We are expecting to welcome around 200 business leaders to an inspiring and thought-provoking breakfast event featuring the former Managing Director of John Lewis, Andy Street, as our guest speaker – and we really hope you will be among them.

By way of background, Reciprocate was launched by Oxfordshire Community Foundation in March 2016 to share with businesses our knowledge of the charitable sector, and of the unacceptable social problems faced by many in our communities across Oxfordshire.

Businesses are at the heart of the community. Business leaders know that getting staff together to do something for charity is a great way of engaging and retaining them, especially in a job market where the talented employees are in high demand. What is more, positive community engagement can position companies favourably in the hearts and minds of their customers.

Reciprocate is a membership of responsible businesses: organisations that believe that, by sharing ideas and collaborating on projects, they can increase their support for the local community. Reciprocate empowers them to become more effective and strategic in their engagement.

Reciprocate is all about finding solutions not working with problems. It’s not about writing cheques or donating money so someone else can sort it – it’s about getting involved and making a pledge to play a part in the common good. Current members who have made a pledge include Allen Associates, Blenheim Palace, Unipart, Beard Construction, Meech, DAF Trucks, Taylor & Francis, Royds Withy King and many more.

A pledge could be as a simple as offering a great work experience for a young person about to leave school, mentoring an ex-offender and helping them gain employment, or becoming a trustee of a charity who could really welcome your skills and experience.

Reciprocate has exciting plans for 2017 – including our much-anticipated breakfast event with Andy Street, sponsored by Allen Associates, a founding member of Reciprocate. Andy will be talking about his recent decision to swap his role as MD of John Lewis for the potential of becoming Mayor of Birmingham. Over a Q&A and breakfast at the Said Business School on Tuesday, 14 February, Andy will share his personal insights about ethical business and building the community credentials of a world-leading brand.

We believe this event will be an inspiration for many more businesses to join Reciprocate and a great opportunity for those businesses to start to build better relationships with the communities in which they operate.

To find out more about the Andy Street event and reserve your free place, please visit https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/reciprocate-ethical-business-qa-with-andy-street-tickets-30845180766?platform=hootsuite

I'm in awe...where next for civil society?

Julia Unwin has been an inspiration ever since I listened, as a Community Foundation (CF) newbie attending my very first UKCF philanthropy conference in September 2011, to her presentation as CEO of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF).

Her clarity, evident passion and optimism for the role of the charitable sector in helping to deliver real social change made a lasting impression and I have tried to keep this in mind as I go about my daily work, connecting people and organisations together to achieve great things here in Oxfordshire.

For those that aren't familiar with Joseph Rowntree Foundation, it is an amazing organisation and a real thought leader, regularly sharing its research and insights.  Most recently they published their long term strategy 'We can solve UK Poverty' https://www.jrf.org.uk/solve-uk-poverty and this is definitely a resource myself and the team will we looking at closely and frequently over the coming months.

But as I sit here today working on several presentations, that I myself will be making next week, I came across one of Julia's final presentations as CEO of JRF, as she has recently stepped down to take on a new role to Chair an Inquiry into Civil Society in England.  

If only I were as articulate.. so I feel I have only one option but to share and implore you all to read the full transcript of her speech. https://www.jrf.org.uk/where-next-civil-society

I would like to bet that you too will then be feeling as inspired as I am and hope that you will pledge your support as we strive to do everything we can here in Oxfordshire to solve UK poverty.

My decade leading one of the bigger civil society organisations has taught me that there are things we desperately need as a society which we know how to do. We need to support affiliation, we need to foster connection, we need to learn to mediate difference. To do that we need to recognise that our roots are in place and that places really matter, but so too do the relationships we foster...our purpose is to connect people to each other and so build a stronger more sustainable society.

Our sector at its very best is a connecting sector. It connects people without power to places of power. It connects within communities, and between them. It connects those who need with those who can give.

