Strange Bedfellows? BIDs and Civil Society

Strange Bedfellows? BIDs and Civil Society

The recent second annual Summit of London’s Business Improvement Districts convened by London First and the GLA revealed that BIDs and Civil Society organisations are more likely bedfellows than you may think . . .

The government’s civil society strategy, published in August of last year, argues that there are five foundations necessary to build thriving communities – the social sector; the public sector; people; places and business. The changing expectation of the role of business in civil society is indicative of how boundaries between the private, public and voluntary sectors are becoming increasingly porous, and how many of today’s social challenges demand not just partnership working, but cross-sector solutions.  As their name implies, Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) fuse two of the fundamental elements of civil society by engaging businesses in places.

The increasing significance of place as a focus of social programmes and economic policy provided the backdrop to the London BIDs’ summit held at City Hall last month.  One round table discussion on civil society and BIDs explored their potential:  

  • as agents of community development and social integration alongside their place-shaping roles;
  • as brokers of business engagement in their local community (by connecting with local voluntary and community organisations and social enterprises);
  • as sources of place-based investment (through grants, volunteering – including pro bono expertise – as well as support in kind);
  • as partners with other stakeholders in developing place-based programmes and local initiatives.

A recent report for the Greater London Authority, Harnessing the Capital’s Giving – what is the role of the Mayor and the GLA in enabling civic philanthropy? also highlights the importance of place as a focus for local giving (of money and time) and the role of business as partners in London’s civil society.  The report refers to the work of the sixty BIDs in the capital, several of which provide proxy Corporate Social Responsibility (“CSR”) programmes for members to channel resources and employee-volunteering into their local area, as well as to the Place-based Giving models which are a growing feature of London boroughs’ civil society infrastructure, and which a number of BIDs are also now partnering.  

Harnessing the Capital’s Giving argues that the Mayor’s “good growth” agenda is likely to elicit more sustained investment and “social value” than occasional charitable contributions from businesses’ Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programmes.  The Mayor’s introduction of the Good Work Standard alongside his commitment to responsible procurement provides tools to back the kind of “purpose-led businesses” identified in the Civil Society Strategy.  “Inclusive growth” is also the overarching theme of the proposed London Industrial Strategy which aims to ensure “all of London’s places, people and communities can contribute to and benefit from the city’s growth.”

Do BIDs have a role in the changing infrastructure which supports London’s civil society?

  • Unsurprisingly, London’s BIDs have varied levels and types of interaction and involvement with civil society in their different localities; this tends to reflect the characteristics of each place, the different profile of the business community and level of resources available to each BID. Most recognise the role that BIDs have as partners in local civil society, and as conduits between businesses and the community;
  • In outer London BIDs, this tends to be more traditional volunteering – eg providing reading partners in schools; donating to foodbanks; employee team-days supporting the local community.
  • Some of the larger, inner London BIDs have developed potentially higher-impact initiatives, including 3 year-long partnering of businesses with local voluntary organisations (Bankside); tackling rough sleeping (Heart of London); creating an age-friendly business district (Angel) etc.
  • BIDs in many areas are “closer to the ground” than the local authority; as such they can be invaluable sources of data and intelligence. This enables them to raise awareness of local needs and signpost businesses which are interested in tackling community priorities e.g. SE1 BIDs working with Southwark and Lambeth collectively on local employment initiatives (recruitment; retention and “good work” practices) and the accessibility of affordable space for charitable organisations and community groups.
  • Ongoing devolution and localism (e.g. in the form of Neighbourhood Plans) and the “reinvention” of many high streets may see civil society issues rising further up BID agendas in future eg promoting meanwhile uses/pop ups and social enterprises; community representation on BID boards/ governance; re-imagining the town centre as a cultural/community nexus.

 Challenges to overcome if BIDs are to be reliable partners of a modern civil society

 Making the case – many businesses view the BID levy as part of their community investment/CSR, so asking for additional contributions to the local community needs to have a clear justification and purpose.

