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Thought LeadershipUncategorized


By November 4, 2021January 24th, 2022No Comments

By Stephen Bediako

In November 2010 I was taking the leap. Shacking up in a small office somehow with our seed investors and first couple staff. We started working on youth crime and similar projects. We worked, then and today, primarily in London. This wonderful city, my home, my family, the city that gave me life, death and stress, has also given me my purpose – and has informed TSIP over the last 10 years. This article sets out my reflections on what TSIP has done, what it’s achieved, what it’s got wrong, what it’s learned – and what might be next. It’s also just a rant! Thanks to all who have helped to keep us here, especially the wonderful team over the years – those who have come and gone (regardless of how it ended!). I remain inspired and influenced by what happens at this wonderful organisation and the lives we impact for the good.

  1. The mix of academic and lived experience is the path to values-driven success. The social sector has done amazing work, and there is no doubt that without its commitment to communities and proximity to communities, this pandemic might have been a whole lot worse in 2020. We are slowly learning that an academic/middle-class lens can only go so far in designing and delivering the policies and services we need. We need to encourage and systematise what I call mixed teams. I myself embody a mixed team – brought up in East London, losing both my parents by 18, battling all sorts of demons and then adding to that experience with education, work experience, travel, entrepreneurship and absolute curiosity/love for the ‘Other’ rather than the fear of ‘Other’ played upon by populist/demagogues leaders. By embracing this ‘love other rather than fear other’ approach we will create more value, create more social impact and save our planet. We have to be genuine and we have to be prepared to make mistakes and learn. We started this work with UnLtd and The Lottery but it’s reached a new level with TSIP’s work with Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity and the development of Community Researchers led by the incredible team at TSIP.

  2. We’ve learnt the wrong things from the private sector. What I mean by this is that the private sector has given us a restrictive focus on metrics, a steer that quality is academic, white-middle class and office savvy. At the same time, we’ve ignored important aspects of the private sector such as paying people well, creating value for users, and building infrastructure that better helps position yourself within government. Instead, the social sector is a hotchpotch of voices jostling for the attention of the next in line in the Darwinian chain of life (i.e. communities chasing charities, charities chasing funders, funders chasing government, etc). We’ve also not picked up the private sector’s (when it’s not being dominated by multi-nationals driven by shareholder value and tax avoidance) love for consolidation and mergers to create value or allow new entrants. For a 101 on what we can learn from the private sector, I suggest taking a closer look at UnLtd who have done great work over the years to drive profit and purpose. TSIP has tried to play this card – remaining a business, never really making a profit but driven by the hunger to do good business and good work. Personally, I think that has allowed an incredible body of work that exists today.

  3. Big evidence just feeds an evidence sector. For six years we were global leaders in a more practical approach to evidence. What a journey! We founded Project Oracle, which was fantastic and does not exist today because the leadership did not remain inclusive and diverse enough. It was a learning for me and I take responsibility for not putting that in place. When the model was replicated in Ontario, Canada, YouthREX was and remains diverse, inclusive, and youth-led with strong ties to practice. We need more of this. Organisations do not need to be chasing a gold standard of evidence derived from randomized controlled trials – that’s reserved for the medical profession. The data science-driven approaches of tech are more than good enough for measuring social impact. Further, a model of continuous learning based on the voice of users, the practice of providers, and a combination of academic expertise with lived experience ‘would get it done’. TSIP is planning to re-enter this space soon (I hope!) where the existing provision misses the mark. This is because much of it is there to provide for itself rather than for communities. Nevertheless, as Lord Victor Adebowale says, if you are passionate about something you should be passionate about measuring it. I’ve come full circle on this and I believe academics – especially practical ones – are best placed to support the sector to evaluate better.