It connects people with a shared interest. It enables voice and contact. It provides a welcome for the stranger. At its heart it provides for connection in our society. In concluding let’s remember that the referendum result was achieved by a slogan - one which you can be sure was tested and examined in great detail. One which clearly had huge resonance both in the focus groups, and later in the ballot box. 'Take back control'

We are the sector that promises control.
Shared Society

Great to see our UK community foundation, CEO Fabian French was quick to comment on Theresa's May speech yesterday as she outlined her vision of a 'shared society'. 

Here in Oxfordshire, we too have been using our Oxfordshire Uncovered research to highlight the challenges faced by those experiencing mental health and directing our grant funding accordingly.

Several of our donors too have set up in memoriam funds following the tragic suicide of a beloved family member.  

There has also been much in the news recently about how critical it is for young people to receive early support and that timely and early intervention are the best way to help prevent ongoing mental health problems.    Mental health can affect anyone and the more we can do to discuss this and share stories the better and that's where I believe community foundations have a much greater role to play.

Theresa May's speech today was important for a number of reasons. Firstly, she chose to make her first major speech of the year to an audience of charity professionals at the Charity Commission. This speaks volumes about where we sit as a sector in her thinking.

Secondly, she spoke of her vision of a ‘shared society’. Where we all take responsibility for each other as well as businesses, charities and the Government. This marks a small but significant shift away from Cameron’s big society which more or less did away with the Government’s role.

And thirdly, it addressed a major issue that Community Foundations have been addressing over the past couple of years – mental health.

Name's Bond, James Bond 007

Brilliant tongue in cheek article, suggesting the world of philanthropy is somewhat secretive like M15...but it doesn't have to be that way.

Hence the Beacon awards, shining a spotlight on the amazing individuals and families who are making a huge difference and enabling great social action in our communities.    

Later this week I have the privilege of meeting again with one of OCF's donors who won the Beacon Award for City Philanthropy in 2015 and I would love nothing better than to ensure we have several more nominations from across Oxfordshire this year.

I would love to hear from you especially if you can help me identify anyone you know who might inspire the judges?  Entries need to be in by 5th December.


Beacon is not an event designed to honour an elite, it is a voice that exists to shout about inspirational and awe inspiring acts of philanthropy of all shapes and sizes. It is a vehicle that can be used to celebrate and promote remarkable stories of generosity, entrepreneurship, innovation and ultimately, humanity. Beacon is a conduit that can be used to offer essential lessons in how to give well and which aims to achieve greater, more widespread impact through knowledge sharing, thought leadership and collaboration.

Beacon continues to hurl its rocks, and philanthropy in the UK continues to be a movement that although evident almost everywhere, repeatedly succeeds in dodging the limelight. If we look to our US counterparts they have no qualms in shining a bold Hollywood style spotlight on their philanthropists. Surely a comfortable middle ground could be found; a Beacon of hope in difficult economic times, that illuminates a direction of travel towards greater cohesion and stability. A path that makes us less dependent on the tides of Government and a little better adapted to stand on our own two feet.
Downton effect vs nimbys?

This weekend, I was delighted to read about some inspired community-based solutions to address the the lack of affordable housing - a UK-wide problem, but one that we have chosen to highlight as it particularly affects Oxfordshire. As the article below suggests, more and more modern-day gentry and estate owners are building affordable homes on their land, seeing it as their social responsibility to keep local communities thriving and to provide practical living conditions for their workforce - much like the fictional Lord Grantham of Downton Abbey fame.

The sad truth is that many ordinary workers are simply priced out of the current property market, with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) warning that workers often need three jobs just to make ends meet in a lot of rural areas. This is a particular issue where the acute housing shortage is combined with the demand for holiday homes in the countryside.

