Is small more beautiful?
In 1973 a radical economist, Dr. Ernst Friedrich Schumacher published a treatise on modern economics called ‘Small is Beautiful: A study of economics as if people mattered.’ It is probably still one of the most important books on economics ever published, and it formed the basis for my counter-consensus views on globalisation before I even knew what that word meant.
At the heart of the book is the notion that bigger is not always better and growth is not always good if it comes at the expense of many of the people it purports to help. In their stead he proposed human-scale, decentralised development and the use of ‘appropriate technologies’, proclaiming that "production from local resources for local needs is the most rational way of economic life."
The recent credit crunch and global recession at the end of the noughties caused many to reconsider the principles behind globalisation and economic growth, with a focus on the inequalities it can engender. In the ensuing climate of austerity in the UK many local communities began to feel the pinch, and with reduced statutory support and a stretched if not broken model of voluntary sector funding many began to turn towards new models of community support.
Enter place-based giving, a new way of bringing together local people with local funders to effect change and positive development by tackling the specific needs in their communities.
Islington Giving was the first of these schemes and was developed around 2008 following a needs analysis commissioned by Cripplegate Foundation – one of the major founders of the scheme: Invisible Islington: Living in poverty in inner London. Islington Giving has been described as a ground-breaking charitable campaign tackling the most pressing issues facing residents in the borough. The campaign’s uniqueness is characterised as being centred around:
Place – Islington Giving aims to help one defined place – the London Borough of Islington. The campaign addresses the priorities of that place, not the priorities of a particular donor or funder.
Partnership – Islington Giving is not a single charity, it is a partnership of endowed trusts that have come together to pool resources and knowledge in order to maximise their collective impact.
Local knowledge – as a consortium of long-standing local charities, Islington Giving has extensive local knowledge of the borough, its community and its issues.
Collaboration – Islington Giving takes every opportunity to work with others, from national stakeholders, local decision-makers and delivery organisations, through to businesses and individual residents. The campaign fosters partnership and volunteering at every level. Giving Together: How Islington Giving is transforming local philanthropy, Office for Public Management (OPM) 2013
The Islington model was designed to be replicable in other areas by providing a blueprint for successful growth, and since 2008 a number of other schemes have sprung up:
- Hackney Giving opened its doors in early 2014 and aimed to distribute £150,000 in its first year, offering grants of up to £5,000 to local charities and groups that support young people, older people, carers and the unemployed, supported by the East End Community Foundation, which invests in grassroots charities in the area, and the local infrastructure body Hackney CVS.
- Lambeth Giving Fund works in partnership with The London Community Foundation which also runs the pan-capital Give London programme whose partners include the London Evening Standard, Comic Relief, Deutsche Bank, Land Securities, JP Morgan, Lend Lease, Affinity Sutton, and Lambeth Council.
- Camden Giving aims “to establish a vibrant and successful fundraising vehicle and a shared vision for the future that includes community activism, volunteering, new opportunities to collaborate, goodwill and connections.” And its Kings Cross Fund is supported by the Kings Cross Development Partnership and the London Borough of Camden, and administered by Voluntary Action Camden on behalf of Camden Giving.
- Southwark Giving is the newest kid on the block. Initiated by Community Southwark, the umbrella body for the voluntary and community sector, volunteers and social action in Southwark, and an advisory group of local trusts and businesses. Southwark Giving is based on new needs analysis research of the borough (A Tale of Two Southwarks) and based on the principle conclusion of the research that: “a poverty of opportunities for some leads to a weaker community for all.”
Many of these London-based schemes have been helped at least in part by London's Giving, a London Funders’ initiative, which is currently aiding the development of place-based giving in 13 London boroughs by sharing the evidence base, lessons learnt and know-how from local giving campaigns to help interested London boroughs to create their own locally tailored initiatives.
And place-based giving schemes are not restricted to London. Launched in 2016, the Leeds Fund was also inspired by Islington Giving, and is run by Leeds Community Foundation and supported by John Lewis and Yorkshire Evening Post. The Leeds Fund provides larger grants to support a strategic priority (chosen by LCF in response to need and impact) and an ‘open pot’ for smaller grants up to £2,500. The priority for 2016/17 is mental health.
The big question though is, do these schemes work? Are local place-based giving schemes effective at attracting new money into deprived areas?
In 2013 the New Economics Foundation (a think tank which, incidentally, was founded on Schumacherian principles) were commissioned to research and write a follow-up report on needs in Islington. The report found that on the other side of the global recession, people in Islington were facing more dire circumstances than when the scheme first started up, making it difficult to demonstrate the scheme’s positive effect on the local area. Despite this, a further report in the same year by the Office for Public Management concluded that Islington Giving was having a profound impact in the following areas:
- Improved quality of life – achieved by investing in young people, tackling poverty and reducing isolation.
- People giving money and time – individuals, businesses and organisations giving money and time to create lasting social capital
- A new model of 21st century philanthropy
In 2013 Islington Giving had achieved the following:
- raised £1.8m, critically bringing new money into the borough and maximising the use of existing funds
- funded 30 community organisations and invested £700k in local initiatives with a further £1m planned in 2013 and 2014
- raised awareness of Islington’s issues and started to establish Islington Giving’s reputation as a trusted, knowledgeable and active route through which to give money, time and support
- established Islington’s first employee volunteer scheme (BIG) and involved 600 volunteers
By any measure the outcomes that Islington Giving seeks to bring about are challenging and long-term… Further analysis will be needed to assess fully how Islington Giving is contributing to these outcomes in the longer term but, through our interviews and case study analysis, we found that Islington Giving’s work is already having a profound impact on many of the borough’s most disadvantaged residents. Giving Together: How Islington Giving is transforming local philanthropy, Office for Public Management (OPM) 2013
Current updated figures show that since 2010, Islington Giving has raised over £4.6million, to support over 60 voluntary organisations and charities, and engaged the support of over 4,000 volunteers.
While many of these place-based giving schemes are in their infancy, the idea that local people from all walks of life can contribute to and benefit from each other’s support is a wonderful Schumacherian ideal of rehumanising the economic and political system. So while Big Society as a political notion may have died a death, Small and Beautiful local communities are still going strong.
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Dr Cat Walker has worked in the UK voluntary sector for the last 17 years, including Charities Aid Foundation where she was Head of Research from 1999-2006, and Directory of Social Change where she was Head of STEAM (Sector Trends Evidence Analysis Metrics) from 2010-2015.
Cat now works as a freelance consultant and is the founder of The Researchery – a policy-focussed, strategic research surgery for those who want to get more out of data for evidence-led social change we can all believe in.Read more articles by this author