  4. When you follow the breadcrumb trail – race, power, and zero-sum thinking thwarts our evolution. It’s a shame but it’s true. I’ve had the privilege of seeing different sectors in different countries, and I can firmly say that the social sector is still somewhat driven by what I call ‘White fear’ rather than ‘White fragility’. Usually white leaders, professional leaders with their hands on the tiller making decisions. This is not all of them, and we are seeing more and more allayed, curious, confident white leaders and black/minority leaders rising – and leading. However, there are still too many – who are usually thwarted by seeing black and brown leaders/organisations as risky, untrustworthy, unreliable, needing help, problematic and more. Further, there are some in seats of power who see it all as a zero-sum game. Indeed we all know corruption in Africa is driven by a scarcity mindset/fear of loss view that encourages hoarding. Well, it’s the same in the U.K. social sector. Funding doppelgängers, risk-appetite and meaningful financial support flows to organisations that look, speak and sound like Funders rather than not. It’s the biggest hoarding game ever as resources flow to the people and ideas that most align with a narrow set of values – I call for us to move on from this we must all unite to help the sector modernise. This zero-sum mindset can be undone but it must be done with care and intention. Performative and knee-jerk responses will only serve to reinforce stereotypes and create an even bigger backlash by all involved – white, black, Asian, etc. Ask any American why they think Trump came after Obama and you will understand my point. We need the quiet work of designing racism out of people’s psyche. Performative shows are not the whole answer, they are part of it because they inspire, but sadly where there is hope, there’s hate, and it’s action for change that will be the difference, not tweeting for change.

  5. The sector needs to shed itself of the old/monolithic representative bodies that are driven by paternalism. When I was growing up in East London it was tough – and I keep that mindset today regardless of where I am and what I am doing. We shared one £1.50 doner kebab (yes that’s how much they cost in late 80’a early 90’s London) between 5/6 of us. I slept with mice, mould and cold. I never saw any charity help us, only the Council (begrudgingly), I never saw us hit the wall, my mum did an incredible job of working multiple jobs, benefits and looking after all five of us. In fact, the point is the vast majority of so-called poor people / disadvantaged people make it work. My point is while I see a place for representative bodies representing the interest of underrepresented groups, I’m convinced more than ever those representation groups should be playing a facilitation role not a translation role. It is time to reimagine what it means to represent people. This flows into the form of democracy we want – we need to be specific, just saying democracy is not enough. The old Greek thinkers decided that democracy should be representative to avoid the tyranny of the masses. Today we need new forms of democracy. Deliberative democracy is one of those models – the work of Professor James Fishkin should be primary reading for anyone interested in this work. Then there is the question of cooperative ownership. I have seen pieces of these two organising forms in TSIP’s work through the work developing a Community Led fund, creating the Civic Innovation Hub or how we developed Project Oracle. It was based on the importance of voices, not just expert voices. Furthermore, the fact that this initiative was facilitated and pioneered by the GLA, proves to me the power of government to deliver good, and to deliver innovation and to impart that innovation into other work, such as the London Schools Excellence Fund. A huge reflection for me from the last ten years is just how open and able the GLA was to embracing innovation and doing things differently. The work we have done and continue to do with them is inspiring.

  6. Community based health is how we understand and solve our health crisis. ur work with Guy’s and St Thomas’s Charity has been remarkable. A team that has embraced diversity of perspective and cognitive difference has come together with a foundation willing to be curious and interested in the details of the issues it supports. Community Research, Community Led funding and exploring themes of race and air pollution have underpinned the work. We’ve learnt that the best answers can be found when you combine academic and lived experience insight. A focus on community health, habits and investing in this work is key, with COVID 19, the likely amplification for improving and growing such an approach. However, the roots of this work for us lie in the great work we did with Nesta over the years – developing a Centre for Social Action that drove social action into practice, and work with Nesta and the Cabinet Office on Help in Hospitals and the Carers Project – all driving real people into health debates in meaningful ways. The partnership is less active now as I sense Nesta went down a road of research and existed as more of a spreader/enabler. Under its new leadership, it does look like a focus is returning, and it would be incredible to see Nesta behaving like a Sequoia Capital of the social sector again.

