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Collaborate launches new report on social funding ecology

Independent funders need to collaborate more effectively to support citizens, says a new report from Collaborate CIC in partnership with the Big Lottery Fund and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation UK Branch. 

Supporting Social Change: A New Funding Ecology argues that great ideas and bottom-up social change initiatives are undermined by a lack of strategic collaboration between funders.

Collaborate will be launching the report today at a breakfast hosted at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation UK Branch. This event will bring together leaders in the independent funding community, with a focus on debating how to make a fundamental shift from collaborating on projects to collaborating on ‘whole systems’ change.

The report, authored by Collaborate’s director Dr Henry Kippin, advances the view that there should be greater consideration about the role, purpose and interdependence of the independent funding community.

In a context of public service retrenchment and rising social demand, it is vital that we meet increasingly complex social challenges with a more collaborative approach.

In order to change systems and scale impact through better collaboration, funders will have to see their role less as guardians of self-identified change from issue-to-outcome, and more as partners within a well-functioning ecosystem of support for others.   

Key arguments from the report include:

  • Good initiatives are hindered by lack of capacity-building support, blocking the transition from pilots to sustainable projects.
  • Grantmakers need to take greater risks for projects with long-term potential.
  • Many funders fail to collect evidence on effective interventions. As many new initiatives seek to improve on existing provision, lack of evidence of effective services makes demonstrating improvements a challenge.
  • Systemic change inhibited by funders failing to coordinate more effectively. There should be greater use of information-sharing, co-development of strategy, and the development of a more holistic understanding of the broader drivers of social change.
  • There needs to be a new body of creative thinking about what sort of funding mix will give the best ideas the opportunity to make a lasting difference.

The report also argues that while many funding bodies have a notional concept of their place in the 'funding market', few ‘map’ where they sit in relation to other funders or collaborate with them to ensure that they coordinate their different approaches for the same outcomes.

With the scale of current challenges and the limited resources available to foundations, it is important that funders contribute to the strengthening of the ecosystem of support for social change ensuring resources are deployed in the most effective way.

“As the landscape for public services, business and society changes, it is right that we should look at the ecology of social support, and ask how its strategic players can collaborate more effectively to improve outcomes for citizens. Independent funders are often at the sharp end - playing a key role identifying and enabling bottom-up change where the state cannot or does not act. Yet this vital role can also undermine the sector’s ability to influence positive system change.  In our report we argue that a more complex social landscape calls for a more collaborative approach that we are delighted to be supporting,” said Dr Henry Kippin.

“We co-commissioned Collaborate to write this report because we had a keen interest in supporting the development of a healthy funding ecology… one that supports organisations through the different stages of their life cycle,” said Andrew Barnett, director of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation UK Branch.

“We became interested in this topic tend to provide risk capital which supports set up costs for new organisations or enables established organisations to test new innovative models; this means that we rely on other funders to invest in replication and scaling. We hope that this publication, which we are very pleased to have co-funded, will encourage a lively discussion amongst independent funders about how we can collaboratively support the social sector, enabling it to maximise its impact”, Mr Barnett added.

“The report lays down a challenge to funders to get better at collaborating, thinking about qualities such as humility, transparency, and active network building as we go about trying to enable positive social change. It adds to our growing understanding of our place in a wider funding ecology, and critically drives us to start with the skills, talents and priorities of people and communities in developing our future practice,” said Dawn Austwick, Chief Executive of the Big Lottery Fund.

It is the hope of Collaborate, the Big Lottery Fund and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation UK Branch that this report will broker the discussions necessary for achieving long-term successful change in the ecology of independent funding.

Click here to read the report


Supporting Social Change: A New Funding Ecology is a report on the funding ecology for social impact and social change. It is based on interviews with leading independent funders. It suggests a framework for change that could help the sector get beyond traditional, linear models of funding towards an approach that could help initiatives reach impact and scale.

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact Dr Henry Kippin at Collaborate on 020 7815 8297 or 0790 362 7000.

About Collaborate: Collaborate was founded to promote better relationships to transform public services and improve social outcomes.  Collaborate’s wider work programme covers a broad spectrum of engagement and practice-based research with international and UK partners across sectors to develop innovative and collaborative models of public service delivery.

About the Big Lottery Fund: The Big Lottery Fund is responsible for distributing 40 per centof all funds raised for good causes (about 11 pence of every pound spent on a Lottery ticket) by the National Lottery – around £670 million last year. Since June 2004 we have awarded over £6 billion to projects supporting health, education, environment and charitable purposes, from early years intervention to commemorative travel funding for World War Two veterans. Our funding supports the aspirations of people who want to make life better for their communities. We deliver funding throughout the UK, mostly through programmes tailored specifically to the needs of communities in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland as well as some programmes that cover the whole UK.

About the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation UK Branch: The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation is an international charitable foundation with cultural, educational, social and scientific interests. Based in Lisbon with offices in London and Paris, the Foundation is in a privileged position to support national and transnational work tackling contemporary issues. The purpose of the UK Branch, based in London, is to bring about long-term improvements in wellbeing, particularly for the most vulnerable, by creating connections across boundaries (national borders, communities, disciplines and sectors) which deliver social, cultural and environmental value.


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