  • BIDs would welcome greater clarity on relevant (local) policy priorities along with frameworks and clear metrics to help define and measure community investment so that it is both more strategic, and garners as much impact as possible.
  • “Good growth” can sound a bit “motherhood and apple pie.” BIDs’ members need a clear sense of what this means at a local level; that the market/local economy works for the common good and not just exclusive sectional interests.
  • A corollary of further devolution and place-based responses to social needs could see more representation of businesses in local democratic structures, including area committees/ neighbourhood forums if not local authorities themselves.
  • The localisation of business rates potentially creates a conflict for local authorities in meeting the twin aims of maximising the tax take from local commerce, whilst also nurturing local civil society organisations.

 Whether London’s BIDs interpret their place-shaping role to include investing in local civil society is rather a moot point.  Once the business community in an area votes to establish a BID, it is almost guaranteed to remain a permanent fixture; very few BIDs are disestablished or lose their electoral mandate.  BIDs are relatively “new kids on the municipal block,” and are growing rapidly in number; it remains largely up to community partners to make the case for harnessing their potential as enablers of local civil society.

John Griffiths is a Director of Rocket Science UK Ltd and the co-author of The Evolution of London’s BIDs (2016)

Ten years on from Invisible Islington…

Ten years on from Invisible Islington…

Ten years ago marked the publication of a ground-breaking piece of ethno-graphic research which continues to impact on our work and that of our many clients and partners today.  The Cripplegate Foundation commissioned Rocket Science to shine a light on the poverty in one seemingly affluent inner-London borough and to explore the factors that make it so entrenched – ill health, debt, isolation and lack of opportunity – and to re-think the actions needed to tackle it.  Our aim was to go beyond the headline statistics and allow local people to tell their stories about the impact of grinding poverty on their everyday lives.

The report Invisible Islington, which is still available on the Cripplegate Foundation website, is credited by its Director, Kristina Glenn, for transforming the way the Foundation works and establishing Islington Giving.  It changed Rocket Science too, positioning us as a reputable voice on the changing nature of London’s civil society.  Anyone reading the Rocket Science advent calendar, a record of our diverse range of consultative work, research publications and grants’ management from 2018, or who attended our pre-Christmas networking for clients (and former colleagues) from across London’s public, private, social sectors, will see how the company operates at the cross-sectoral interface which is helping redefine civil society and forge a new social settlement for the c21st.   

A spate of reviews looking at the future of civil society – not least the government’s Civil Society Strategy and the reports of the Julia Unwin Commission’s Civil Society Futures (plus our own work in different boroughs; on London’s giving; on the potential of civic philanthropy), all published in 2018, suggests that once the small matter of Brexit is decided, there is a wealth of ideas, opportunities and challenges to act upon. 

Ahead of convening its Big Network Day at City Hall next month, London Funders have commissioned us to undertake a “review of the reviews” – a combination of literature review and think piece. This is an opportunity to reflect on the big social challenges of today and how a modern civil society can create the kind of partnerships necessary to realise London’s full potential; creating the social value which stems from the kinds of civic agency, participatory democracy, cooperative practices and forms of self-determination showcased in Civil Society Futures is something which Rocket Science has been researching and enabling for well over a decade.

 

For more information, please contact [email protected]

 

From: Civil Society in England – Its current state and future opportunity

Harnessing the capital’s giving

Rocket Science’s review for the Greater London Authority argues that the Mayoral priority of enabling “good growth” provides a modern narrative for harnessing corporate philanthropy  

The GLA commissioned Rocket Science to undertake a review of civic philanthropy against a backdrop of extensive reflection about the future of civil society in the capital.[1]  At a time of political uncertainty around Brexit, the shrinking role of the state in people’s lives and increasingly complex social needs compounded by widening inequality of wealth, we detected high expectations of the Mayor of one of the richest cities in the world to take more of a lead.  The Review found less consensus around either the specific types of intervention or initiative the Mayor might take, or whether the concept of philanthropy, which is an anachronism to some, befits a modern and dynamic global city.

With the private sector increasingly seen as a key component of a civil society, the Review argues that the Mayor’s “Good Growth” agenda provides a modern narrative which will enable the GLA to elicit more sustained investment and “social value” than occasional contributions from businesses’ Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programmes. Reflecting the Mayoralty’s efforts to widen civic participation and community engagement, the Review shows how the GLA is already securing at least as much value from employers’ giving of time and expertise as money. However, it also found teams across the Authority working independently without clear strategic direction on how to engage corporate philanthropy, adopting largely opportunistic approaches to partner business.