  7. Social innovation is for everyone. It goes on in our communities every day. Whether it’s the black community in Lambeth, the Latino community in Fruitvale, the St John’s community in Antigua or the hard-working communities of Liverpool – Social Innovation is everywhere. In fact, I’d call out Nesta who have really tried in some instances to spark social innovation up and down the UK – we need more of this. Our communities need access to resources and power in tandem with these institutions so they can power up what they do. In fact, I have to pay particular homage to the GLA at this moment – many have left since I did most of my work there – but for years their willingness to embrace innovation and do things differently led to great work. To go further, as an institution the Mayoralty of London is critical. Over 10 years we have had the pleasure of working with Education, Youth, Regeneration, MOPAC, The Mayors Fund for London and more. We rarely had our tails clipped, and were never told you can not do that as it would not look good for the GLA.

  8. Philanthropy is starting to face up to hard truths. The written response and financial commitments of philanthropy in the face of COVID and Black Lives Matter has been immense. Quite simply millions of pounds committed. Further, a real recognition of philanthropy’s role in perpetuating the issue with its biased deployment of capital hitherto is beginning to be understood and addressed. At some times over the years, I’ve been overjoyed to work with those whose values are just there – Trust for London, UnLtd, GSTC, The National Lottery Community Fund, The GLA’s civil servants, and more. At other times I’ve been disappointed and left speechless by some of the fear, fragility and sometimes slightly entitled approach by some funders. Nevertheless, the challenge now is one of how we make this all stick – how does Philanthropy operationalise – well it needs to learn from those already across the line. For me, organisations like Trust for London epitomise what a Foundation needs to do. Helping people and organisations, based on values, taking a stand on issues, going deep on places, and investing in research, supporting organisation costs beyond programme outcomes, and being prepared to work on issues that others do not deem ‘polished’ or ‘sexy’.

  9. Leadership in this sector is when you enable others to lead and overstand where people are coming from. There was a moment when I had hoped TSIP would pursue a ‘future of work’ agenda. Whilst that didn’t materialise, it meant (and rightly so) an end to me driving the spirit of our focus. This occurred around 2016 and it was right! The result is that it has allowed others to lead. Allowing others to lead has been great – as people find their place, voice and discover their strengths. Programmes like On Purpose and the recent addition of Acumen Fellows in the U.K. – means we are laying the ground for a much development-centric sector in the coming years.

  10. Purpose and Profit can be a force for good. For me, this has not been realised yet. Impact Investing has lost its way, and can be salvaged with a return to first principles, and impact-driven businesses are getting better and better and with thanks to things like BCORP, and hopefully even more so thanks to things like Regenerate. The key thing to change about the profit and purpose piece is that we need balanced input into the design of initiatives. At the minute we are led by profit or the perspectives of capital when designing profit and purpose solutions – when it should be a balanced approach. I do not know the details but I think the recent failure of the Conduit Club might have been a victim to this. The vision, the network and the collaboration it achieved over the last couple of years was immense but I always worried whether social impact perspectives were getting as much credence and uptake as the investors/financiers and business leaders occupying the space. Regardless, they showed us what was possible and hopefully, we will see similar things emerge as the 3,500 members did some amazing work.

These are my lessons. Unedited, unwatered and unapologetic. We are not going back to the old normal. We need to wake up and realise that a world post-COVID comes with new social challenges, and before they’re resolved, we will see the climate impacts land on our doorstep.

The sooner we realise it’s our future that’s at stake, and that we need to make decisions based on value creation rather than fear, power, money and fragility – the sooner the social sector will be a strong, robust and organised ally for government to get the best from our communities.

I believe we can and will do this – it’s just going to be a tough journey.  Why is this is important? Because of the clients we serve directly or indirectly. They need to know they are getting the best whether it’s job support, education support, health support

Finally, I need to recognise the team – past and present – who have actually made TSIP what it is today. Indeed clients, users, partners and more have played a role but quite simply you are only as good as your team. It has been an honour to spend a lot of these last ten years working with TSIP people – many of whom have done, and will go on to do, amazing things. To our supporters, thanks, and to our haters come and speak to us, we’re OK, and we want to learn!