We find ourselves in interesting times. To say the least. A society facing major choices which only serve to illuminate the inequalities that run like fault-lines through our communities. With these fractures writ large on the national stage, it begs fundamental questions about our moral and political leadership – that filter down into every part of our society. And civil society is not immune. Over recent years we’ve seen real challenges to public trust in our integrity and values that – if left unaddressed – could irreparably damage our reputation and impact for generations.
The Baring Foundation’s first 50 years reflects the dynamic history of emergent causes being given voice and support through the voluntary sector
Reading our the Foundation’s birthday publication ‘A history of the Baring Foundation in 50 grants’ (due out in March 2019) gives a flavour of the emerging issues we have supported over the decades. It reflects the dynamic history of emergent causes being given voice and support through the voluntary sector. An eclectic and diverse range – from international development, to grassroots community development, to infrastructure bodies. From young people, to women, to black and minority ethnic communities, to HIV and AIDS and the arts. What runs through the grants are some fundamental beliefs – in the value of civil society and social capital; giving power to those whose voices otherwise go unheard, building communities, challenging discrimination and finding new solutions.
The Baring Foundation has committed resources to the growth and health of the sector over many years. More recently we have also invested in future thinking – through the work of the Independence Panel and creating the funding consortium for Julia Unwin’s Civil Society Futures inquiry. But we don’t just demonstrate our commitment through funding others. We also ask tough questions of ourselves and the role of our philanthropy.
Over the past few months we have been reviewing the Foundation’s Strategy, our future vision and role.
Julia Unwin’s Inquiry provided a useful jumping off point for our Strategy Review and posed some challenging questions for us.
- How do we use our power and share decision-making and control with our communities?
- How do we hold ourselves accountable to the causes and communities we support?
- How do we broaden and deepen connections with people and support a new social infrastructure?
- How do we build and extend trust?
We thought deeply about how our values meaningfully live beyond the page and underpin everything we do.
And we reflected on the insights generated by the ACF’s Stronger Foundations programme. How does philanthropy itself continue to adapt and change in the light of the changing social environment? Not just within civil society but the wider ecosystem of government and policy and the changing dynamic of need and disadvantage.
As a Board we felt outrage and dismay at the deepening and corrosive fissures in our society.
The EHRC’s compelling ‘Is Britain Fairer?’ report set out some stark realities. Despite progress in some domains, it highlighted the entrenched disadvantage in others – for the increasing numbers of children living in poverty, for some ethnic minorities, people with disabilities and the Roma, Gypsy and traveller communities. And we heard about the rolling impact of welfare reform and economic trends on people already struggling at the margins.
The Trustees recognise that questions about how we use our power and demonstrate accountability are inextricably linked with our passion to tackle exclusion and discrimination.
How we behave and how our values drive us are fundamental to the integrity of a mission to address inequality and enhance human rights. If we say we want to challenge inequality we have to think hard about how we share our power equitably with the communities and people we serve. In the case of foundations – that’s expressed through our grantmaking, sharing knowledge and learning and building communities of interest. It requires humility and integrity.
As we reframe and update the Foundation’s mission and values we will also work to ensure they filter through all that we do – streamlining our processes, enabling open dialogue with our grantees, how we invest our funds, continuously refresh our governance and build our programmes.
It won’t always be easy – but good governance and an ambitious mission is always a journey, never the arrival at a destination.
At the Baring Foundation, we believe in the role of a strong, independent civil society nationally and internationally. We will strive to use our independence to protect and advance human rights and promote inclusion. To apply our resources to enable civil society to work with people experiencing discrimination and disadvantage and to act strategically to tackle the root causes of injustice and inequality.
We remain angry about social injustice and deprivation, and support all of those who strive to address it – though their actions large and small. We champion the right to speak out and the importance of voluntary and community action as part of our social fabric. We will continue to work with others to protect and strengthen it. We will also listen to what the grass roots tell us about changing needs and the challenges faced by communities – and seek to share that evidence and knowledge widely.
We know that the scale of the challenge is daunting. Voluntary organisations are struggling to meet increasing levels of needs in a time of distressed public funding and saturated fundraising. And foundations only see the demand for funding increasing from the very many compelling causes that ask for our support.
As a sector we need to keep working together to share with the public the rising levels of need – the pain and anguish of families and communities that are being left behind.
Our current political landscape illustrates only too clearly what happens when the disenfranchised feel ignored and overlooked. And the risk of civil unrest and hate which go hand in hand with divisive rhetoric and discord. As a sector we all have to do better to build the ties that bind and invest in the social capital in our communities. The cost of not doing so is too much to bear.