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Young People Power

This article was written for the autumn issue of Trust & Foundation News, the member magazine of the Association of Charitable Foundations.

Am y dudalen Cymraeg cliciwch yma/To read this page in Welsh, click here.

Fozia Irfan OBE, director of children and young people at BBC Children in Need, shares how the organisation’s new grant-making strategy is driven by the power and agency of children and young people.

Children and young people are at the heart of what we do at BBC Children in Need. An easy sentence to write but much harder to demonstrate in practice. However, as the leading independent funder for children in the UK, we have taken this responsibility seriously and, as a result, have developed a new charitable ambition and grant-making strategy that fundamentally focuses on children and young people and their power.

Why develop a new strategy? Well, the last two years have been the most challenging for children and young people for generations and if we did not change what we did and how we did it, we would be failing to respond to the multiple crises they face.

Our research has shown us the impact of the pandemic on children and young people. Not just the obvious consequences in terms of education, mental health and life opportunities but also the myriad aspects of life which are less tangible – missing key life moments such as proms, transitioning rom child to teenager, forming friendships and building their sense of self-identity. This time cannot be brought back, but as funders it is imperative that we focus on helping build the best future possible for and with children and young people.

Like all funders, our resources are finite and stark choices must be made about how to use them in the light of increasing demand. Over the last year, we focused on redefining BBC Children in Need’s vision and explicitly moved closer towards an asset-based model, articulating this vison as ‘every child and young person has the opportunity to thrive and be the best they can be’.

This is a significant shift in approach as it recognises that children and young people are not a problem ‘to be fixed’ but instead have their own agency and power. Our role as a funder is to nurture this.

How is this asset-based model then translated into our new grant-making strategy? Firstly, we focused on clarifying our identity as a funder. Secondly, we defined the principles to be embodied in our funding. Thirdly, we created a new grant-making model. Finally, we are redesigning our application processes. So, you can see this is not about tweaking around the edges. These are bold steps to re-imagine what we do and how we do it, to make sure that we are responsive to the critical challenges of our time and do not fail our children and young people.

At the heart of all this work was a stark question about our identity as a funder. Foundations simply cannot be funders for every person and every issue, so it was important for us to define the unique characteristics that make us BBC Children in Need. Working with children and young people, our teams, trustees and external stakeholders, we defined our fundamental identity as being a UK-wide funder with local roots, an integral part of the BBC, a thoughtful leader in the funding sector and a foundation with children and young people at the centre of everything we do.

The clarification of vision and identity then led us to focus on how we wanted to do our grant-making. Again, sharing power with children and young people merged as critical, together with embedding equity, diversity and inclusion and acting more flexibly. Two additional principles we included which may surprise people are ‘using our voice’ and ‘building purposeful partnerships’.

As a funder, we hold a unique position as the BBC’s UK corporate charity. Just think about the vast potential that provides us, in terms of telling different stories and changing the narrative about children and young people. Most people associate our relationship with the BBC as one focused primarily on fundraising on the night of our annual appeal. Imagine the possibilities if we used this platform to amplify and leverage the voices of children and young people and create real generational impact.

As we are only a small part of the youth sector ecosystem we need to collaborate more. We recognise the increasing importance of purposeful partnerships, where we can work with others with aligned aims. When I first joined BBC Children in Need, I was amazed at the huge amount of knowledge and research we hold on the most pressing issues for children and young people. Sharing this with the rest of the sector and using it to build collaboratives is a fundamental part of our future.

We have always been seen as a project funder and, to some extent, we have tended to fund more established organisations, ones we have funded previously and our processes favour. By carrying out much more scrutiny and analysis of our portfolio, we know there are groups that have been traditionally underrepresented within this, yet they are at the heart of their communities particularly in times of crisis, like the pandemic. Strengthening them and the work they do, has become an overriding obligation.

Therefore, for the first time, we have made two significant changes to our grant-making offer: we will be offering organisational costs or core funding as a separate rants stream, and we will have a funding stream specifically for smaller, emerging organisations that would not normally have accessed our funding. We know we have a responsibility to support the capacity of organisations themselves, to ensure that they have the strength and sustainability to keep delivering the most effective and life-changing services for children and young people.

We will continue to value broad-based work, across the UK, but at the same time we will also be aligning some of our work around four key intersecting themes: poverty, mental health, family challenges and social inequality.

Creating a new grant-making strategy from scratch, with a committed team, has been a labour of love but also an essential element of checking that we are still relevant and responsive to the changing context we are working in. For us at BBC Children in Need (and we hope for all who work with us), the new strategy will provide essential clarity and focus on who we are, what is important to us, and how we fund. But this is not the end of the work. A strategy must be a living and working document, which iterates as circumstances change. We know there may be unexpected problems and challenges, and it will take time to build up the balanced portfolio and partnerships we are seeking. However, we are also aware that doing nothing was not an option. For anyone working in philanthropy, we would urge you to also fundamentally review everything you are doing. Be ruthless in letting go of things that no longer serve our sector and be ambitious in creating the change you want to see.

This article was written for the autumn issue of Trust & Foundation News, the member magazine of the Association of Charitable Foundations. 


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