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Field Catalysts: The Unseen Agents That Galvanize Social Change

One of my trustees often reads the New York Times and last week they shared a link to a report which seemed to support our evolving Ambition strategy.  Interestingly it even proposed the idea of Field Catalyst as a new name for OCF's activities in this area.

Having a chemist as our Board Chair we often talk about the potential of catalysts to get things going and this new report suggests as we have shared repeatedly in our research report Oxfordshire Uncovered, when social issues are complicated, “field catalysts” are the bridge to bring together wealthy philanthropists and activists to make real progress.

Therefore, always good to know our work is being affirmed by others especially as we prepare for our next Think Tank / Board Away Day next month.   

Lots more reading and lots more thinking to do.

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Taz Hussein, partner at the consultant Bridgespan Group and author of the report “Field Catalysts: The Unseen Agents That Galvanize Social Change,” said he and his colleagues had identified 15 social change efforts — like reducing malaria deaths, bringing about same-sex marriage, reducing obesity . They found that each effort had a core organization providing leadership and support to other groups tackling the same issue.

“These organizations would never say they were the organizations driving these changes,” Mr. Hussein said. “In terms of size relative to the total investment, these organizations are relatively small, and they’re nimble. They try to take that bird’s-eye view and problem solve. They helped to align funders.”

They were also, he said, “trying to be appropriately humble.”

Housing in crisis

Yet another article highlighting the reality behind our current housing crisis.  I think more people should be questioning how we can have reached a point where since 2010 the number of new social homes has plummeted by 97 per cent, from almost 37,000 in 2010 to just over 1,100 last year?   

How does current policy make it possible for the Government to be spending four times as much – some £32bn – subsidising private housing as it is building affordable homes for low income families?   A recent study suggests 79% of the total housing budget is currently spent on higher-cost homes for sale, including through the controversial Help to Buy scheme, but only 21%, around £8bn, goes to affordable homes for rent.

So not surprising then that in another article this week the headline was number one reason for homelessness is now loss of an assured short hold tenancy.  

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John Healey, the Shadow Housing Secretary, said: “Affordable housebuilding is at a 24-year low as Conservative ministers have washed their hands of any responsibility to build the homes families on ordinary incomes need. 

Tory cuts cause 85 per cent fall in new homes for vulnerable people

“Ministers have tried to hide their failure to build more affordable homes by branding more homes as ‘affordable’. The Conservative definition of ‘affordable housing’ now includes homes close to full market rent and those on sale for up to £450,000. 

 ”Public concern about housing is around the highest level for 40 years. Millions of families are struggling with high housing costs. Faced with this, ministers have turned their back on the way they can help most: by building low-cost homes to rent and buy.

A week that sees a generation of Brexit Children start school

Well so says the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) who choose this week to also launch a new a five-point plan to solve poverty by 2030. 

As seems to be the case these days, I initially picked all this up via twitter this morning, and whilst having appreciated the simplicity of the infographic that was chosen to illustrate this plan I was keen to read more.   Fuelled in part, I admit due to the fact that I will be leading a conference workshop next week in Cardiff to explore the role of community foundations against the background of emerging social problems after Brexit.  So it was fairly obvious to me there was an immediate possibility that I might be able to include reference to this new JRF plan.

Highlighting the social inequalities that exist in our communities has always been a priority for the Oxfordshire Community Foundation, and our recent report Oxfordshire Uncovered has been a great enabler in this.   However, I am one of life's doers and always prefer to see action rather than lots of thinking and I have always seen potential upside in more collaboration as opposed to it being fraught with difficulty.   Therefore, I was particularly drawn into the suggestion in JRF new five-point plan that governments, business and the public must now work together on finding a solution to poverty.

I believe we can all make a start on this by sharing stories of injustice that have to change.  As is referred to in the report it cannot be right that those on the lowest of incomes actually pay what is described as a 'poverty premium', meaning the relative costs of the most vital services such as gas, electricity and loans are typically charged at 10% more. 

A fascinating yet most uncomfortable piece of local knowledge shows the reality of this in the price of a banana at various shops across the county, and for those with limited access to transport often living on housing estates having to pay 35p for one banana compared to 16p at the nearest supermarket.  

Therefore I urge you to read the report and ask yourself what can you do to #solveukpoverty?

