The social and political environment in the UK could scarcely be more in flux. As the impact of ‘Brexit’ beings to unfold, and we contemplate the possibility of another Scottish Independence referendum, the future feels uncertain.
What is certain is that people face immense challenges, with austerity, welfare reform and public sector funding cuts taking a toll on individuals and communities; driving inequality and threatening to undermine progress towards a fairer society. While the temptation may be to cling on to familiar ways of working, we consider doing the opposite. The drive for radical, systemic change set out in the Christie Report (2011) continues to offer us the route map, but we need to accelerate our pace.
As funders, because we hold the purse strings we can easily fall into the trap of holding on to power. We can use language that disempowers; create unnecessary hoops for organisations to jump through; and forget that we don’t exist for our own sakes. All of this strongly echoes the traditional public sector approach that Christie calls for us to reform. At the Foundation we have embarked on our own journey towards different ways of working, based on collaboration and new relationships, most crucially with those we exist to support. At the heart of this is a shift in power and a focus, not simply on giving out money, but on acting as a catalyst for lasting, systemic change.
Through the place-based programme we introduced almost three years ago, we are working with communities that do not traditionally access grant funding, who experience the highest levels of deprivation in Scotland. We are developing a radically different approach, dismissing traditional grant-making constructs (funding pots, application forms, deadlines etc) and instead getting alongside communities. Through this approach it is local people that hold the power and us that support and enable development of ideas that bring about action and change. The programme relies fundamentally on the notion of reciprocity, with pledges made between the Foundation, communities and local authorities, promising an equal, respectful and mutually supportive relationship.
Within our Partnership Drugs Initiative (PDI) we work closely with children and young people; to help steer the programme, to be part of funding decisions and to influence policy and practice through their experiences. Children and young people with lived experience hold real power and we listen to their expertise.
Transformation is not without risk, but failing to transform as the world changes around us surely carries far greater risks. We have no doubt the journey will be challenging, but are ready to learn from our mistakes as well as our successes, share our insights and learn from the many others embarking on similar roads. If we can contribute to a fairer society, in which citizens hold power and create lasting meaningful change, then we firmly believe that is a prize worth trying for.