Dawn Austwick on the Future of Doing Good


Big questions in an unpredictable world

For (admittedly light-hearted) evidence of the uncertain world we live in, look no further than the top of the Premier League. Few would have predicted Leicester’s fairy tale season – though as an avowed Gooner, my support remains somewhat muted. With a squad nearly eight times cheaper than Manchester City’s, they’ve done a brilliant job of disrupting the status quo.Final-Image---Small-for-Web-(2)

I’ll dispense with the football metaphor before I lose the non-football fans. My point is really about the unpredictability of the world we live in.

Take a step back and think about some of the huge social questions we’re facing today. Looking after the elderly whilst offering opportunity to the young.  The refugee crisis. The state of housing in the UK. ‘Brexit’. These are just a few fiendishly complex and emotive issues. And that’s before we get to global trends like digitisation, inequality and poverty, and sustainability; or the challenges citizens and communities face in their everyday lives as we re-draw the boundaries between the state, the market and civil society. More parochially, the charity sector is grappling with its own challenges such as fundraising practices, governance, and campaigning. There are millions of conversations going on in pubs, in coffee shops, in supermarkets, and across the media. And they’re all interlinked, exploring what kind of society we want to live in, and how we make it a reality.

As a funder, we want to make great choices. We want our resources, be that money, learning or networks, to be part of the means by which people and communities flourish. But we also know that answering the big questions fundamentally isn’t our call – it’s everyone’s. The answers are critical to the success of the voluntary & community sector and all our endeavours.


A conversation on the Future of Doing Good

So there’s a wider conversation about the future to be had. With that in mind, and in the spirit of ‘a problem shared’ we wanted to provide a platform for people to debate the issues and choices available to us. As a starting point, we asked journalist and social researcher Sonia Sodha to map the landscape and try to bring some order to this complexity. We think she’s done a great job and you can read what she came up with.

The ground for debate is already fertile. Recently, a couple of stories caught my eye that demonstrate just how vibrant this conversation already is. Tesco have finalised a deal to work with charity FareShare to help tackle food waste, starting with a 14 store pilot called the Community Food Connection. Tesco reckon they threw away 55,400 tonnes of food last year, 30,000 of which could have been eaten. Using a new digital platform, store staff and local charities can now connect with each other to distribute this surplus to vulnerable people. By the end of 2017, they aim to have all their stores on this new platform. That’s just one example of people coming together in a new way, using technology to tackle a pressing social issue.

I also noted a provocative piece by Richard Hawkes, CEO of the British Asian Trust, reflecting on a recent visit to India to explore the state of civil society there. He drew some provocative lessons for the sector, arguing for a greater focus on enterprise, creative financing, and embracing the role of the private sector. Not everyone will feel comfortable with his critique, but its further demonstration that these fundamental conversations are already alive and kicking.

There are great examples of people who are testing out new ideas in their neighbourhoods to try to make a real change to the way people interact with each other. I was particularly struck by the Open Works project in West Norwood, founded by Tessy Britton and Laura Billings of Civic Systems Lab. Over the course of a year, 1,000 people took part in a network of 20 community-led projects to transform their neighbourhood. Their idea was simple, that by getting people to participate in small ways and linking these together in one place, that they could create a connected and thriving neighbourhood which was owned by its local residents.

So what next?

We want to get people talking about and sharing their views on the report, publishing responses on their own blogs or using social media (you can follow the conversation at #futuregood). We’ll be pulling this all together on these pages, where you’ll also be able to comment on other contributions to the debate. So let us know what you think! While this conversation will certainly inform our own approach as a funder, we hope it drives much broader thought and action across all sectors.

Come 15 May we’ll know whether Leicester City have succeeded in winning the Premier League. We certainly won’t fully know what the ‘future of doing good’ is, but if we can emulate their bold momentum, a radical rethink of the way people and communities can shape and improve their lives is surely possible.


2 thoughts

  1. Thanks for these thoughts, Dawn.

    The shifting borders between private, voluntary, and public sectors is something we see at Catch22 increasingly. The remits of each, who does what, how it’s funded, how collaboration works, where the drivers for change come from, where leadership is found etc.

    Richard’s blog post (and subsequent comments) provides another refreshing snapshot of that.

    We sometimes talk of it in terms of ‘good markets’. What does a ‘good market’ for funders look like, or for charities, or for outsourcers ? What does a ‘good market’ for public services look like and how would that be different from what we already have ?

    How do we break away from existing anchor points in our sectors or markets, and who is showing us what the ‘better place’ looks like ?

    These are questions that it feels will inform the future.


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