Staff and trustees from OCF attended the UKCF Conference in Manchester last week, which brought together nearly 400 people from over 40 community foundations across the UK and worldwide. The conference focused on how we can act now to shape a better tomorrow for our communities.
The conference, at the Kimpton Clocktower in Manchester, was a chance to take some time out from the day-to-day running of grants rounds and philanthropic engagement to reflect on the big issues that will affect our communities in the longer term. We were encouraged to think about how the world would need to respond to ongoing crises, in particular climate change, and to adopt a proactive mindset that will equip us and the people we serve to face these challenges.
OCF’s Chair Ian Busby, Interim CEO Annette Ahern, incoming CEO Zoe Sprigings and Head of Philanthropy Kate Parrinder all attended the conference.
Mayor of Manchester Andy Burnham opened the event with an endorsement of the place-based pride community foundations promote, and urging us to trust communities to build bottom-up solutions to challenging issues. Collaboration not competition should prevail in this work – the ethos of which could be seen in the many networking opportunities at the event, where people doing similar work across the UK network were able to share best practice and approaches that work.
Speakers including Helen Barnard of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation emphasised that we should accustom ourselves to working in what feels like “perma-crisis” – such as the pandemic, the cost-of-living crisis, and political and economic instability. These lead to insecurity for the most vulnerable in society via the labour market and housing suitability, and deeper poverty than we have seen in recent decades. It can also take our attention away from action on bigger, longer-term issues such as climate change. It was argued that civil society has a responsibility to remain calm and strategic, looking beyond immediate crises as well as being agile and responsive.
Breakout sessions explored how we might do this, such as taking preventative and power-shifting approaches to grant-making; making better philanthropic connections in rural areas and with younger people; considering how endowments are best invested and used; and promoting partnership and collaboration. Speakers such as Immy Kaur of Civic Square encouraged community foundations not to be daunted by the scale of the challenges, and to commit to funding “demonstrator” projects that could prove to larger-scale investors and statutory organisations that new ways of place-making were possible.
The final day of the conference looked at the leadership capabilities needed within organisations to drive change, and included brainstorming sessions in small groups for how to practically tackle a big issue over a number of years. For the latter session the OCF team looked at what more we could be doing to tackle climate change at a local level in Oxfordshire, an area of focus for our new CEO Zoe Sprigings, who starts next week.