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Report: “When bees meet trees”

29 October 2013

A report recently published by the Clore Social Leadership Programme shows how large funders, charities and housing organisations can work with smaller organisations to help scale social innovation.

In this guest blog, author Owen Jarvis explains more about the report and how the approach taken by the Big Lottery Fund’s Realising Ambition programme is a good example of this sort of collaboration.

Owen Jarvis

Owen Jarvis

I believe we’re missing a trick. Many funders and investors back one organisation, idea or social entrepreneur at a time in the hope they will grow to scale. That approach can be too simplistic.

While I find many of these social ventures inspiring, many problems we face are described as “wicked”; deeply complicated and requiring investment in a variety of approaches and perspectives, working collectively, over a number of years.

Social leaders I speak with know this. However, they say they find the sector’s impetus to compete is difficult to overcome.

In ‘When Bees Meet Trees’, a report I have co-authored and released this month with Ruth Marvel, we argue that major funders have a critical role to play in building collective approaches to social problems. Funders have the ability to design their programmes so that organisations work together as a community with a common goal. Some people call this “collective impact networks”.

One good example of this is the Big Lottery Fund’s Realising Ambition programme which supports 25 different projects with up to £1.6m each for up to 5 years.  The fund helps young people fulfill their potential and avoid the pathways into offending.

Importantly, the Big Lottery Fund has selected one specific charity, Catch-22, to take the role as “first among equals” in overseeing this diverse network and ensuring lessons learned and good-practice are collected and shared across the social sector.

Our report explores this type of collaborative relationship where large charities support the work of others. We describe this relationship as “when the bees meet the trees”.

As Ruth Marvel says, large organisations, ‘trees’, feel they have to do everything themselves – including social innovation. This doesn’t play to their strengths.

They can achieve social mission and find new ideas more effectively if they supported the work of others, “bees”. These are smaller groups, entrepreneurs and charities – nimble, creative and fast-moving, often lacking size and impact.

This support can include investment. However, the strengths of “trees”, working nationwide, strong brands, networks and influence, can be used to encourage adoption of new ideas by government, the public and other organisations.

Money talks. Funders need to embrace their power to influence and help shape the way we all work together. Realising Ambition is one example, and has shown that large charities like Catch-22 can play different roles in supporting individual organisations to overcome competition to work collectively. I believe social change happens when “bees meet trees”.

Visit the Clore Social Leadership Programme website to download a copy of the “When Bees Meet Trees” report.

What do you think of Owen’s guest blog? Leave your comment below or join the discussion on Twitter using #biglf.

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