The GLA’s eliciting social value from companies, is symptomatic of a growing trend particularly among some of the larger businesses we consulted of “moving beyond CSR” and the increasingly discredited notion of a tacit social contract in which businesses give something back to society in return for a “licence to operate.”  We detected signs of a different model of doing good in London’s private sector, one where businesses create social value by investing in the same activities required to generate profit – procurement; recruitment and reward; skills; research, development and social innovation – often by entering long-term partnerships with charities and civil society organisations.[2]

The GLA’s tapping into this whole-company approach is one corollary of the Mayor’s “Good Growth” agenda and is being underpinned by the introduction of new instruments like the Good Work Standard, as well as the Social Value Act.  Recognising the potential of business is also a recurring theme of the government’s new Civil Society Strategy which seeks to back “purpose-led” businesses committed to social or environmental objectives alongside making profit.

Such prominence given to business in debates about the future of civil society would not have been entertained even just a few years ago.  Changed perceptions of the role and potential of the private sector – from both inside and outside companies – is indicative of how boundaries between the private, pubic and voluntary sectors have become increasingly porous, and how so many of today’s social needs and challenges demand not just partnership working, but cross-sector solutions.[3] The Review identified scope for the GLA significantly to amplify this message, in effect re-purposing corporate giving for the 21st century and doing more to harness the social value generated by London’s businesses.[4]  Currently, however, connections and synergies between different programmes and projects funded by the GLA are being missed.  Partly this is a consequence of a new administration taking time to develop its strategic priorities, articulating its vision for civil society in the capital and refocusing inherited programmes, like Team London, on the themes of social integration, community engagement and social mobility.

Businesses consulted for the Review spoke of their frustration in having multiple contact points with the GLA and its lacking a coordinated, joined-up approach on corporate engagement.  As the definition of a modern civil society shifts and broadens to include business, the distinction between the GLA’s commercial partnerships (for which there is a dedicated team within the GLA) and business offers of a philanthropic nature will only become further blurred. One of the Review’s overarching recommendations is to establish a single point of contact at City Hall to bring far greater visibility and coordination to the Authority’s engagement with all sources of civic philanthropy, particularly those aligned with Mayoral priorities.

The recommendation that City Hall establishes a single point of contact for engagement with civic philanthropists is one of a series of actions and recommendations. 

Harnessing the Capital’s Giving – what is the role of the Mayor and Greater London Authority in enabling civic philanthropy with all our recommendations can be downloaded here – Rocket Science – GLA Philanthropy Review.

For further information on the Review’s findings, please contact [email protected]


[1] For the most recent contribution to this public debate see the Cabinet Office’s Civil Society Strategy, Building a Future that Works for Everyone, August 2018; Also Civil Society Futures is an ongoing national conversation about how English civil society can flourish in a fast changing world. Through a wide range of different media, Civil Society Futures has engaged those involved in all forms of civic action, including business.

[2] The future of doing good in the UK, Sonia Sodah for the Big Lottery Fund, 2017; See also chapter 4 of the Cabinet Office’s Civil Society Strategy, Building a Future that Works for Everyone, August 2018 “; Rocket Science Focus Group with large businesses, 30th April 2018.

[3] Cabinet Office’s Civil Society Strategy, Building a Future that Works for Everyone, August 2018; https://civilsocietyfutures.org/playback-business-perspective-civil-society/;.

[4] A recent study for the City of London Corporation helpfully traces the evolution and increasing partnership approach to corporate philanthropy, though admits that relatively few companies have yet progressed from “being good to great” – Corporate Community Investment – Four Routes to Impact, City of London Corporation and Corporate Citizenship, 2018.

Rocket Science publishes review of philanthropy for the Greater London Authority

Earlier this year Rocket Science were commissioned by the Greater London Authority to produce a Review of Philanthropy in London.

