In a note to my trustees today I mentioned we could do with a large dose of ambition and confidence as we embark on what we see as our role to change systems. So it was heartening to read this Third Sector article over breakfast as it certainly resonated with what we are trying to achieve here at Oxfordshire Community Foundation.
Collaboration was also the theme coming out of an event I attended last night where it was acknowledged there is definitely a need to pool resources, join up the dots and enable whole communities to come together and find solutions to the social problems we face.
So I was delighted to seize the opportunity and to share my excitement about Growing Minds our soon to launch project that plans to improve school readiness and close the gap in educational inequality. By pioneering a cross sector partnership involving voluntary, public and private organisations we hope to evidence how collaborative investment combined with philanthropic funding can multiply impact on the lives of the youngest children in our communities.
mission-led charities need to step back at some point from constantly pulling beneficiaries out of the metaphorical rivers of unemployment, addiction, prison, depression and so forth, and look upstream to ask why our beneficiaries are the ones who are disproportionately falling in, and how we can change things to stop it happening. Invariably, these situations are created by many interrelated factors: from policy and legislation to social attitudes and local behavioural norms, alongside a multitude of practical and environmental issues. These factors combine to create highly complex "systems", from which emerge the problems with which local services then have to deal. Changing the systems to prevent the issues arising in the first place is a mammoth task, and not one that a single charity or agency can resolve alone, which is why we are seeing a surge in place-based initiatives, where national and local, public, private and third-sector organisations are coming together, trying to take a much more collaborative and holistic approach to sustainable change. This is a good thing, but for most of the participants it’s fair to say that these collaborations are still a very small part of their operations: a footnote in the annual reach and impact report, their strategic goals primarily focused on their own interventions, of how many people they’ve pulled out of the water. That’s understandable. We like to set achievable goals, so we set them around the things we can control, which are in our gift and not reliant on big, complex, unproven ambitions in which we are merely one of many players.