Getting the ‘who’ right…does the rest then follow?


A blog by Sufina Ahmad

When I joined City Bridge Trust (CBT) full-time in September 2016 to formally begin the process of developing their next funding strategy for 2018-2023, I felt incredibly positive and excited for the challenges and opportunities that undoubtedly lay ahead!  CBT are a seminal London funder, and have achieved some incredible things in their 20 year history – supporting over 4,500 organisations in that time and countless Londoners.

So far, for the Strategic Review process, we have spoken to over 500 people in a variety of ways.  We have engaged with people through one-to-one or small group discussions, facilitated larger group conversations, commissioned research, attended conferences, launched an online survey, completed a grantee perception survey, and heard from people through our social media hashtag #BridgingLondon.

People from throughout London, and from so many different walks of life, have so generously given up their time, talent and expertise to discuss with us what it will take to make London a fairer city that truly works for everyone.  By the end of January 2017 the first draft of the strategy will be ready to share.

From these conversations, many themes, ideas and points have emerged strongly.  The need to speak ‘truth to power’ and ensure the voiceless are heard has come across overwhelmingly, for example.  Many conversations have focussed on the desire to understand our context and systems better.  There have also been clear asks of funders, including the need for us to nuance our understanding and requests around sustainability, and to concentrate instead on organisational effectiveness and resilience.

There is such diversity within London that needs to be celebrated; however there are real divides too – inequality is rife in this great city.  To this end, I have been thinking deeply about the question of who we are as a funder – get this right and articulated clearly and I feel confident that the rest then follows.

Organisations have spoken to me about the crisis situations in which they operate, and so I feel that the need to have an ambitious vision is vital.  A vision that is embedded into a clear framework through which CBT’s impact can be measured, thus ensuring accountability.  Getting the vision right would then rationalise the systems and approaches that we implement for our work.  Often the temptation can be to talk immediately about the ‘what’ or the ‘how’, indeed we do this in our personal lives – people rarely ask us who we are and what makes us tick, more likely instead to ask us what we do for a living or where we live.

Civil society seeks to address complex and seemingly intractable societal problems relating to systems that behave unpredictably and reactively to the stakeholders and funding within them. The work CBT supports addresses complex issues relating to poverty, disadvantage, need and inequality: often we will seek to support amazing organisations to manage the consequences of these complex issues, but tackling the root causes is much harder.

Figuring out where we stand on the divide line for inequalities in London will dominate my thoughts in the coming weeks.  I look forward to this: CBT is a funder with considerable assets – amazing grantees, great connections to London’s funding ecology, brilliant staff, and real and tangible links to the public and public sectors through our sole trustee the City of London Corporation.  But most of all, because over 500 people have already willingly volunteered their support to this review, and the best of it is – the conversations are not over.  We have many months ahead to work together and get this strategy right!  I look forward to meeting all of the new people that will join us along the way too.


Sufina Ahmad, Head of Strategic Review



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