A Deep Dive into the Pacific Institute’s DEI Commitment in Action

A Deep Dive into the Pacific Institute’s DEI Commitment in Action

A Q&A with Members of the Pacific Institute’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee. Guiding the conversation is Sumbul Mashhadi, Manager of Multimedia Content and Impact Communications at the Pacific Institute.

December 28, 2023

Key takeaways: 

  • Pacific Institute DEI statement formalizes its longstanding commitment to integrating social equity in water and climate research, reflecting its vision for a diverse and inclusive approach to global water challenges. 
  • Initiated in response to global events in 2020, the Institute’s journey towards DEI involved external assessments and the establishment of a DEI committee, focusing on embedding DEI in organizational culture and decision-making processes. 
  • Pacific Institute has operationalized DEI through a diverse DEI committee and a comprehensive work plan. Progress will be measured through continuous evaluation, data tracking, and adaptable strategies. 
  • The DEI statement sets the direction for future operations and research, emphasizing the role of stakeholder engagement and collaboration in continuously advancing DEI in a dynamic, global context. 

Following decades of water equity-focused work, the Pacific Institute recently developed a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Statement. The Statement underscores our commitment to fostering a workplace and research culture where diversity propels our innovation, equity shapes our research, and inclusion influences our path forward.  

Reflecting our strong history of incorporating social equity into our water and climate research, this DEI statement serves as a catalyst for continuous growth and advancement on our DEI journey.  

Read the statement here.  

This blog post shares key insights about our commitment, unpacks the implications of the statement, and explores how it will inform the Pacific Institute’s future operations and research.  

Sumbul Mashhadi: How does the DEI statement resonate with the Pacific Institute’s overall mission and values? Could you explain how diversity, equity, and inclusion integrate into the Institute’s mission of addressing the world’s most pressing water challenges? 

Dr. Sonali Abraham: The Pacific Institute has a long history of work around social equity in the water space (learn more). It is exciting and encouraging that the Institute is formalizing this commitment to DEI in both internal and external operations, reflecting a desire to consciously move this work forward. Pacific Institute’s vision for the future is ‘a world in which society, the economy, and the environment have the water they need to thrive now and in the future.’ This is only possible with active inclusion of and participation from all sections of society. Centering DEI in our work will further the realization of this vision.  

Sumbul Mashhadi: What inspired the Pacific Institute to formally commit to DEI at this point in time? Could you share some of the key milestones on this journey thus far? 

Cora Snyder (Green Design Team member): The global pandemic and race-related conflicts in the US in 2020 reinforced our desire to support diversity, equity, and inclusion at the Pacific Institute. research has long focused on equity in water and climate change, we recognized the need for a firm internal commitment to these values. 

Since 2020, we have been working to understand what DEI means to our organization. Initially, an external consultant, YK Hong, conducted an organizational assessment. Through educational sessions, staff assessments, and individual conversations, they identified anti-oppression issues and recommended solutions. 

In 2021, we began formalizing our DEI efforts, establishing an interim DEI Committee and hiring a second consultant, Novalia Collective. Together, we prioritized DEI actions, which included improving work culture, community building, and internal decision-making; and developing internal systems to ensure a lasting commitment to DEI.   

We continued in 2022 with Novalia Collective to define what DEI means at the Pacific Institute and develop a permanent DEI committee structure. The DEI statement we are launching today is the culmination of this journey. I am proud of our DEI statement as it reflects not only our commitment to DEI moving forward but also our persistence over the last few years to understanding what we really mean when we say, “the Pacific Institute is committed to DEI.” 

Sumbul Mashhadi: Could you delve deeper into how the Pacific Institute has operationalized its commitment to DEI? How does the implementation of a dedicated DEI committee contribute to this endeavor? 

Dr. Amanda Bielawski: As my colleague Cora Snyder has outlined, many years of introspection and internal work, combined with decades of advocacy on water-related equity and justice issues, have led us to this point of operationalizing the Pacific Institute’s commitment to DEI. We see this as a continuous journey, rather than a single destination point. 

