OCF’s staff and Chair spent last week at the UKCF Conference, joining 370 delegates from community foundations across the UK and world to share learning and knowledge, build networks and be inspired.
The conference, which is organised every two years by the UK membership organisation for community foundations UKCF, took place at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff over three days. It was made possible thanks to the support of several corporate sponsors, in particular fund manager CCLA, which manages the large part of OCF’s endowed funds.
The conference theme ‘Leading for Local Good’ encouraged us to reflect on the community foundation’s role as a convener and advocate for those less fortunate in Oxfordshire. As well as making the most of seminars focused on best practice within the operational parts of our work, such as grant-making, impact measurement, governance, needs research and donor stewardship, we were treated to several stand-out talks and panel sessions from some of the leading thinkers on philanthropy in the UK and beyond.
Notable presentations were made by Dr Victoria Winckler, Director of the Bevan Foundation, which researches the social landscape in Wales and provides future forecasts so that philanthropic funds can be directed where most needed; and Paul Streets, CEO of Lloyds Bank Foundation, which has set itself clear funding priorities based on a detailed understanding of the British socio-economic context. There was also the opportunity to hear from panellists Dawn Austwick of the Big Lottery Fund, Caroline Mason of the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, and Thomas Hughes-Hallett of the Marshall Institute at LSE.
Many delegates, including us, were especially inspired by the presentation made by Clotilde Perez-Bode Dedecker, CEO of the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo in Western New York in the United States. She described how her organisation had undertaken a strategic rethink of its priorities, which started with a “listening tour” of stakeholders across all sectors of local society to understand the issues the community cared most about. This information was used to set four strong ambitions to improve local society, and the community foundation’s staff and trustees invested all of their efforts “locking elbows” with partners from the public, private and voluntary sectors to shift the trends in these areas. By bringing partners from across society on board, they were able to achieve an impressive long-term impact on the issues they had prioritised – for example, over five years they saw graduation rates at high schools in the most deprived areas improve from 49% to 64%.
Many of the themes of the conference reflected OCF’s own strategy very closely, particularly in terms of being a hub for local knowledge and working collaboratively with a range of partners, leaving us feeling confident that the direction set by our trustees is the right one, but equipping us with practical ideas for achieving our ambitions to make a bigger difference to the lives of people in Oxfordshire. The conference gave us a feeling of renewed enthusiasm, as well as a greater understanding of how the issues we face are being tackled across the world.