Helping small charities to make a big impact - Kenneth Fergusson

The truth is out there… and so are solutions to most of the intractable problems we are wrestling with as a society.
Kenneth FergussonKenneth Fergusson
Kenneth Fergusson

Most social problems are already being solved somewhere. Not necessarily by government, but rather by the army of grassroots local charities and small frontline organisations. Often led by people who have spotted a problem in their local community and have responded by setting up a group, or an organisation to address the problem. These highly passionate and motivated people know their community’s needs better than anyone – and are using their expertise to bring about change.Over 100 of these people met last week to shine a light on these pressing issues and comprehend the far-reaching consequences of the pandemic, the cost-of-living crisis and more. Billed as the ‘Big Listen’, this gathering seeks to answer two questions: what are the biggest challenges facing communities across Scotland and what are the possible solutions to them? Through this unique platform, individuals, communities, and organisations unite, engaging in open and honest conversations, with a collective commitment to finding sustainable resolutions.

Having spent the last 12 years working in charitable funding is Scotland, I think the time is right for a different approach. Too often in the past we have funded work and hoped that it would change government policy.Despite many examples of excellent work, that has not happened and often such work withers from lack of long-term support.To really effectively address these challenges, it is essential for local organisations, communities, and policymakers to collaborate. By joining forces, charitable organisations, community members, and policymakers gain valuable insights that guide the development of targeted intervention to tackle the root causes of social problems. The Big Listen event provides an excellent platform to do just that.We need a joined-up approach where evidenced work from the Third Sector feeds into policy making in Government. For the last 20 years the CSJ has been doing just this, as it focused on addressing the root causes of poverty.A good example of this is the attainment gap experienced by our young people in the Care System. The lack of educational attainment is terrible missed opportunity for so many young people of ability. A previous CSJ Award winner Iain MacRitchie and his team at MCR Pathways working in Glasgow have developed a powerful solution to this and have grown their model from literally one school to now having a national impact across 300 schools in Scotland. They are a great example of scaling, sustaining and changing government policy.On a personal level I am delighted to have recently joined the CSJ Foundation to head up the work in Scotland where the Foundation will look to fund and support such excellent work with the aim of trying to change government policy. We want to listen to the voice of grassroots charities and then amplify it to governments in Edinburgh and London.The Big Listen is just the first stage in helping small charities have a greater impact and I am excited to be embarking on this journey as we bring a joined-up approach to Foundation grant making in Scotland.

Kenneth Ferguson is Head of Scotland, The Centre for Social Justice Foundation

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