Cultural compentency wombats: My keynote speech at the NDOA conference on June 7th


wombatHi everyone. Sorry I’ve been absent for two weeks. I am going to try to consistently publish each Monday morning from now on, rain or shine. With such a schedule, the quality of the posts may be lacking, but at least they’ll be consistent. Like someone once said: “Consistent adequacy always trumps inconsistent excellence,” a motto that I want to pass down to my son in one of those idyllic father-son moments. With the setting sun painting the skies crimson and amber in front of us as we sit on our porch, the last remnants of summer fading to the mournful song of the cicadas, I’d turn to him and say, “Son, excellence is hard to achieve, and consistent excellence next to impossible. Aim for reliable mediocrity…”

With so many profound life lessons to share, I am glad the Northwest Development Officers Association (NDOA) invited me to be their keynote speaker on June 7th at their Spring conference. This decision to invite me just proves that NDOA is run by highly-intelligent, innovative, and good-looking people. Public speaking is scary, though, and I want to be very honest and say that I am freaking out more than a little and have thought once or twice about running off into the wilderness, far far away from civilization…like maybe Federal Way, Washington.

Still, it is a great honor, and a great chance to avoid my staff for several hours, so I will work hard to ensure that I don’t suck at my speech in front of three or four hundred development professionals.

So, what am I going to talk about? Cultural competency, community engagement, and wombats. I have been writing about these topics for several years now, including a post called “Are You a Cultural Competency Wombat? Take this Quiz to Find Out.” Of course, this was a while ago, so only 7 or 8 people actually read that post (and only because I threatened to cut their health insurance), so I am going to just repost an excerpt here:

Are You a Cultural Competency Wombat? Take this Quiz to Find Out.”

The term “cultural competency” has been thrown around a lot. For instance: “We must be more culturally competent in our outreach efforts in order to synergistically shift the paradigm for collective impact.” And also: “Stop being so culturally incompetent! In many cultures, staff are expected to make the Executive Director a mango lemonade while he naps!”

We all agree that Cultural Competency is a good thing, but do any of us really understand what it is? I mean, sure, there are tons of research papers and books and stuff on the subject, but who actually reads them when we all have so much work to do and Season 3 of Downton Abbey just started? [Note, this post was written in February, when references to Downton Abbey were still relevant and very cool].

Cultural Competency is complex, and we can delve deep into it for hours. But for this post, I just want to spend a few minutes discussing cultural competency and how it manifests in the basic logistics of community engagement. Let’s begin by checking to see how culturally competent you currently are.

Question 1: You are leading a committee to talk about community safety and you want to ensure participation from residents of color. Where should you have the meeting? A. At my office downtown; it’ll make it easy for everyone, since downtown is a central location. B. At the local bar, since it’s an informal place where people can be free to express their opinions. C. Maybe a library, or a community center, some place with easy parking.

Question 2: You are thinking of having food at this meeting. What should you order? A. Prosciutto finger sandwiches, baked brie and dried pears, crudités and olives, accompanied by a nice pinot noir. B. Grilled pork banh mi’s (Vietnamese sandwiches), spring rolls C. Pita and hummus, chicken skewers, fruit.

Question 3: You want communities of color to be well-represented at this meeting. How should you go about outreaching? A. Send out flyers, emails, and Facebook messages. B. Call up the various ethnic organizations and ask them send out word to their community members. C. Have information translated and placed in ethnic media such as newspapers and radios, send staff to physically visit various places with translated materials.

Scoring: Give yourself 0 points for every A answer, 17 points for every B, and 900 points for every C. If you got 0 to 900 points, you are a cultural competency goblin. If you have 901 to 1816 points, you are a cultural competency wombat. If you have 1817 to 2700 points, you are a cultural competency platypus.

***End of excerpt. Read the rest of the post here.***

Most of us are wombats. Wombats are cuddly and cute in their clumsiness. But in order for us to be effective, to bring about change, to successfully fight for social justice, we must strive to be a cultural competency platypus. I will be talking about experiences I’ve had and observations I’ve made about wombat-like behaviors that I’ve seen, both at the micro and the macro level (we’ll also discuss the mezzo level, which everyone ignores, because “mezzo” just sounds silly). We will brainstorm tips to be more cultural competent, within our own individual work, in partnerships with other organizations, and in systems that have been impacting our field and our clients. We will touch on community engagement, a crucial element of nonprofit work, one that many of us screw up on all the time, and how we can avoid sucking at that (Hint: stop asking ethnic nonprofits to recruit their clients for focus groups without sufficient funding).

We’ll discuss all those issues and others, and if we have time, I want to run by the group my idea for a Broadway show about nonprofit work: “501c3: The Musical!”

I hope to see you at the conference.

  • Heidi

    Good luck!

    • Vu

      Thanks, Heidi! I’ll be freaking out more and more as it approaches.

  • Shira

    We invited you because we know you rock! And, I wanted to see you faint in public at least once! Or maybe just sweat so much your shirt gets soaked.

    • Vu

      Thanks, Shira. I might just do both those things.

  • I have a feeling you’ll do wonderfully. Good luck!

    • Vu

      Thanks, Mary! I hope so. But if I suck, at least I’ll have something to write about.

  • Jenny Poast

    Just a quick note that we are very excited to see you on Friday!

    • Vu

      Aw, thanks, Jenny. I’m only freaking out a little. And by a little, I mean a lot.