Our DEI committee, comprised of up to nine staff members from various geographies, currently includes staff from three US states, the UK, and Brazil. It also includes engagement from teams across the organization, as well as senior leadership, with Heather Cooley and I currently actively involved in the committee’s work. The Pacific Institute has invested in this committee’s work tangibly by funding each committee member’s time to contribute. 

Currently, we are developing a three-year DEI work plan. This plan aims to integrate DEI into strategic planning, promote continuous learning through various programs, embed DEI in human resources practices, and foster staff belonging through cultural events and team building. These initiatives aim to create a more inclusive environment and encourage understanding across different positionalities. As we finalize this first DEI work plan for 2024, we anticipate introducing many new activities and approaches, continuously evolving our strategies to embed DEI deeply within our organization.  

Sumbul Mashhadi: The DEI statement mentions an emphasis on amplifying historically underrepresented voices. Could you provide specific examples of how the Institute plans to ensure representation of these communities in its operations and research? 

Vanessa Perdomo: The Pacific Institute is dedicated to ensuring the representation of underrepresented communities in its operations and research through a multifaceted approach. Firstly, the institute is committed to diverse hiring practices, actively seeking team members from various backgrounds, including historically marginalized communities. This commitment involves reaching out to diverse networks, crafting job descriptions to be more inclusive, and implementing blind hiring practices to minimize bias. 

Also, the Pacific Institute will place a strong emphasis on education and training, providing resources to its team members on subjects related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. By doing so, it aims to foster a culturally humble and aware workforce, promoting understanding and sensitivity. 

Moreover, the Pacific Institute’s commitment extends to regular assessment and improvement. The organization continually evaluates the impact of its diversity, equity, and inclusion, and belonging (DEI) initiatives and adapts strategies as necessary. This includes actively seeking feedback from team members and tracking progress toward diversity and inclusion objectives. 

In essence, the Pacific Institute recognizes that DEIB efforts must be an ongoing, evolving, and integral part of its operations. It is dedicated to weaving these principles into every facet of its work, ensuring that underrepresented communities are meaningfully represented and included in its research and activities. 

Sumbul Mashhadi: The statement recognizes that the DEI journey is an ongoing process. How will the Pacific Institute measure the progress of its DEI initiatives, and what mechanisms are in place for continuous improvement? 

Giuliana Chaves Moreira: Our commitment to DEI is indeed an ongoing journey, and we plan to put mechanisms in place to assess our progress and enhance our efforts continually. Here’s how we plan to measure and improve our DEI initiatives: 

  • We routinely evaluate our DEI efforts, incorporating feedback from team members through monthly meetings. This input is crucial for identifying improvement areas and shaping future strategies. 
  • We plan on utilizing data and metrics to track key diversity and inclusion indicators, such as representation in our workforce, employee engagement, and retention rates.  
  • We invest in ongoing education and training programs for our staff and plan to continue doing that. In the DEI wok plan for 2024, we plan to organize DEI-focused workshops to ensure that staff stay informed about DEI best practices.  
  • Recognizing that the DEI landscape is dynamic, we will maintain a flexible and adaptive strategy. to evolve as per the societal changes, and emerging trends to stay effective in our initiatives. 

Sumbul Mashhadi: Based in the United Kingdom and originally from Nepal, you are one of the Pacific Institute’s many international staff members. How, in your opinion, does the Institute plan to address the multiple facets of diversity, particularly in relation to global operations versus US-based operations? 

 Dr. Ashok K. Chapagain: The Pacific Institute is deeply committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) through a multidimensional and intersectional approach. This commitment shines through in our efforts to amplify historically underrepresented voices and ensure inclusivity in both international and US settings, underpinned by a clear recognition of intersectionality. To cultivate an inclusive culture, the Pacific Institute conducted DEI training, consulted DEI experts, and established a dedicated internal DEI committee, constantly adapting to the evolving DEI landscape.   This ensures a path towards a more equitable and sustainable future. 

