The Mountain Association works to support a just and sustainable transition to a new economy in post-coal Appalachia. We know that a transition such as this cannot happen unless all people living in the region are considered and welcomed into the work of making it happen.
We are proud of our organization’s efforts over the last 45 years to support small businesses, build value chains and test new ideas. But in recent years, we’ve begun to question how the role of white supremacy, racism, sexism, ableism, and the marginalization of people and groups, have impacted our region and how they show up in our own work. As a result, we are on an intentional journey to recenter ourselves around our core values of diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA).
We are publishing updates on our progress each year in order to be transparent about our journey. It is our hope that this will be helpful for organizations and individuals who have similar goals.
Equity Journey Progress
We began implementing our equity plan in 2021 and we continue today.
- Developed significant programming after the July 2022 flooding to serve communities impacted by the disaster.
- Staff attended a four-hour trauma-informed approach training specifically designed for our organization’s work around financing. Staff also participated in an all-day strategic planning session that focused solely on equity.
- Continued to develop the purpose and structure for an Equity Advisory Council. We met with community members in February 2023 and in June 2023 to discuss the idea and gather input, officially selecting the council members in Fall 2023.
- Sponsored two events focused on equity: Juneteenth Jubilee in Somerset, and the Mountain Grrl Experience in Pikeville.
- Mountain Association formally joined as a member of the National Disability Institute, a group of Community Development Financial Institutions working to be more accessible to disabled business owners.
- Developed a process manual for our lending team that outlines how to engage clients with a trauma-informed approach.
- Modified our loan application process to make it more accessible, reduce barriers for clients and incorporate more inclusive language.
- Developed a plan for each Lending Team member to learn more about underserved communities in our region.
- Redesigned our energy team’s client assessment reports to make them more accessible and better describe the technical pieces of our energy savings recommendations.
- Added demographic questions to our energy savings assessment application to help us better understand who we are serving and to prioritize clients as appropriate.
- Revised rubric for approving applications from clients who do not have loans with us with additional points for businesses and organizations serving underserved communities.
- Launched the SPARK Nonprofit Collaborative to support very small, community-based nonprofits in the region so that they can more effectively achieve their mission. The program is founded around trauma-informed work principles.
- Launched the Business Readiness pilot program for business owners who need additional intensive technical assistance to develop a business plan, financial projections, etc.
- Assisted in redesign of Initiate to be more accessible and user friendly and include a Spanish language portal. Initiate is a platform of business tools and templates that Mountain Association subscribes to on behalf of its clients.
- Held a Headshots for Women event for 25 female identifying individuals to update their professional headshots.
- Onboarded Maria Mendoza of Evolve Business Services to provide Spanish-language client services in the areas of Digital Marketing; E-Commerce; Logo; Market Analysis; Search Engine Optimization; Social Media; Business Consulting; Facilitation; Financing; Strategic Planning; Workshops; Customer Service.
- Added a DEIA consultant section to our list of available consultants and continue to look for consultants to add to it.
- Put together accessibility communication guidelines and tips for staff to better communicate with all people.
- Added an additional accessibility toolbar to our website. Added 711 relay information to our contact pages on our website for people who are deaf or hearing impaired. Incorporating Alt Text into all blogs for visually impaired individuals who use assistive technology.
- Published our equity goal on our “about us” page in order to increase transparency.
- Published a series of blogs and videos focused on community members and organizations doing amazing work in the DEIA space, including stories on building more accessible and autism/sensory friendly communities in Floyd and surrounding counties, the work of the Lake Cumberland Diversity Collective, and the work of Unity Allies in Laurel County.
- Launched a sponsorship application in order to be more equitable about the way we issue sponsorships throughout our service area and to prompt event organizers to think about DEIA while they are planning their events.
- Held a Community Kick-Off, engaging community members to give feedback about the redevelopment of 479 Main in downtown Hazard.
- Continued to work on the What’s Next EKY Community Accelerator for small communities.
- Formation of an internal Equity Team which holds the organization accountable to the work.
- Formation of a Board Development Committee that works toward more diversity and inclusion on our Board of Directors.
- Creation of a new position, Outreach Specialist, whose role is helping the organization connect with and better serve systemically underserved people and communities in Eastern Kentucky.
- An additional 21 hours of DEIA training for all staff with an external DEIA trainer. Note: for more information, please see this timeline of training materials and topics we have covered since 2018.
- Inclusion of DEIA goals in all team work plans, for which there are regular checkpoints throughout the year.
- An analysis of equity in pay for our staff, including increased transparency about salaries, and the creation of a salary classification system in order to ensure consistency and equity across the organization.
- Defined for ourselves what “underserved” means in Eastern Kentucky.
Work prior to 2021:
As part of our strategic planning process in 2018, we began a staff-wide training series that helped us explore the historical context of privilege and erasure; the construction of whiteness and race; the history of diversity and systemic racism in the Appalachian coal economy; intersectionality; gender and sexuality; class and capitalism; and ableism. In 2019, we worked with a Berea College communications class who conducted an audit of our communications, including our website, blog and social media accounts, as well as our outreach materials. This work resulted in the implementation of changes to address some major DEIA issues identified. For example, we were writing at an average of a 14th grade reading level, while an 8th-grade reading level is what is called for to reach 80 percent of the general population. In an overhaul of our communications in 2020, which included our name change from MACED to Mountain Association, we reduced the amount of words per sentence, stayed conscious of the number of syllables within words, and used plain language over jargon as much as possible. At the same time in 2020, we had an organizational equity audit from an outside consultant, resulting in the development of an equity plan to address further issues identified in the audit.