As you may know, last week Centre for London published More, Better, Together: A Strategic Review of Giving in London; this follows earlier calls for action, from the London Fairness Commission (2016) and Charities Aid Foundation (2017), for the Mayor to use his office to harness civic philanthropy and similar private initiative for public good.

Rocket Science’s Review of the Greater London Authority’s role in supporting philanthropy is intended to help shape and inform the Mayor and the GLA’s response to these calls. You can download a copy of the Review, Harnessing the capital’s giving: What is the role of the Mayor and Greater London Authority in enabling civic philanthropy?

I hope the proposals we have suggested in the Review will help improve the effectiveness of private, particularly business giving in working alongside statutory and charitable resources to tackle London’s rising social needs.   A GLA response to the research is expected in October 2018.

As always, we would be very pleased to hear any feedback on the Review, and ideas or offers of help to implement these recommendations.

The GLA commissioned Rocket Science to undertake independent research into the role the Mayor and GLA could play in enabling philanthropy in London. We welcome Rocket Science’s findings and recommendations and along with the Centre for London’s recent ‘More, better, together’ philanthropy report. The GLA is considering its role and will respond to both reviews in October.

Insight from our Rocket Scientists – Working with Young People

Insight from our Rocket Scientists – Working with Young People

This week we ask some of our Rocket Scientists What is important for services that support young people?

Over the last year, we have evaluated a range of programmes supporting young people. Our clients include the Wise Group, Venture Trust, Scottish Waterways Trust, Princes Trust, and Centrepoint. This work has given us the opportunity to refresh our insights into what works when helping young people to improve their education, employability and financial resilience.

Using this insight we have asked our Rocket Scientists to share lessons they have learned about what works for young people.

Dina Papamichael, Assistant Consultant

For me, it is crucial to understand the intersecting issues which young people can face. For young people, issues around health and employment are so closely linked with self-confidence, social inclusion, substance misuse, homelessness and mental health. The most successful interventions enable a young person to overcome multiple challenges on the road to the programme’s primary objective. A programme which helps young people gain a qualification while developing a social network can have the impact of boosting self-confidence, developing work-related skills and increasing the level of stability in a young person’s life, while health services that focus on the social drivers of the sexual and mental health of its young people can obtain better and more enduring health outcomes.

Richard Scothorne, Director

The transition to work is a very tough one for many young people. Some have never really succeeded at anything at school and have often lacked the stable support of parents or other carers.  The most effective programmes we have worked with have provided different kinds of support – in other words, support that young people can chose from in terms of the quality of the relationship and their different needs from time to time.  These sources include trainers, mentors and personal coaches – someone who can provide the young person with a fixed point in a shifting world – and who will listen to them and stay with them through their journey.  In addition, working on shared tasks in small, well-managed groups – often in quite demanding conditions – can provide invaluable peer support, show people they are still appreciated even when they may be struggling, and help to build a young person’s confidence in dealing with others.

Natalie Dewison, Senior Consultant

Traditionally, the effectiveness of employability services has been assessed by looking at the number of people moving on to ‘positive destinations’ (education, employment, training or volunteering). For employability projects supporting young people facing multiple barriers to work, particularly those that only run over the course of a few weeks, this approach fails to capture the full impact of support provision.

We have found that often the most valuable outcomes are increasingly recognisable over time. Improvements in a young person’s confidence and outlook for example, which make them more resilient to knock backs and motivated by new long-term goals and ambitions. These things have the potential to greatly improve future job prospects. We are currently supporting three organisations delivering employability projects to evidence the sustainability of these outcomes. This means developing methods of longer term data collection that are simple, effective and enjoyable for the young people involved.

 

Max Lohnert, Assistant Consultant

Vulnerable young people often come from unstable backgrounds and face a range of intersecting barriers to entering employment. Considering this, our experience shows that there is no “quick fix” and that vulnerable young people benefit most from sustained engagement with employability programmes. For example, young people often benefit immensely from the trusted relationships with trainers and mentors and from the peer network they establish – and such relationships take time to build. However, since funding arrangements often require organisations to prioritise the number of young people being helped over the length of time they can engage with a single person, organisations have found other means to engage young people for longer periods of time: ranging from trainers or mentors staying in touch with a young person informally after the official completion of the programme, to building linkages and strong referral networks with other organisations along the employability pipeline.