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PM urged to make good on promise ‘to make Britain work for everyone’
Responsible capitalism needs to end the scandal of people in poverty paying more for everyday goods and services 
£20m fund announced to tackle ‘poverty premium’
A new ‘long term deal’ to solve poverty – between governments, business and the public - is needed to solve poverty in a generation, so the first cohort of ‘Brexit children’ starting school this Autumn grow up and enter adult life in a UK that is prosperous and poverty-free.
The independent Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) today launches a five-point plan to solve poverty by 2030. It is the most comprehensive strategy of its kind to set out how to solve poverty across all groups in the UK.
The first priority is a reboot of markets towards a more responsible capitalism that benefits people on low incomes. JRF is calling for government, regulators and companies to work together to end the ‘poverty premium’, where people on low incomes pay more for goods and services such as fuel and credit.
A load of cobblers

Delighted to read the use of words in a recent article I spotted which included 'profit with purpose' - exact same words I used for a presentation I made a few months ago. 

I am also struck by how much they seem to resonate with other work we have just completed on behalf of our Reciprocate businesses, collecting their impact pledges.   These make for inspiring reading and are further testimony if ever any was needed that businesses across Oxfordshire are not only making an economic profit but perhaps even more importantly are making a huge contribution to the wider community around them.    

If you know of a business who shares these values then please do introduce them or share my appreciation with them only I believe profit with purpose can play a big part as we search for our Common Good ... 


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In the Huffington Post I explained why I am a firm believer that you can do well by doing good and that businesses could grow more sustainably if they integrated purpose into their mission.

Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting James Timpson who are famous as cobblers but have a vibrant business that encompasses key cutting, photo printing, dry cleaning and much more. I’ve rarely met a more inspirational business leader who is living proof that the legendary employee oriented practices of the Wedgewoods, Cadbury’s, Leverhulmes etc are even more relevant today as being good for business, as they were in the past. Whilst many businesses chase revenue and profit, James and his team have shown you can do well in low tech/no tech businesses by focusing on culture above all else.
Future reimagined

The below is nothing we haven't actually already considered - co-locating services in an intergenerational setting, which has such potential to help solve two social problems at the same time.

In our recent work supporting a number of Children's Centres across Oxfordshire we have been keen to see business plans that work to 'join up' services, especially where facilities could meet the needs of all in their community rather than be purposed exclusively for one specific segment e.g. children or the elderly.

A pity then that it is Wimbledon and not Oxford leading the way on this...  

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For the first time in Britain, a nursery and a home for the elderly are to be located on the same site, in a move intended to tackle the “age apartheid” that increasingly keeps generations apart. The idea is popular overseas.Nightingale House, a residential, nursing and dementia care home for elderly Jewish men and women in Clapham, southwest London, will open its doors to 30 children a day in September.The nursery will be a second site for the existing Apples and Honey nursery in Wimbledon.Across a week, there will be about 100 children aged between two and five and the old and the young will take part in activities including singing, cooking, gardening and story-telling.
Greater diversity on charity boards can only be a good thing

I spent most of yesterday at RSA Motivate - a first of its kind event that offered anyone in Oxfordshire with a slight inkling towards social action to come along and find out about all the good stuff happening around them, and how they can get involved. It was a fantastic showcase for the many brilliant initiatives being championed by RSA members and others locally.

With the hung parliament result still very much a topic of conversation on everyone's minds, it provided me with the perfect context to talk about how we all need to step up and contribute our energy and creativity towards benefitting our 'common good' (society rather than self) if we really want to see the social change that is needed right now.

For those who have heard me speak before, I often share a few shocking statistics about the stark disparity in some people's lives and an inability to participate in things many of us take for granted, and yesterday was no different.  

I also found myself appealing for younger trustees to join charity boards to improve decision-making, ensuring the strategic challenges now faced would benefit from a variety of perspectives and expectations. With around 50% of trustee vacancies currently unfilled, I believe there is a real urgency for charities to find a way of appealing to a different kind of individual - those would like to add board-level skills to their portfolio whilst they build their career. Perhaps the potential for bringing in the digital skills of a younger generation will enable the sector to really embrace this change. Trustees from younger generations are a brilliant complement to the more traditional type of trustee, who is giving their expertise back following a successful life and career (and making an extremely highly valued contribution, I might add).

We must start to look at greater diversity on our not-for-profit boards to ensure that the charitable sector remains sustainable, something that is absolutely vital given the central role it plays in supporting our common good.  

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In recent years there has been a lot of research on the benefits of volunteering, both on a personal and professional level and there is even compelling research suggesting that it is literally good for our health. Trusteeship, however, is a unique form of volunteering and brings its own distinct brand of challenge and reward. With up to 50 per cent of charities currently having vacancies on their boards and with charities facing unprecedented challenges, let’s revisit some of the many reasons everyone should consider joining a charity board.
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