January 2017

What a difference a month makes

 31st January 2017

As I write this I find myself taking a very deep breath.  I expect I will be doing this a lot in the coming months.  Today though, this breath signals a slight pause of sorts.  Rather than sharing the City Bridge Trust (CBT) draft funding strategy with you today, we have decided to discuss it formally as part of our next CBT Committee Meeting, scheduled for 6th February.  After this meeting, we look forward to being able to share it with you all.

Unsurprisingly, January has been a month of deep reflection for me.  There has been a lot of information to process, and at times the task of drafting the strategy has felt daunting.  However, more often than not, the process of writing the draft strategy has been exciting, and an incredible honour.  I have been struck constantly by the sheer number of Londoners who are keeping their heads raised high in the face of some of the most challenging, and seemingly intractable, societal problems.   The CBT strategy will not provide an answer to all of these problems, but I hope that it will show clearly our vision to be a funder that works hard to reduce these inequalities, and ensure that disadvantaged and marginalised individuals and communities are supported to thrive, and not just survive.

A blog will never do justice to the sheer diversity of views that have been represented in the past few months.  You might argue that the draft strategy hasn’t done it justice either – and I am looking forward to receiving lots of robust and thoughtful feedback on it in due course.  However, for now, I wanted to share with you some of the big themes that came up time and again.

London and Londoners were spoken about very positively in the main.  However, it was never long before the conversation turned to a discussion of the stark divides emerging between Londoners, in terms of the cost of living and the wealth gaps between the richest and poorest.  These were divides that many felt could not be borne indefinitely, and I think the statement that sums it up best for me is from the London Fairness Commission, published in March 2016, which states clearly and simply that if we do not act now to address these inequalities, then we risk London becoming:

 ‘…a playground for the super-rich, a treadmill for the middle-classes and a workhouse for the poor.’
(Lord Victor Adebowale, Chair of the London Fairness Commission)

In order to bridge these divides, many spoke about the need to speak truth to power, and to change the narrative from London being the most unequal city in the world, to one where everyone could thrive and that in order for this to happen we needed to understand that many of the issues we seek to address as funders and civil society organisations operate within complex systems that require further understanding from us all.

As you would imagine, I also had a lot of conversations about the role of funders in dealing with inequalities.  There was a lot to be said about the power imbalance between funders and those they work with, and in particular, fund.  Whilst many agreed that it would be near impossible to address this imbalance, due to the exchange of money, it could be addressed if funders were:

  1. More transparent and proportionate in their approaches
  2. Clearer about their vision and purpose
  3. Better at using their entire asset base

Another major topic of discussion was the future of civil society, in London and beyond.  Regular reference was made to the feeling that the sector was at a crisis point: stuck between falling levels of income and rising levels of need and demand for their services. Some common themes linked to these discussions included:

  1. The need to strike the right balance between funding innovation and the ‘tried and tested’
  2. A commitment to the sector’s continued survival
  3. A desire for the sector to also thrive through access to the right support

We hope that this blog, along with updates to our website, will provide some ideas of the direction that the draft strategy is heading in.

Throughout this process CBT has committed to conducting our review in a transparent and collaborative way.  We hope that when you see our Committee Paper, which we will publish to our website, along with the draft strategy itself, you will see clearly why we have taken the approach that we have laid out.  However, as I have said already, we look forward to the draft changing in the coming months based on the feedback we receive.

sufina-ahmad

Sufina Ahmad, Head of Strategic Review
@SufinaAhmad