Are we (collectively) brave enough? - Collaborative Funding Infrastructure

So this is the last London Funders Ebulletin that I will oversee (after all everybody knows that it's Geraldine T that actually does all the work in producing it) and a final opportunity for me to share some thoughts and reflections.

Where to start?

Well I've written elsewhere about why this is the best job in London (here). I have shared my initial reflections on the funding community’s response to the recent events in North Kensington (here) - a continuing example of effective collaboration, which I predict will influence the policy and practice of Independent Trusts and Foundations for years to come.

So I will end where I started many years ago, with an issue that has been at the heart of all of my work over the last 32 years. Collaborative Infrastructure.

I have been privileged to lead two extraordinary collaborative networks, London Funders and Homeless Network, and been involved in many other infrastructure organisations (a few excellent, a few ok, but most not so good if I’m being honest!)

And as regular readers will know, London Funders has been driving (in collaboration with others) an agenda to emphasise the importance of recognising support for civil society and communities across London.  This agenda has taken place through The Way Ahead project.

Whilst I'm pleased with everything that London Funders has achieved during my period of stewardship, our work on The Way Ahead is the initiative that I am most proud of. It has shaped and is leading a London-wide collaborative conversation concerning , the value of infrastructure for civil society and communities in London. It is being used by the Mayor and the GLA as a key lens through which this administration is seeking to define its relationship with civil society. It is influencing the work of London Councils, individual boroughs and funders across London. That really is a legacy to be proud of.

So what makes for an effective Collaborative Infrastructure organisation?

I make no claim about original thinking or new insights, and have hugely benefited from building on the shoulders of giants over my career (thank you, amongst others, Julian Unwin, Clare Tickell and Steve Wyler) but in my experience there are three conditions that need to be met:

  1. Mission and Purpose - Not simply about being true to your mission and purpose, it is more fundamental than that. It is that the mission and purpose is not about the constituent parts (funding institutions or homelessness charities), but about the mission and purpose of those constituent parts. Here at London Funders our mission is “is to strengthen and support funders and promote effective funding practices, to meet the needs of Londoners.” At Homeless Network our mission was “improving services for single homeless people in London”.
  1. Purposeful Values and Behaviour - Again, not simply about the values and behaviour that a Collaborative Infrastructure organisation needs to have, but about how those particular values and behaviour are demonstrated and made real. It’s both “talking the talk” and “walking the walk”. For London Funders these can be seen in our Theory of Change.
  1. Independence, Transparency and Accountability - The third and final leg of the stool. Transparency and accountability are obvious  transparency about how decisions are made, and accountability to the multiplicity of stakeholders that any effective Collaborative Infrastructure organisation needs to pay attention to. Independence is more subtle and nuanced; how is independent scrutiny of your Mission, Purpose, Values and Behaviour achieved? At Homeless Network this was done through a very strong independent governance element. For London Funders it is also achieved through our governance arrangements, which successfully weave together the different perspectives from across our public, independent and corporate members, into a whole that is much more than simply the sum of the parts.

In London we know that Collaborative Funding Infrastructure is needed and that it works. So my final question is one for the whole funding community - across the rest of the country, are you (collectively) brave enough to invest in yourselves?

David Warner