From April the 1st this year I will start a new role at The National Lottery Community Fund as the Senior Head of UK Portfolio.
“The UK Portfolio tests and grows great ideas that enable people and communities across the UK to thrive.”
What this means in practice, is that I will be running the UK Portfolio which looks after four funding programmes with an annual budget of £60 Million —
Growing Great Ideas — through this funding programme we support the growth or adaptation of great ideas across the UK.
Exploring New Approaches — through this funding programme we develop and test ways of building a stronger civil society. Two significant programmes here are the Climate Action Fund and the Digital Fund. It also includes empowering communities through participatory grant making and supporting the voice and influence of leaders with lived experience; and ensuring that data and evidence enable action that ultimately benefits people and communities.
Bringing People Together — through supporting communities to be part of and celebrate events of UK-wide significance, and growing ideas that strengthen relationships in communities.
An International funding programme —currently focussed on an East Africa Disability Fund that supports the livelihoods of disabled people in Uganda and Tanzania.
Why I wanted the role
There are many reasons why I wanted to take on this role.
Rooted in collectivism and strengthening civil society
The National Lottery Community Fund’s purpose — to support people and communities to thrive — feels more important than ever in the face of a climate emergency, greater polarisation, higher levels of poverty and inequality, and with the dynamics of technology playing out in all kinds of ways we barely understand. To be able to work in an organisation who has the remit, resource and scale to weave communities (and 4 countries) together, resource and strengthen them, and to ask what we can do together that we can’t possibly do alone, is an amazing opportunity at a critical time.
In their Exploring New Approaches work the UK Portfolio has done a lot of partnership funding too — something I’m especially keen to develop — designing ways to more effectively fund partnerships and ecosystems will also be more vital in the current climate.
Breadth of the role
Whilst the Digital Fund has been a brilliant way into the foundation world for me, and I still believe using the lens of digital is one of the most effective ways to trigger change, my current role hasn’t fully drawn on my breadth of experience and interests. I’m hoping my experience in strategic, systemic and participatory design can be useful across all the UK Portfolio programmes — whether that’s in using foresight to anticipate emerging trends, using strategic design to scope out and test new approaches to grantmaking before operationalising them, through to bringing good user-centred design practice to how we work with all the 4 country offices.
I also hope I can continue to model how a multi-disciplinary background can bring real value to a large organisation — where a messy path of experience, able to draw on a plurality of approaches, can be just as useful (if not more so) than a linear career path. I’ve always been hard to define or put in a box, and I hope that I’m demonstrating how large organisations can work with people like me — many people used to tell me I was unemployable.
A review and new strategy
I’m taking on the leadership of the team at a time when the UK Portfolio is due to be reviewed. This means the initial focus of my role will be to work with the team on reviewing the work done since the last strategy in 2015, and then designing a new strategy going forward. Working with the wider organisation, and especially each of the 4 countries, to shape what we do next is another attraction of this role.
The team itself
The UK Portfolio team is excellent — because each of them are doing great work themselves, all over the UK, and also because they’ve had brilliant leadership from Derek Bardowell and John Knights, with Yvonne Campbell and Hannah Paterson playing vital roles too. I’ve been part of the team for the last 14 months because the Digital Fund team sits within it, so I have seen them in action, both in their commitment to the work, and in their care for each other. It’s impressive and I feel very lucky to work with them all in a different role.
I’m also looking forward to working more with other parts of the organisation.
A different kind of leadership
I’ve never lead a team of 40 before, so I’m looking forward to the challenge and the learning that will come with that. I’ve loved experimenting with how to be a better leader in my work with the Digital Fund team, and have tried to model the things I really believe good leadership entails — authenticity, allyship, developing and championing people’s strengths, providing clarity and a strategic vision, valuing everyone’s voice and contribution, being a buffer and having people’s backs, removing arbitrary hierarchy, and paying care and attention to people. I’m wondering how I can do this with 40 people now, and what else will become important to model.
Philanthropy and grantmaking for the 21st Century
A few years ago I set out with a new ambition to work in the field of foundations and philanthropy. I’ve been an entrepreneur, an artist, I’ve worked in central government, worked with local government, I’ve worked in a policy thinktank, in a large corporation, I’ve set up a networked organisation and I’ve designed and delivered programmes and worked alongside 100’s of charities, social enterprises and community groups. I‘d always felt like my range of experience working with different levers for change was missing one thing — the experience of working in funding and philanthropy. I’ve loved my foray into this world, and have been pretty vocal about it, as well as with what I see as opportunities for better practice. This new role takes me further into the world of foundations and philanthropy and I hope to continue influencing the field and to be a champion of other good practice.
What happens next
I’ll still be working with the Digital Fund team until the end of March, getting the next round of the Digital Fund signed off by committee, and will still have the Digital Fund team in my wider team from April.
It’s great that the Digital Fund team have already taken over writing Weeknotes. From April 1st I’ll start writing them from my new role, with a new perspective.