With more than a third of the UK’s land owned by aristocrats and the gentry, and around 5,000 estates in Britain, RICS suggests that the housing crisis could be solved if every village built 10 houses, and estates like Holkam Hall in Norfolk are stepping up to the challenge. The key benefit of an estate itself driving affordable development is that the landowner is setting the terms of the build, eliminating the problem of the inherent market value of land on which housing is built - which is the biggest factor driving up prices, as we have found locally in our work with Homes for Oxford.

Here in Oxfordshire, we have Blenheim Palace. The estate's Woodstock East scheme, which initially proposed building 1,200 homes in Blenheim's grounds, faced huge local opposition and was rejected by planners as a result. However, in social terms the plans seem to have some laudable objectives: to prevent the town from becoming a soulless dormitory town for wealthy commuters or weekenders, where local shops and community activities fail to thrive. As various commentators in the article below have suggested, it is diversity that creates a dynamic and thriving community.

I was pleased to see in the article that RICS are suggesting a series of practical policy changes that would encourage more estates to build affordable housing, thereby leaving a noble legacy for their descendents and the local community of which they are part. So I'm feeling fairly optimistic that we do have an opportunity here - and there is probably more we could be doing to support our stately home developers, who could just have the potential to become one part of the jigsaw needed to solve our housing problem.    

The Holkham estate, in Norfolk, is the latest stately to call in the builders. It has just been granted permission for six new homes at the bottom of the cottage gardens in the village of Burnham Thorpe, birthplace of Admiral Nelson. Two of them will be affordable rentals, available only to locals.

The Clinton Devon estate, in Devon, has built 19 homes in the village of Budleigh Salterton, in partnership with a local housing association. Similarly, in recognition of the housing shortage in Buckinghamshire, the Rothschild Foundation has applied for permission to construct 75 homes on its land adjacent to the Waddesdon estate (20% affordable).

People used to call it paternalism, but the word of the day is social responsibility,” says David Horton-Fawkes, estates director at Holkham, which has 300 residential properties. “We see housing as being for the benefit of the local community. We don’t let homes for holidays, otherwise north Norfolk would be full of ghost towns in winter.

“Our policy is to maintain the fabric of the community. It’s not entirely selfless. We need a settled workforce, which keeps the village shops and services open.”
Pioneering the Possible

Pioneering the Possible is a book recommended to me last week by an inspirational businesswoman, who I feel privileged to know and never cease to be humbled by the extent of both her authenticity and philanthropic interests.

Having just looked on online to make a purchase, my mind immediately made a connection with the Rio Olympics 2016 and the opening ceremony later this evening, as the title seemed somehow to resonate with what I'm sure all athletes will have been training hard for and hoping to personally achieve over the next couple of weeks.

Yet, another random thought also led me to how we might improve our current educational system so that it inspires more young people to dream big and really come up with a vision for how a new world could be, and to dare to take on what has never been done before. 

But to enable this, I believe the curriculum is failing and it now needs to rethink its priorities and consider the development and training of more soft skills, such as empathy, and our ability to listen, not just hear.  As the book's author Scilla Elworthy notes: "Self-awareness at the individual level is what can enable each person to wake up and do what’s needed to ensure a future for us on this planet - to change the world from the bottom up."

Then we might make enlightened progress, and begin to make better decisions as individuals, caring more for those around us rather than simply looking for differences that divide us.

Perhaps I will be lucky to find some some answers in the book - and from a quick scan of the reviews, it does look like I am in for a thought-provoking read this weekend.


The essential skill of empathy and a humble commitment to keep learning the skills of deep listening and mediation.

What I’m expressing here has been known in all great spiritual traditions, but now needs reclaiming for a secular world in crisis, and in language that all can understand. Without leaders like this in every sphere and institution of our world, our chances of survival are grim. With such leaders, a world can be built that our grandchildren will be proud of.

I am certain that a different future for all of humanity is possible, if humans wake up. Interestingly, this is happening fast now in the corporate world. Reflection, mindfulness and inner work are now seen as an essential tool in many leading companies, extensively featured in the sober Financial Times of London and on the cover of Time Magazine.

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