The END Fund Lexicon Project™

Using Language to Support Equity in the Global Public Health Sector

As one of the leading global nonprofits in the fight against Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs), the END Fund wanted to ensure that their communications convey cultural awareness and emphasize equity to their geographically distributed workforce and stakeholder audiences. In the words of the organization’s VP of Public Affairs:

As a global organization supporting programs in 32 countries, we spend considerable time strategizing how to effectively communicate with our stakeholders. Like other US-based organizations, we too have pondered the Global North versus Global South question, as it relates to deepening our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion within our organization. There have been too many occasions, both within the organization and amongst our external partners, where a gap existed between our best intentions in our communications efforts and how the language and terms we used impacted our stakeholders in reality. That simply was not acceptable to us. We knew that we needed to take a more holistic look at the language we use and to reimagine how we frame our work within the global NTD community and beyond.

To address these challenges, the END Fund retained The Wakeman Agency to implement the Lexicon Project™, a service offering designed to provide the framework and guidance for an organization to systematically align its communications with its mission and vision, therefore more effectively advancing equitable and just engagements within their work.

Leveraging an organization-wide approach, the Lexicon Project™ consists of a language and narrative audit to pinpoint areas in need of greater cultural competency and highlight opportunities to emphasize equity through language. The outcome is a framework for deepening cultural fluency within the organization and facilitating important conversations around themes that emerge within teams located across cultures. This gives leaders and staff greater confidence in internal and external communications, knowing they are more likely to resonate with the diverse set of actors within their various audiences and more likely to support their overall vision. Through collaboration with The Wakeman Agency, clients embrace language as an important tool for both organizational and systems-wide change that complements other efforts aiming to increase justice and tackle inequities within an industry.

Language is fluid and we are always negotiating its use in our social environments to convey the desired meaning in our current moment. Understanding stakeholder perceptions about language is the foundation for tailoring narratives to achieve your organization’s aspirations within that shifting environment. Still, many organizations are confused about how to accomplish communications that are simultaneously culturally competent and meaningful for a broad audience, particularly on technical topics related to health. The Lexicon Project™ cuts through this murkiness by providing a clear and structured process to guide further language adjustments within the organization.

Our efforts with the END Fund included the following:  

  • We established a comprehensive understanding of how the organization had been using language to speak about people, places and themes as they intertwine with power inequities. Our strategic framework and methodology prioritize human-centered storytelling focused on those most proximate to the problems being addressed. In our assessment, we want to ensure that the legacies of colonialism, White saviorism, racism and other historic and contemporary injustices wrapped up in the history of philanthropy are not perpetuated through organizational communications. This is important for many nonprofits, foundations and other entities working in philanthropy because of the strong historical ties (and contemporary reverberations) between institutions, economies and structures of colonial powers.
  • We conducted qualitative analysis of communications with key internal and external stakeholders. The data collected allowed our team to understand the organization’s most pressing issues related to equity, the balance of power within the organization, and the commitment to operationalizing competent communications practices among a globally dispersed staff. Specifically, through this process, we helped identify the different communication experiences and perspectives held by staff across multiple non-US geographies.
  • We also surveyed the organization’s internal and external landscape to understand its positioning and messaging among peer organizations. This exercise laid a foundation for the END Fund to fully appreciate its influence in the sector and how to best leverage their thought leadership through a DEI lens.

Through a rigorous audit and data collection process, we developed an organizational lexicon to support global communications. Features of The END Fund Lexicon include a variety of resources, for example:

  • Recommendations based on thematic findings from the audit
  • Positioning guidance
  • Messaging architecture and customized messaging for key audiences
  • Protocols for maintaining aligned messaging over time
  • A glossary of specific words and phrases recommended for removal or for adoption
  • Additional resource lists tailored to the client’s geographic language environments


Executive leadership at the END Fund shared the following:


“The impact of the Lexicon Project reverberates throughout the organization at several levels. Our approach to language is now more intentional and executed with greater confidence, as it more strongly aligns with our values. I urge any organization sincerely committed to the principles of DEI, that is feeling roadblocked, unsure, or inexperienced with how to leverage language within their organization, to pursue their own Lexicon Project.”

Schedule a confidential consultation to learn how our strategic communications offerings can elevate your organization’s impact.