Clare Hammond, Associate Director

The job market is becoming more complex and more competitive. Teaching young people to navigate this complexity is so important. This includes helping them look beyond the well-known and more obvious opportunities. How many jobs did you know existed when you were in high school? Doctor, teacher, engineer, nurse and banker? Probably. How about business analyst, GP practice managers, food safety consultant, project manager? Probably not.

The role that employers can play in helping young people understand the lay of the land is well evidenced. However, engagement between schools and employers often focuses around larger private sector employers. These large businesses make up a small part of employment in the UK. Most people will work for small or medium sized private firms, or the public sector. Where schools partner with small and medium sized businesses and the public sector young people are able to have a fuller understanding of the labour market.

Eleanor Sanders White, Consultant

There are many assumptions out there about young people which can interfere with our ability to reach and support them. Sometimes, the only thing in common in a group of young people is their age – we need to be careful about treating them as a homogenous group. A lack of confidence or fear of failure can often be misinterpreted as apathy. While some young people want to engage online, others need to develop a trusting relationship to engage. Many young people are technologically savvy, but some won’t have the digital skills required to engage online. While some young people will need a tailored and very supportive experience, others will interpret this as patronising. The way through this? Some of the most successful examples we have seen go straight to the source and ask the young people, others have shown a huge flexibility in how they engage with the young person to tailor for the individual walking through the door.

 

For more information on our work with young people get in touch with Clare Hammond, one of our Associate Directors [email protected] or 0131 226 4949

London and philanthropy – an opportunity for the Mayor of London?

London and philanthropy – an opportunity for the Mayor of London?

Heather McLoughlin looks at what Rocket Science is doing to help the Mayor of London and the GLA understand the importance of civic philanthropy to London. Read here to find out what you can do to get involved.
London is a city of contradictions. Home to more billionaires than any other city in the world (the most recent Sunday Times Rich List puts the current number at 86), the capital’s increasing polarisation of wealth is potentially the greatest risk to its social integration and continued economic success. For every £1 of wealth owned by the bottom 10% of London households, the top 10% owns £172. In the context of this increasing disparity, and against a backdrop of the biggest retraction of state spending since World War Two, it is perhaps unsurprising that there is growing interest in a city-wide effort to harness greater philanthropic giving as an agent of enriching civic society. Today, philanthropy encompasses far more than the donating of money or its transfer from rich to poor. It covers a wide range of motivations from purely altruistic charitable giving to the increasingly sophisticated social investment.

This brings directly into question the current and potential role of the Mayor and the GLA. At present the Mayor and the GLA’s strategic vision and objectives on philanthropy are not clear and there is limited understanding of the potential of philanthropy to contribute to London’s civic renewal and social integration.

Review of the GLA’s role in supporting philanthropy – what are we hoping to achieve?

The Mayor of London has commissioned Rocket Science to conduct a review of philanthropy in London to identify whether there is a role for the Mayor and the GLA to increase giving in the capital and to enhance the way it could complement investment in current and future priorities. The focus of the review is on the giving of money and resources from both companies and individuals which can build on existing infrastructure and provision already offered by the Mayor and the GLA. We will be presenting the Mayor and the GLA with highly practical and achievable actions which it could take to make a measurable impact on giving in London.

How can you get involved?

It is important that as many partners and stakeholders as possible feel able to feed into this review. We are interested in hearing from those who work in the philanthropy sector; from charities and independent funders, to individual and corporate citizens. There are various ways you can get involved

1. We have created a quick 5-minute survey which you can take here.

2. During April, we are also running six focus groups to engage with different stakeholders including large companies; SMEs; individual givers, independent funders, place-based initiatives and social investment initiatives. If you would like to attend a focus group, you can find more information here.

This is an important opportunity to have your say on what the Mayor and the GLA can do to support, nurture and grow philanthropy in London and in turn support the capital’s civil society.

 

If you have any questions on the review, the accompanying survey materials, please contact:  [email protected]

Heather is a Consultant at Rocket Science based in our London office.  You can check out her profile here.