Understanding Equity and Our Role As a Learning Organization


In recent months, the conversation around equality and equity has become more and more prevalent. While both are important aspects of a fair and just society, understanding the differences between the two and how they work together to create a better world is one of the most fundamental pieces of the puzzle.

It’s a puzzle piece that Mile High United Way has been working toward building and understanding fully within our community for over 133 years. Equality refers to treating everyone the same. While this is often viewed as an important first step toward communities where everyone thrives, we have learned that it only scratches the surface of what work toward equity is all about. Where equality treats everyone the same, equity instead aims to give everyone the tools they need to be successful while also removing barriers to that success that unequally impact individual groups of minorities.

Working toward equitable communities requires nuanced work, an ability to grow and learn, and a dedication to listening, responding, adjusting, and listening again. At Mile High United Way, we are evolving to do that in new and innovative ways.

As a Learning Organization, Mile High United Way Is Dedicated to Creating and Facilitating Systemic Change

Our programs and our mission are set up to work in tandem, addressing immediate needs while simultaneously working to create a better foundation for the future. And while it’s so important to honor the legacy of where we’ve been, we have learned that creating an equitable community for all means looking toward the future with bold action in mind.

“Historically, we have focused on socioeconomic barriers, which are an important part of equity work, but we’re learning that there is a greater need to focus on structural barriers as well,” Roweena Naidoo, Vice President, Policy and Community Initiatives, said. “The fact that we have a policy committee and these issues are being discussed and strategized at our board meetings is incredible. The committee is engaged in our work and interested in guiding our work. That’s a great step forward.”

Creating equitable communities requires systemic, long-term work. Roweena helps Mile High United Way focus on that work in her role by supporting and facilitating advocacy. We are constantly looking at where we can support legislation that aligns with our mission and helps move the community forward. Though we have focused on removing socioeconomic barriers to provide greater access and opportunity for those living in our most under-resourced neighborhoods, we know there is still so much work to be done. That is part of the equity work equation, too. Acknowledging that there is more to be done.

“Obviously, the goal is to create a community where an organization like Mile High United Way is no longer needed,” Francisca Angulo-Olaiz, PhD, Vice President of Community Engagement, said. “But we’ve got a long way to go to get there. We have the resources to shift our programs, our strategies, to get us closer.”

“The policy committee and board members want us to be more courageous in this work,” Roweena said, “Removing barriers has always been our lens, but homing in on which barriers, and how to holistically approach that work is where we’re focusing now.”

Creating equity requires each of us to do the work – internally, externally, and within our community as a whole. What that work looks like changes based on shifting needs, as a result of active listening to what marginalized communities are saying.

“This last year we put equity into action by creating several community councils that bring together residents to provide direct feedback regarding each of our programs, incubate new ideas to tackle persistent issues in the community, and identify the resources they need to strengthen their community,” Francisca said. “Community-led conversations are important because they act as our true north. But having these conversations isn’t always easy. Engaging in direct dialogue with those you are serving requires you to listen, to question personal assumptions, and be vulnerable in recognizing that your values are not the norm. These actions are prerequisites in building trust and partnerships within a community.”

We are grateful to serve this community, and we look forward to continuing to do so, actively engaged with you, in new and innovative ways as we learn and act together. We are a #CommunityUnited.

Get Involved

Learn how you can get involved in uniting with us to create more equitable communities for all by advocating, volunteering, or investing in Mile High United Way. To learn more about Mile High United Way’s community-focused programming, explore our programs page.

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