UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Agencies of change : how Canadian charities are centring equity and justice in organizational culture Van Halem, Emily


Canada’s charitable sector exists to address a wide range of pressing societal challenges and systemic inequities. Amidst growing calls for racial justice, many such organizations are exploring how they can do their part to ensure their work is aligned with their vision for a more equitable society. Yet, systems of inequity and oppression permeate these organizations too—from how they run their programs, to how they hire, to how decisions are made. Thus, in their efforts to intervene in these larger systems, they must also intervene internally, at the level of organizational culture. This study sought to understand the factors that enable Canadian charities to centre anti-racist and anti-oppressive values in their organizational cultures and the role that learning plays in this process. By bringing the fields of critical pedagogy and transformative learning together with theories of organizational culture change, this research posits a conceptual framework of critical transformative organizational learning that could support charities in their efforts to align their visions for equity and justice with their internal cultures. Two small Canadian charities were chosen as case studies because their efforts towards anti-oppressive culture seemed exemplary. Research methods included a survey, document analysis, and interviews with staff and leaders. The study’s findings identified four key factors that enabled culture change in the two cases. Some were more active, like each organization’s pre-existing culture and changes in staff/leadership. Others, like the influence of the evolving cultural zeitgeist or specific triggering events, were beyond these organizations’ control. The study then revealed how learning at the individual and organizational levels proved central to anti-oppressive organizational culture change efforts. Individually, this included formative learning experiences outside of work that participants then applied to their professional practice. Organizational learning involved collectively strategizing around desired changes; reflecting critically on organizational activities and processes; intervening at the structural level to make knowledge more accessible; and relying on collegial relationships to support staff in the more vulnerable and personal sides of this learning journey. This study concludes by recommending how charities might apply critical transformative organizational learning to their own anti-oppressive organizational culture change efforts.

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