I’m late this week with Weeknotes, because I actually took yesterday off. And I’m taking a whole week off in a few weeks time. I can’t wait.
And this is a really important event to watch about racial justice in philanthropy, featuring the brilliant Derek Bardowell who is needing to repeat so many things at the moment, that he’s been saying for many years. I can’t imagine how painful and exhausting that must be.
What I’ve been doing
- I’m still involved in one of our immediate response funding programmes that we are calling ‘Key Nationals’. This means trying to get papers written or edited, and through to the two panels each week. This week I also took part in one of these decision-making panels which meant reading about 76 assessment papers in advance. The figures below show the scale of our operation and the demand since April 1st 2020. The fact we have attracted almost 10,000 unique users is mind blowing. Everyone is working really hard to get money out the door as wisely and effectively as possible.
- This week I had 14.5 hrs of internal meetings — that’s like two full days in meetings which I think is too many.
- This week I presented at the SMT meeting about the work we’re doing in terms of civil society, sector support and the future. There is so much going on — from multiple interviews being done externally as our Pockets of the Future series, the Scanning and Sensing Network reflections, and other events that I’m either attending, speaking at or convening myself. I worry about how little time I have at the moment to be making better sense of it all. One thing I used in the SMT presentation was a quote from Graham’s latest booklet Beyond Survival.
“Rethinking imaginatively or just building back the past lie in the balance. Innovation based on desperation and innovation based on inspiration compete for attention and resource.”
- I had a longer and deeper introduction to the work that our Welsh team are doing from John.
- We had a really excellent session with Bryan Boyer for my team, talking about ‘Strategic Design’ and with Bryan sharing examples of his work with the Finnish Government as well as with US Foundations.
- I caught up with David and Priya from the World Economic Forum and the 4th Industrial Revolution work they are leading, specifically around civil society, social justice and technology. We are exploring ways to collaborate and I’m likely to get involved with Area 1 and Area 3 — I’m especially keen to align the work we are doing with the second round of the Digital Fund on ‘infrastructure’ with their focus of “towards the infrastructure we need.”
- I joined several sessions with the Climate Action Fund team this week — one a call with some other colleagues who’d been involved in its initial development to check in on the programme design — what is fixed and what can be evolved. When you’ve set out a 10 year commitment in a world that is constantly changing and becoming more turbulent, it seems important that the Fund can also adapt as necessary, so it stays relevant and impactful.
- My colleague Hannah and I ran one of our Scanning and Sensing Network session with some people from our staff networks. We have a BAME Network, a LGBTQI+ Network (that I’m part of) and a Disability Network — we had people present from all three, who brought really important perspectives to the scanning work.
- I had a call with Sarah at Omidyar, Caroline (who Sarah has commissioned) and Rachel (who TNLCF has commissioned) to see where there is overlap between the two pieces of work — Glimmers and DelightUI. We’re hoping to do a joint event, so more news on that soon. I do think these pieces of work are building a new narrative about tech, communities and the opportunities we have to shape technology together.
- This week was also the kick off for a new piece of work that The National Lottery Community Fund is resourcing alongside Lloyds Bank Foundation. A network of organisations— Shift, IVAR, NPC and NCVO (what a lot of acronyms!) — are scoping out and developing what it means to support ‘organisational development’ for civil society groups and organisations. It’s being led by Emily which is great for us as she’s a skilled Org Designer and I loved some of the ‘tension questions’ that she used in this first workshop to draw out different positions, assumptions, beliefs etc amongst all of us involved.
- I had a couple of things in the diary this week for the Funders’ Collaborative Hub — presenting to the Strategy Group on Tuesday and then having a ‘delivery team’ meeting on Friday.
- Later in the week I was asked to join the Board meeting. First to give an update on the UK Portfolio and our plans for the rest of the year, and then to run a workshop with Faiza and Julia with the Board to prompt discussion with them — to hear about their ideas and questions about the future. I shared with the Board that the UK Portfolio had the following Funds coming up in the rest of this financial year — signed off by the UK Committee earlier in June. And that we also have two other Funding programmes in development (Growing Great Ideas and Bringing People Together) that we’ll be taking to UK Committee in September for sign-off.
Climate Action Fund — A civil society where people and communities are empowered to take the lead in tackling the climate emergency.
The Digital Fund (round two)— A civil society that is equipped with the digital infrastructure and capability it needs to be responsive, adaptive and in the public interest. A new kind of organisational resilience.
Evidence and Insights Fund — A civil society that uses data and evidence effectively, demonstrating its value and able to work more wisely together.
Leaders with Lived Experience Fund — A civil society where organisations are led by the people who represent the communities that they serve or exist in.
Emerging Futures Fund — A civil society that is equipped and able to anticipate, imagine and shape the future.
Exploring New Approaches — developing better practices in grantmaking across the fund, e.g. Participatory Grantmaking, funding ecosystems and collectives, exploring what kinds of care we can wrap around grants e.g. healing justice.
What’s been important this week
It’s been a pretty epic week. We closed the Emerging Futures Fund on Thursday with 1156 applications to get through. It’s what I’ll be spending a lot of my time on these next few weeks — reading them, synthesising the ideas in them, making some tough decisions with colleagues, and hoping that whatever we aren’t able to fund we can still shine a light on. We have so much rich data on what communities across the UK are asking for and can share that with other Funders etc. I know some people had a difficult time with the application forms (PDF’s — the shame) which is not great — and something that we had to make a choice on. It was the only way we could get the Fund up and running in a timely way, and we chose that over a better user experience. We’ve had some lovely comments about it too.
“I think it is great grant-making — funding time for people to reflect and think rather than deliver or fire-fight. Extremely unusual, unfortunately.”
“Thank you for making such an innovative funding stream available! It feels great to be thinking about the future and not only the immediate impact of the pandemic on our services and the people we support.”
What I’ve learned this week
Oh god, so much, but no time to properly reflect on it, let alone write about it in any meaningful way. Maybe I’ll just leave the questions I am left with this week, which I will pick up in some longer blog posts soon.
- I hear a lot of funders say “we need to reach those that we don’t normally reach” … “we need to fund those on the margins” and straightaway I know most funders mean impacted communities, people less visible etc. This is really important of course, but I also think lots of funders don’t attract or meet the needs of some of the people, networks and organisations who are doing the most innovative work. Radical change-makers can also be on the margins. When we think about who we are not reaching, why don’t funders also consider that? Which leads me to my next question.
- Why do so many people still believe in and reinforce the idea that there needs to be a dichotomy between thinking and doing? As if people are either working on the ground, doing, or are in some kind of metaphorical airborne tower, thinking? The wisest and most effective change-makers I know (the ones who are really trying to do transformative work) are those that are thinking and doing. Their thinking comes from their doing.
- What does it mean to be a ‘leader’ in philanthropy and funding at this time?
- What does it mean to work in a ‘sector’ where saying ‘I’m Queer’ seems to bring me way more credibility than saying “I have years of digital and design expertise” or “from my years of working in Social Innovation I know lots about X or Y” ? I’m constantly amazed by how much lived experience seems to trump all else and I worry about that.