Dawn Austwick: Prince William's right - we need more collaboration in charities

26 Jan 2018 Voices

Dawn Austwick reflects on the Duke of Cambridge's message about collaboration and shares some examples of the benefits of charities collaborating more. 

I was fortunate enough to be at the Charity Commission’s AGM on Tuesday and to hear in person HRH The Duke of Cambridge’s address. Prince William said "charities nurture, repair, build and sustain our society. Without charities, society would be an empty shell". What a profound definition of the role charities and community groups play in our country. I was moved and motivated in equal measure.
Collaboration was at the heart of the Prince’s speech as he urged the sector to collectively consider how best charitable objectives and mission can be delivered.

When I look at the projects that the Big Lottery Fund supports, the ones that are best at bringing people together and developing strong relationships and a sense of belonging in communities, are those that put co-operation at the core of their purpose.

HomeShare project 

HomeShare, a project that matches young people with older people who have a spare room, is bridging some of the fissures we see in UK society. It is approaching a number of challenges – the affordable housing crisis, loneliness, alienation between young and old.  

HomeShare brings together younger folk in need of a home but with limited cash with older people in need of a bit of support but with some spare space. You may heard it featured on the Today programme recently.

The young people on the project provide some of their time and energy helping around the house, chatting over a cup of tea, or watching TV together with their host. Both benefit from companionship, new connections, and cheaper accommodation. 
The project is built on the back of a strong collaboration; it is jointly funded by the Lloyds Bank Foundation and the Big Lottery Fund, and developed by Shared Lives Plus, Age UK, The Foyer Federation and Social Care Institute for Excellence. Like the people involved with HomeShare, each of the organisations contributes their own skills and assets, relying on each other’s strengths to deliver a more impactful programme.

Giving up control

One of the most difficult aspects about working in partnership is that, for the larger partner in particular, it can involve giving up control, power and resources. But this is enacted through listening, building relationships and trust, and valuing the common good.

This requires us all to look beyond the interests of our own organisations, and act in ways that benefit the wider sector, and society. It’s all about mission - of course.  
Thinking about that ‘collective good’ and the sharing of power, it was heartening to see the response to Tom Lawson, chief executive of Leap Confronting Conflict, recent call to action to fellow chief charity executives on diversity.

He is offering to reach out to anyone who wants to join that conversation, and wants organisations to adapt their recruitment policies to bring in greater diversity, and more lived experience, into their workforce.  

We have recently funded UnLtd and The Social Innovation Partnership to explore how to grow leadership opportunities in the sector for people with lived experience. We all have so much to learn from each other.

Building a network of future leaders

And on developing the generous leaders of tomorrow we have joined with Comic Relief to expand the Kings Fund’s Cascading Leadership programme - using peer learning and building a network of future leaders who can be a ‘band of brothers and sisters’, mutually supporting and encouraging each other. And in Hull, Clore Social Leadership is launching HEY10, a holistic programme of leadership development targeted at civil society and community leaders in Hull and East Yorkshire, developed by Clore Social Leadership.

Re-calibrating our understanding of leadership, focussing relentlessly on mission and opening ourselves up to difference are all great challenges to rise to.
Prince William ultimately had an optimistic vision of the future of charities and society. “Generosity forms the glue of our society, and our links to other parts of the world. Charity facilitates and channels that generosity.”

 Amen to that, and recognising that this is the year in which we mark the centenary of equal suffrage for women in Britain, may I add the words of Mary Wollstonecraft "Virtue can only flourish amongst equals". 
Dawn Austwick is chief executive of the Big Lottery Fund


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