Friday 19 November 2010

Charity Foundations damage the planet!

Been a bit of a Big Society week! Started off with a Joseph Rowntree Foundation dinner on Tuesday night at the RSA to discuss "The Big Society". A collection of media, bien pensants and other pundits discussing a Government policy that has yet to be adequately defined so that gave ample scope to the gathering to define it in ways that fitted each of our own hobby horses. A few insights amongst the genteel waffle though as my cold/cholera was making me grumpy I left early and bumped into no less than Sir Stuart himself wandering the streets! We had a rather amusing interchange on the subject of BigSoc but it would be most indiscreet to reveal more!

More BigSoc discussion on Wednesday when I had a meeting with my top 300 Members at CCLA. A fascinating account of the economic and political context of finances by their erudite CEO, Michael Quicke. He described the "difficult and dangerous economic climate" where ideology as well as economics is determining actions. He suggested that politics as much as economics determines policy. The key issues for our sector would be how far the gap between rich and poor expands and how far inequality grows between North and South. He suggested that the charity sector will do worse than the economy as a whole.

But against that background there are opportunities for growth and the trick for charities is to be open and up for the challenge. For example, there will be a once in a lifetime chance to acquire assets.

One of the issues we discussed was the need for the sector to provide scrutiny to what is going on when bodies like the Audit Commission will not be there to do so.

Then Thursday (wearing my smart Social Investment Business hat) I hosted a lunch at the Royal Commonwealth Society for charity Foundations. Lord Wei was our guest speaker and he did not disappoint. Once he had moved past the usual stuff on BigSoc he gave a very compelling and inspiring talk on the role for social finance and new forms of support and brokerage for our sector. I was stuck by his analogy with the Green Movement. Twenty years ago the Green issues were seen as at the fringe but now are seen as crucial to a sustainable future. He suggested that new forms of social investment are only emerging but will be seen as a crucial aspect of a growing civil society in the future. He is spot on.

And talking Green that led to a great debate on whether Foundations are doing more damage than good. They use their investments to support oil drilling and energy consumption. They have very poor climate or social checks on their investments. So making a few grants for sustainability projects against the background of their massive and bigger support for climate damage is bizarre.

And is it not bizarre that the Banks, who have huge experience in making loans, set up Foundations who then make grants not loans!

I used my Chair's stick to prod and poke them! I had started by quoting the Secretary of the Carnegie Trust speaking to the Nathan Committee in 1952 who said it is the job of Foundations "to live dangerously". Are they?

Of course I was partly just being provocative to spark discussion as the people we had were a great bunch and the role of grant making Foundations is a crucial one. But I hope they will start to think more about how they use their vast wealth to support more social investment and to look to a growing role for loans as well as grants.

One of those attending (he shall remain anonymous) suggested we needed an Enquiry into the Foundation sector, perhaps led by the Charity Commission (their anally retentive guidance is a key factor in encouraging climate damage by Foundations!).

It's an idea I shall pursue. And a final thought, contributed by Mark Campanale, who is setting up the Social Stock Exchange, who said how come the millions of third sector workers contribute their pension funds to climate damaging industry but not to social enterprise or socially responsible business!

No comments: