A new workshop aims to shake-up the way we approach philanthropy, turning traditional funding relationships on their head and inviting us to co-create solutions together. Cheryl Chapman reports on how a two hour hack bought homelessness home.
‘Collaboration’, ‘co-creation’ and ‘pragmatic co-production’ are philanthropy’s newest watchwords and signal an end to an era of feudalism in funding.
The traditional funding relationship sees “the benevolent rich handing money to grateful poor”, explains Jake Hayman, philanthropy advisor, agitator and founder of social innovation consultancy Ten Year’s Time, who is leading the way on rebalancing the power relationship between funder and recipient, for a more fruitful society..
Within the old-style relationship is an assumption that the funder is also the knowledge holder and knows best what is needed to make a difference to those they want to help.
I have heard such attitudes myself, summed up by one entrepreneurial billionaire philanthropist as “the one who has the peso, has the say so.”
But thankfully it is an attitude fast going out of fashion.
There is a growing realisation that to be an effective funder, and to achieve impact, you need to be prepared to give away more than money…you need to give away power to those you want to help. London Funders in its report The Way Ahead: Civil Society at the Heart of London scopes out a new contract for a productive society that puts 'pragmatic co-production' at its heart.
By letting charities and charity service users – the ‘experts by experience’ - help shape the services they need, we are moving towards an age of enlightenment and empowerment in philanthropy.
Co-creation is also at the heart of a new short workshop, entitled ‘Re-Thinking Philanthropy’ created by Hayman.
Billed as a ‘social innovation hack’ the workshop aims to empower young City professionals with the knowledge and means to create solutions to social issues based on evidence, data and insight from service users and charity leaders.
In two hours, participants go from complete novices to co-creators of products, services and approaches that might really make a difference to the issue being ‘hacked’.
Homelessness was the topic we were focussed on in the Rethinking Philanthropy hack I joined, and quite frankly, it bought homelessness home.
Firstly we were fed facts, data and evidence that painted the real picture of homelessness and for the first time I, a long time donor to Centrepoint, understood some of the reasons why homelessness happens and what happens to homeless people.
So, we found out from charity experts at the session that the single most common reason given for the first episode of rough sleeping is relationship breakdown, either with parents or a partner. Research with homeless young people across the country by Centrepoint found that 86% had been forced to leave home rather than leaving out of choice.
Sexual abuse, domestic violence, a lack of acceptance of a young person’s sexuality by parents and poor mental health are all triggers for young people leaving home, research shows.
25% of homeless youth are LGBT – ten times the average. Once homeless, LGBT youth are more likely to experience targeted violence and discrimination, develop substance abuse problems, be exposed to sexual exploitation, and engage in higher levels of risky sexual behaviour, than their non-LGBT peers.
Another factor in homelessness are those who have experienced institutional life in local authority care, prison or the armed forces; they are also much more likely to end up sleeping rough, Crisis Research shows.
For the first time I understood how easy it is for people, particularly young people from certain backgrounds, to find themselves without a roof over their heads.
And we learned that the homeless people we see on the streets are the tip of an iceberg. The ‘hidden homeless’, people who are sofa-surfing, staying with family members or friends, living in squats or other insecure accommodation, is a massive issue. Research by the charity Crisis indicates that about 62% of single homeless people are hidden and may not show up in official figures.
Now in possession of this knowledge and with a new understanding of homelessness, Hayman and his colleagues take us ‘hackers’ through a ‘brand swap’ session. We are asked to consider how some of the world’s most successful companies and organisations would solve the issues of homelessness. How would NASA, Easyjet, Uber, Google keep young LGBT kids from the streets, for example?
This opens up the floodgates of creative thinking from us 'co-creators; could there be a fostering service run by the LGBT community? Perhaps hotels could be persuaded to donate a room for a night to young, single homeless women? Could the public learn what it is like to be homeless in a NASA style simulator?
The energy in the room is palpable as fellow hackers start to get creative around solutions in the style of high street brands.
Next we are taken on a ‘speed date’; thinking about how working with different partners, such as schools, local government, gyms, hotels could allow new collaborative solutions, and another rake of new ideas emerge.
Could gyms offer health and wellness classes for homeless people? Perhaps schools could run services for homeless young people in partnership with mental health organisations?
With experts on hand helping shape our blue skies thinking into grounded ideas, we as a group had co-created about 20 solutions in the space of an hour.
The next step was to choose our favourite three to work up further and think about how if they existed life would be different in ‘Ten Year’s Time’, the name of Hayman’s advisory consultancy, and what next steps would we need to take to bring them to reality.
So how did we believe we might change the world for the homeless?
Well…how about an app that allows members of the public to map homeless people in real time?
Imagine next time you walk past a homeless person, instead of havering over whether to give them a couple of quid, you were able to go to your mobile, ‘pin’ them on a map and instantly connect them to help support services e.g. hostel accommodation, at the same time as making a small donation to the service that can help.
In Ten Year’s Time this could lead to crowd-sourced, real time, accurate data on homelessness, that would allow government and third sector organisations to better craft and deliver services.
Even better, instead of feeling useless and walking past the homelessness we see on our streets everyday, the public would be empowered to really help at the click of a button.
Fellow hacker Sophie Petrie, relationship executive of HSBC Private Bank, summed up the feeling in the room, after the hack that had united us in co-creation , saying: “I’ve never been to a more productive and insightful two hour meeting!”
Not only empowering, it turns out ‘co-creation’ is a lot more fun and educational than handing out money to the grateful poor and telling them how to spend it.
The next Rethinking Philanthropy Workshop is in September 2016. Email Helen Atwood: firstname.lastname@example.org