Speaking Up and Speaking Out: Trust for London

At ACF's annual conference in November, a straw poll of delegates revealed that a majority were either undertaking or considering work that they broadly characterised as advocacy. In this series, we are speaking to members about how and why they promote greater representation to policy and decision-makers.

The first article comes from Bharat Mehta CBE, Chief Executive at Trust for London.

This series first appeared in April 2018's Trust & Foundation News. Read the magazine here.

The money charitable foundations are able to provide is not enough in itself to bring about the changes we were established to pursue – in our case to tackle poverty and inequality. Therefore, it becomes critically important to share our knowledge about the issues and potential solutions with politicians and decision-makers, and to increase understanding of the issues amongst the public.

There is sometimes a false assumption that the Charity Commission will restrict your ability as an organisation to fund or campaign directly, and a fear about venturing into party politics. We ask the organisations we fund to be aware of Charity Commission guidance on advocacy and to keep within its strictures. But we are confident that if we stick to our mission, and have a historical track record of having funded in some areas, regardless of who is in government, we can justify our decisions. As funders we have to be careful of self-censorship and moving away from funding influencing and campaigning work.

It is of course the organisations that we fund who do the influencing, and they need to be effective to bring about significant change. In partnership with the Sheila McKechnie Foundation, we developed a course on influencing policy some nine years ago. It has been fully subscribed every year.

Sometimes the advocacy role develops organically. When we started working with new arrivals to the country and migrant organisations, it was about acknowledging their existence and funding organisations to give basic advice. As things have developed, we have moved to raising the issue of settlement, identity, and belonging.

The Living Wage is a very good example of working across political parties – Boris Johnson was a champion of the campaign, and David Cameron and Sadiq Khan both supported it – and of using resources other than money to bring about change. It also demonstrates how we help to bring about change using a number of our resources, not just money. We funded Citizens UK, commissioned research from Queen Mary University of London, liaised with a lot of FTSE100 companies, our Chair wrote to the organisations we held shares in, and met with a team from HSBC before they signed up. We also explained to all our advisers – investment managers and accountants, for example – that we expected them to become Living Wage employers or explain why they couldn’t. They all did.

A less obvious example is the work that the Trust and other partners funded to tackle Female Genital Mutilation, an issue that had been raised with us by civil society organisations that we already funded. It immediately gained support across the political spectrum. There was the concern that we might be seen to be ‘attacking’ a specific minority community, but both ourselves and the funded organisations led by people from affected communities viewed it as a women’s rights issue.

Most recently, we funded the Strategic Legal Fund for Vulnerable Young Migrants for five years. It focuses on pre-litigation and representation work where the impact is likely to go beyond an individual case, and to result in changes to law, policy and practice that will benefit a wider group of people. We were very clear that we were not funding litigation, though we were acutely aware of the changes that were taking place at the time with the government bringing in reform of judicial review proceedings and the Lobbying Act.

To avoid straying into territory we were not knowledgeable about, we convened an Expert Panel chaired by a QC to consider the applications, which independent evaluations found to work very well as an approach. The fund is now managed by the Immigration Law Practitioners' Association, who have kept the Expert Panel.

It is very difficult to say that one specific action or activity has led to one specific change. Instead we adopt a more pragmatic approach. You take an idea, develop it, and then gauge how far the public and decision-makers will back it – whether it’s a politically live issue or if the time is not quite right. We had lots of debate at the Trust when we launched the Living Wage campaign. At £1 million, it was the largest grant we had ever made, and came in 2007/2008, just as the financial crisis hit. The argument was that when people were going to be laid off, was the Living Wage the most important thing to be pushing? But 10 years on, 3,500 firms have signed up to it, and thousands more people are being paid the Living Wage. So sometimes it might seem like the wrong time but it’s still the right thing to do, and that’s what we are here for.

Bharat Mehta CBE
Chief Executive
Trust for London


Other articles in this series

Speaking Up and Speaking Out: Millfield House Foundation
Speaking Up and Speaking Out: Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation
Speaking Up and Speaking Out: Community Foundation for Northern Ireland
Speaking Up and Speaking Out: The Robertson Trust
Speaking Up and Speaking Out: Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust

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