Short one this week as I was on a 3 day week.
A few things to read first —
If you’re interested in the intersection of technology, society, power and ethics, then catch up on the AI Now Institute’s Summit content.
There’s another blog post up with learning from the Digital Fund.
And after my meeting with Eirini at the start of this week, I wrote a post about funding Enabling Environments which has picked up a lot of interest — and has helped validate it as something we will pursue with the next round of the Digital Fund.
What we’ve been doing
I’ve had all kinds of meetings this week.
Internally with my colleague Gemma who’s back from maternity leave and leading on organisational resilience for the sector, John, who’s the overall lead for the evolution of our sector support strategy (that both Gemma and I are feeding into), and my boss Joe Ferns, who shared some great wisdom about how to balance taking risks with providing reassurance.
We also had the first of a new regular meeting between those of us leading programmes within the UK Portfolio — the Digital Fund, Bringing People Together and the Climate Action Fund. I’m really glad to see this happening because of course there are many links to be made between all three areas of work. If we’re working more systemically as funders we need to work harder at showing we understand (and value) the connections between these different strands and themes.
Externally I finally got to meet Zoe Amar, caught up with Outlandish (and hope to work with them to promote coops as an alternative model for social impact organisations), spoke with Jake and Ivor about taking a role in the hospice collective impact work, and had a meeting with Andy Haldane about all things public interest tech, social infrastructure and strengthening civil society. I love that someone in his position made such a rallying call earlier this year about the need to invest much more in civil society.
“The reason we have the triple threats of disconnection of people from society, mistrust of institutions, and the rising tide of populism is because we have structurally underinvested in civil society,” citing former Indian central banker Raghuram Rajan’s book The Third Pillar — “We have let the local community pillar break down and wither.”
What we’ve been learning
A few reflections from this week —
Social Finance came in to the Fund this week, to do a big show and tell of their Impact Incubator work, which was funded through the UK Portfolio. It’s really impressive and I appreciated how honest they were about the (different and changing) role funders need to play for that kind of systemic approach. What really stood out to me though was the level of engagement they had from colleagues across the fund — about 40 people in all our different offices, turning up to listen for 2 hours. This is unheard of!
I wonder how our culture can encourage colleagues to recognise and respect the expertise and experience within the fund too — across different teams. I’m interested in how we rebalance this idea that the people and organisations we fund have more knowledge or experience than we do.
I spent a few hours with all the other funders involved in the Catalyst this week — getting an update on where they are at —and I still think this initiative is one of the strongest chances civil society has of evolving to be fit for the future. What I particularly valued is taking other funders through a few slides about why and how Catalyst can link up across many of their other strategic priorities. Ultimately if Catalyst is about strengthening and evolving the sector then policy teams, sector support teams, data & evidence teams, etc should all be abreast of the work, not just the “digital” person from each foundation. The other funders really got this, and I think this is an important shift in perception that will help manifest the scale of Catalyst’s ambitions.
What we’re celebrating
Alongside Melissa starting this week, I’m celebrating the start of a new side project with Caroline and Gemma — the photo below is where we met on Thursday to plot out our new podcast! It’s been lovely shaping what we want it to be and finding so much alignment in how we imagine it.
I also got asked to go and teach on this brilliant looking programme at Schumacher College – Ecological and Design Thinking Masters.