Managing Intra-Alliance Collaboration Succesfully: The Diversity and Inclusion Hub

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By Melih Özkardes, Ombudsman for Diversity and Gender Equality, RWTH Aachen

Once I was asked about what makes our Alliance ENHANCE unique, a question often driven by the competitiveness that permeates European universities. In response, I posed a counter-question: Why are we seeking uniqueness to gain a competitive advantage, when we should be prioritising collaboration? It is this philosophy of collaboration that underpins the success of our intra-university initiative: the Diversity and Inclusion Hub. We need to focus on collaborative aspects to achieve success and impact because, in the field of Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity (IDE), the type of alliance we are doesn’t matter. The challenges we face in this domain are shared by all European alliances.

I am Melih Özkardes, the Work Package Lead and Ombudsman for Diversity and Gender Equality in the ENHANCE Alliance, and I am happy to share how we’ve managed to foster a thriving spirit of sharing and learning within our Diversity and Inclusion Hub.

The Diversity and Inclusion Hub is a bottom-up initiated and still growing inter-alliance network comprising 20 diverse university alliances, which includes ENHANCE as the coordinator. Together, we aim to achieve several significant objectives:

  1. Learning from each other: The hub provides a unique opportunity for all participating alliances to gain insights into how diversity, inclusion, and gender issues are addressed within different alliances. We break down geographical and cultural barriers to share knowledge. The regular hub meetings (taking place online every two months) are the main stage for this learning. We design these meetings very interactive using non-formal learning methods, supported by design thinking tools. All methods are appropriately adapted to the digital environment to facilitate a lively discussion among the participants. Besides these meetings, we also encourage bilateral meetings between the hub members. As the hub initiator, I am regularly in contact with other alliances having a dialogue about our needs and expectations for the continuation of this inter-alliance exchange. We set the agenda for our meetings very participatory.
  2. Knowledge sharing: As the hub members, we actively share our insights, strategies, and best practices concerning diversity, inclusion, gender, and equality. This collective learning approach supports continuous improvement and increases the possible impact. In our regular meetings, every time a different alliance presents their approach in IDE and answers questions of other alliances. We also invite external speakers who share their knowledge. On a regular basis, we share (online) events that are hosted within our network.
  3. Inspiration and problem-solving: Through open discussions, the hub has the high potential for innovative solutions to common challenges. We work collaboratively to tackle these issues, fostering mutual growth. We have identified a high interest to intensify this aspect.
  4. Exploring synergies: This is personally my most exciting and favourite part of managing a hub: looking for the invisible connection (my definition of “synergies”). It is all about looking beyond the horizons and connecting the unconnected. The Diversity and Inclusion Hub actively encourages alliances to unite on joint actions and projects. As an example, we are currently looking for synergies with innovation stakeholders as we recognise a potential to create inclusive innovations. This collective approach further strengthens the bonds between the participating alliances.

Our journey began in March 2022, and since then, we have conducted eight productive meetings until October 2023. To ensure ongoing communication and knowledge sharing, we have adopted effective tools like Padlet for documenting results and Slack for real-time discussions between regular meetings. It is also very important to prepare and moderate the meetings with appropriate interactive tools (e.g. mentimeter, jamboards, small group discussions, surveys, and of course a little bit music etc.). A comprehensive follow-up mail after each meeting is also a crucial part of the clear communication approach. 

One of the most distinguishing features of our Diversity and Inclusion Hub is its open-door culture, embracing inclusivity and constructive discussions. We believe in the power of participation, and ideas and challenges are addressed collectively, increasing a sense of ownership among all members. This participatory approach encourages open dialogues about common diversity and inclusion challenges. Our hub has also been enriched by presentations from various alliance members, sharing their approaches to diversity and inclusion within their institutions. As the ENHANCE Alliance, we were the first alliance showcasing our approach which revolves around impact orientation, bottom-up involvement, and peer-to-peer engagement, all aimed at empowering underrepresented and disadvantaged groups across our alliance.

But why did we build an inter-alliance network? The underlying motivation behind our collaboration is a shift from competition to cooperation. While the competitive landscape of European universities remains intense, we recognise that our true strength lies in unity and collaboration. The challenges faced in diversity and inclusion are not unique to any one alliance; they affect us all. By focusing on shared objectives and collaborative problem-solving, we recognise that collective action is the key to our success. In conclusion, the Diversity, and Inclusion Hub within the ENHANCE Alliance is a good example of successful intra-university collaboration. We believe in the power of collaboration, open dialogue, and collective problem-solving. By prioritising collaboration over competition and acknowledging the universality of diversity and inclusion challenges, our initiative serves not only as a source of inspiration but as a blueprint for successful inter-alliance cooperation in the higher education landscape. And we have just begun with it.

These are the alliances which are involved:

  1. ENHANCE – as coordinating alliance who initiated this inter-alliance network.
  2. ERUA – re:ERUA
  3. EU³DRES²
  4. Una Europa
  5. ARQUS
  6. YUFE
  9. U!REKA
  10. Univ-Tech
  11. Athena
  12. FilmEU
  13. UNIC
  15. AURORA
  16. Re-Unita
  17. EELISA
  18. EC2U
  19. Circle-U
  20. The list is growing as we are open to all alliances.