Philippa Knott, The Blagrave Trust’s new policy manager, shares her thoughts on her new role.
Reflections on three months in post at Blagrave Trust. Looking ahead to the next year.
I love my new job!
I’m working with great people, on important issues, in an organisation with a good reputation, with the resources and potential to make a difference (to something, somewhere, at some scale) – it doesn’t get much better than that and I’m very conscious of the privilege of taking on such a role.
At the same time, there’s plenty playing on my mind.
The place of philanthropic funding
Moving into the world of trusts and foundations world has been more of a culture shock than I expected. I’ve got some experience of the charitable sector through my previous role at the Centre for Youth Impact, and of funding, from the point of view of government, and it’s the combination of the innate power of wielding financial resource, and the freedom to do with them as we wish (within the constraints of charity law and the interests of our trustees!) that’s struck me.
The opportunities in this are significant, but the civil servant in me feels uncomfortable at a lack of public accountability. Onlookers are less likely to demand outcomes from the work of trusts and foundations in the way that they do government programmes, and our work might be perceived as a ‘nice to have’.
Blagrave has made a start on rethinking accountability to the people we exist to support, by involving young people in our governance, building low-burden funding processes and systematic feedback from partners into how we fund, and setting up The Listening Fund which is about driving accountability to young people.
An all-day workshop with the partners we fund unpicking the power dynamics in the governance and resourcing of work with young people was also an insightful induction to my new role.
I’m also aware that accumulated wealth such as that managed by the Trust is both a symptom of the system we’re seeking to change, and has the potential to perpetuate it, depending how it’s invested.
It’s great to hear our trustees are open minded about how we can change this – and even, how old money can be used to explore new ways of working and shifts in traditional hierarchies and power structures.
A week shadowing the inimitable Kathy Evans at Children England also left me thinking hard about the overlaps and gaps between what government funds and doesn’t, and what private funding can enable – who should and shouldn’t do what. In the landscape in which we operate, I want to be clear a) what we can do, and b) what we should, ensuring we enable challenge and try new approaches. Understanding what our size and position enables us to do – and what it means we shouldn’t go near.
The issues and what it means to ‘do policy’ as a funder
Blagrave’s funding to date has had a regional focus – across the south of England – and in recent years focused on issues associated with successful transition to adulthood. This potentially covers a wide range of policy issues: housing, employment, education and training, welfare and benefits, and mental health among others.
The idea of ‘doing policy’ somewhere like Blagrave fluctuates between feeling hugely exciting and utterly overwhelming, even futile. Our funding is limited and we’re just a few people, while the breadth and complexity of the issues faced by our partners and the young people they work with is staggering.
I’ve spoken to policy people at a number of other trusts and foundations and their approaches are diverse: from developing their own voice through comms and in-house research teams, to funding organisations already expert in advocacy and in a field to continue their work, to identifying the next ‘hot topic’ and building and funding a movement behind it. We’ve got big questions to answer.
Like, do we want to make our current system work better, or create a new one? Would we rather speak alone on issues, or together? Are young people’s views an important part of how we work, or do they drive it?
I’m looking forward to listening, learning and developing a policy function within Blagrave that addresses these questions. I would particularly like to learn more about what youth-led policy change looks like: how we can hear the changes young people are calling for, support them to lead that change, and to work alongside professionals and subject experts most effectively as they do so.
We will be updating on this work both specific to the policy function, and more generally in terms of other areas of our work and governance, in the coming weeks.