In our international operations, the Pacific Institute demonstrates a robust commitment to DEI by actively embracing the diverse perspectives and experiences of their global staff. The Institute fosters our efforts within the US operations. 

Sumbul Mashhadi: Having recently joined the Pacific Institute as a Senior Researcher and swiftly becoming a part of the DEI Committee, what are your impressions of the Institute’s ongoing DEI efforts and its commitment to adapt as the DEI landscape evolves? 

Dr Bruk Berhanu: One of the major factors in my decision to join the Pacific Institute was the stated need for and commitment to advancing DEI in Pacific Institute’s organizational processes and work products. I could see this dedication even during the interview process, and it has only become more apparent during my first few months at the Pacific Institute.  I’m thrilled to work with a team that clearly cares about the goals of DEI and is actively working to identify and address issues in this space.   

So far, my experience has only confirmed my initial impressions. Challenging conversations are embraced, and different viewpoints are respected and integrated. I’m encouraged by everyone’s openness and willingness to continue learning while also contributing to our DEI goals.  

Sumbul Mashhadi: Could you speak to the Pacific Institute’s programmatic work around equity? How does this work tie into the broader DEI commitments of the Institute? 

Heather Cooley: The Pacific Institute has a long history of work related to the human right to water (HR2W) for the most marginalized people. Early work quantified the amount of water needed for basic needs (50 liters per person per day) and pointed to international law, declarations, and State practice that support the Human Right to Water. These and other efforts, including advocacy at the Hague and the Vatican, helped to raise the profile of this critical issue. Today, the Human Right to Water is formally recognized not only by the United Nations but also by the State of California and dozens of global businesses. More recently, the Pacific Institute has identified some of the equity-related challenges and solutions for addressing floods and droughts, water affordability, and access to clean drinking water and sanitation, to name a few.  

In 2022, the Pacific Institute formally launched its Water and Climate Equity (WCE) strategy to address community and decision maker needs by focusing research and outreach efforts on the nexus of water insecurity, climate change, and social inequity. The work aims to inform decision makers on the realities of the situation and highlight climate-resilient strategies to address the humanitarian water crisis in the context of current and future climate change. To ensure the strategy was guided by community voices and needs, dozens of interviews were conducted with leaders working with and for frontline communities on water and climate justice issues. Responding to communities’ expressed needs for such research, the Pacific Institute WCE strategy uses a co-designed approach with communities through their support networks that includes the collaborative co-development of research questions, project design, outcomes, and decision-support tools.    

In addition to launching the WCE strategy, the Pacific Institute will continue efforts to integrate equity across all our programmatic work. 

Sumbul Mashhadi: Finally, what does the future hold for the Pacific Institute with this DEI statement now guiding its operations and research? How can stakeholders, both internal and external, contribute to and support this ongoing journey? 

Shannon Spurlock: Pacific Institute’s self-identification as a learning organization, one that is on a journey to continually adapt to how to best integrate diversity, equity, and inclusion into its research and operations, is core to how these values are integrated and carried out daily in the advancement of our mission.  

This guiding statement allows for the centering of diversity, equity, and inclusion across the four organizational priority areas, enabling a dynamic and responsive expression of these values. It is with great excitement that I look forward to seeing this statement actualized through the lenses of water efficiency and reuse, nature-based solutions, water equity, and corporate water stewardship. As we strive to achieve our 2030 goal of catalyzing the transformation to water resilience in the face of climate change, we recognize that the future is uncertain and how we reach this goal will evolve over time. This statement allows for a contextually sensitive approach that is reflective of the challenges and opportunities at hand.  

Even as PI meaningfully and iteratively continues to integrate diversity, equity, and inclusion in our operations and research, it is important that our partners and stakeholders are engaged in this effort. We each have a role in advancing this necessary and worthy endeavor and we can be most effective when we can amplify our collective voice, expanding our reach and impact. 

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