How do you steer an elephant?

Imagine that you’re riding an elephant. You’ve got a clear idea of the direction in which you want to go. You have your arguments lined up, your case clearly researched, your resources in place. You even have a map in your hand, annonated with KPIs and metrics for success.

A person riding an elephant in waterBut if you’re riding an elephant, you need your elephant to want to go there too. No matter how hard you pull on those reins, if your elephant doesn’t want to move, you’re not going anywhere!

In this metaphor, you are your organisation’s thinking mind, your strategy. Your elephant is your organisational culture, your values and emotions. And the lesson? Both of these must be engaged for success.


The importance of culture and values engagement in the work we do was a constant theme at this week’s Marmalade, the social change festival I attended in Oxford this week. (And with thanks to Abbie at Collective Impact Agency for this fabulous metaphor)

Marmalade is the (free) fringe festival associated with the Skoll World Forum, which exists to bring together global changemakers and social innovators. At Marmalade huge institutional funders like the Gates Foundation meet local implementors from Africa, Asia and around the world.


A building with a domed roofI went to some incredible sessions on the possibilities of collaborative funding to achieve greater impact and drive efficiencies led by the Gates Foundation, the power of storytelling in the fight back against big tech led by People Versus Big Tech and the possibility of real social impact brought by engaging local residents in investment decision led by BD Giving.

The power of Marmalade and other events like this is that, by bringing funders and large institutions together with implementors, the voices of those we seek to serve can be brought into systemic level debates.



A sign on a building. Text on sign Marmalade. It's time to make change together, in Oxford. There was a loud and clear call from local leaders and implementors for funders and institutions to focus more attention on equity, to be more proximate with local leaders, and to take forward meaningful participation.

Looking at Blagrave’s place in the ‘ecosystem’ I realised that we have more in common with these local implementors than we do with the huge institutional funders. As an equity focused organisation we’re already doing the work on power and injustice. This year we are developing a panel of regional advisers who will centre local organisations in our funding decisions. We seek to raise up young activists and changemakers and give them a platform at every opportunity.


And we are doing the internal work necessary to make this a success. We are examining our own attitudes to power and beginning a journey to examine how our own assets (property and investments) can be used in pursuit of our mission.

It was striking how far some large institutional funders still have to go. In terms of transparency and equity, there is much work still to do to ensure this message is heard by those who hold power in the funding and social innovation world.

At least here at Blagrave we have mapped out a journey where our rider and elephant are aligned. We are making slow and steady progress….together. Wish us luck!

Tessa Hibbert

Head of Grants, Blagrave Trust.


10th May 2024