
Deb Zahn: That's wonderful. Abdullah, how about you?
Abdul Hafeedh bin Abdullah: I guess my balance is kind of like the opposite in the sense that I'm not happy if I'm not like doing this work. I come from a different worldview. I'm African here in America. I'm a Muslim when I look at the history of experience. I also have indigenous roots here in this land. So when I look at tomorrow, like the future, I look at what particular tools will my children, and what particular world, will they inherit? I know what I inherited. I know what tools I inherited. To be able to navigate the world that we in here, right here in United States of America. And for us, having African-Islamic roots, there's literally this ethnic cleansing that takes place where you literally have a whole people's culture, language, name, identity completely stripped away. Now these people are in a crisis. You know, a part of their crisis looks like it will be baseline, you know, person to person conflict. Interpersonal challenges that they have with each other on a day-to-day basis. A lot of that roots come from the identity crisis that they have right. Their roots being displaced in a sense.
So for me, when I'm thinking about this work and thinking about building capacity within communities, part of it's about the system, that's that professional half. But then also part of it is about in your own life, in my own life. I'm saying what type of efforts am I making to re-stabilize myself and then be able to offer some form of a semblance of formula for my children and my children's children. Because the world is not getting better. The world is amazing. There's a lot of beautiful things in the world, but the reality is because of over consumption because of the manners in which we perceive civilization, how we make things easier, which typically look like us destroying our environment. How we are more successful, which now looks like dominating other people, showing myself superior to other people. These are the norms that there's just this time we live in that we're being governed by.
With that being said, I would still say there's more beauty in the world than there is ugly, in terms of people's behavior. But their behaviors of ugly are rapidly increasing. So for me my work is intimately tied to my personal life, and my personal life is intimately tied to my work. The only difference between the two is that I think trying to work within the system and trying to support community members being able to help this system change its behavior, is something that I one day retire from. But the work of actually building in communities and being able to thrive in a way that supports other communities in better positioning themselves to eliminate these patterns of oppression that really dominates our world today, that's hopefully before I die. If it's not, then I feel like I'll become not happy. I got literally, when I'm not doing what I'm supposed to be doing, I literally...I'm not happy.
So the balance for me is if I'm doing, then I think that produces a dopamine for me. That produces that endorphin for me. That produce it. That is my healing. It's doing. It's my healing. It's the fighting that's my healing and that's what I would say that would be my answer to that particular question. I don't separate the two. I feel like the self care is in me doing the work. But with that being said, also understanding that if I'm not apart of me doing the work, if I'm not taking care of myself then it won't be an Abdullah around to be able to do the work.
So self care is also about making sure it's almost like if I use the example of a person in the battlefield, and you have a sword. If you never sharpen your sword, and you never take the time and make sure that your shield is not rusted and usable in a way that's effective, then you become a liability to your other comrades on that battlefield. So taking care of self in any field is about, hopefully it's about not being selfish, but it's actually about being altruistic. How do I take care of myself so I can be more equipped to do my job better? So in that sense, if I could say balancing those areas of thinking, then I'm good.
I don't come to this work because of just my background, and what I've experienced, and what I've gone through but my family and the people I love the most in my life, they go through the same stuff today. I may be in Wilmington, North Carolina in kind of a "safe space," quote/unquote, but now I have deep family roots, a large family, first and second cousins, aunties and uncles, and the whole culture of this historical disenfranchisement by the certain populations of America, we're still tasting that today. But I don't really have the luxury. So just think about it as like, "Oh this is what brought me to the work." No, this is what keeps me in the work.
Rumana Rabbani: Absolutely, and I wanted to add, Deb, I forgot to add that prayer has also been a way for me to keep balance and spirituality. That's been really important. I agree with Abdullah. I know when I've had the most difficult times, it's actually been my work that's lifted me out of those times and transformed my life. And I was in a place that was just left school and just a lot of things happened and I was able to shift my life because of the work that we do. If I'm not connected to this work, I feel like I would be cut off from a lifeline. It's very much a part of what propels me, and propels my child and the other children in my life because I think they see that too. And it's something they lift up and they practice, and it's something you want them to see and want them to be around.
Fortunately, we're in work that is anchored in core values, and so, like Abdullah was saying, if I don't feel anchored in the work I'm doing, which I did right away with community health workers and racial equity, then I don't want to do it. So in many senses, I think part of that question to me is, is your personal life balance, is that aligned with the work that you do? Is that aligned with your moral values and your core values, and when it is it becomes a different kind of answer I think.
Deb Zahn: That's right, then work is not separated from life. It's all part of the magic. I love that.
Well, I want to thank both of you for coming on the show so much. We got into a lot, and we could probably have taken any one of the statements that you've made and spent a whole bunch of time unpacking it. But I think this is going to be really helpful for folks listening, particularly as more and more people are paying attention to racial equity and they're going to be asked to do work and to be thoughtful, and what that response is and what their activation is. So thank you so much for being on today.
Abdul Hafeedh bin Abdullah: Thank you, Deb. Wre appreciate the opportunity to share. We appreciate the platform.
Rumana Rabbani: Deb, thank you so much. There's not many people like you that lift up this work, so we want to thank you so much for championing the work of racial equity, CBOs and CHWs. Thank you for the opportunity
Deb Zahn: Thanks so much for listening to this episode of the Craft of Consulting Podcast. I want to ask you to do actually three things. If you enjoyed this episode or if you've enjoyed any of my other ones, hit subscribe. I got a lot of other great guests that are coming up and a lot of other great content and I don't want you to miss anything. But the other two things that I'm going to ask you to do is, one is, if you have any comments, so if you have any suggestions or any kind of feedback that will help make this podcast more helpful to more listeners, please include those.
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