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What do you achieve by funding individuals? – The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust

While many of the processes of grant-making to individual people are similar to those of funding organisations, there are important differences in what can be expected in terms of applications and monitoring, and aims and outcomes. We talked to a selection of members about how they manage the relationships and what can be achieved.

The first article in this series comes from Dr Andrew Cooper, Director of Programmes, the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust.

This series first appeared in Trust & Foundation News.

Working with individuals is great for a funder. The human stories that it generates are very powerful and illustrate why we do it. But you have to be flexible, recognise how resource and time intensive it is, and consider the scale you are able to take on.

The trust was set up to have five-year programmes with the aim of leaving a lasting legacy in honour of Her Majesty The Queen. When selecting our focus, we recognised that two-thirds of people in the 53 countries of the Commonwealth are under 30, and many were doing impressive things to try to improve their communities. We decided to help enable them to act as role models and to become the leaders of the future.

We had two broad objectives – to improve opportunities to create jobs or start businesses, and to give a voice to young people, who are often not very linked in to democratic processes.

The Queen’s Young Leaders Award was given to 60 exceptional young people from across the Commonwealth every year for four years. They each received their award from The Queen and took part in a bespoke year-long online leadership course from the University of Cambridge. They were mentored throughout and visited the UK for a residential programme where they met each other in person as well as many influential stakeholders, companies and charities, and received more training. The peer support network this builds is paramount – introducing them to so many ideas and other people creates all sorts of opportunities they would not have had working in isolation.

Anyone aged 18 to 29 could apply or be nominated for an Award, and towards the end we were getting thousands of applications each round. It was a big challenge to whittle these down to just 60. Vital to this process was an advisory panel of young people who assessed the applications before the final portfolio was considered by our trustees.

When it comes to awareness raising, success stories from individuals can be far more captivating than from organisations. It’s a very accessible way to highlight issues and show change can be made. Often as funders we can be several steps removed from beneficiaries actually trying to make a difference. It is also a very good way to reach a diverse set of people and issues. Those with lived experience can be powerful advocates for issues they care about.

But it is very important to be aware of risk. You do not have the same documentation as you would have from an organisation – you may only have the application, the referee and the individual to judge by. You also have to be aware that some people may be very good at articulating what they want to do; others may struggle, but be an amazing person.

You also need to be absolutely clear about where your support starts and ends. Some individuals are working in very challenging environments, so you have to think through possible scenarios. You also have to be prepared that things can go in all directions, negative as well as positive. A lot of the strength of the Queen’s Young Leaders programme came through the use of social media – it’s a great way of generating content and campaigns – but you have to think through whether the individuals are equipped to be in that spotlight. The safety and wellbeing of those you’re championing always has to remain the top priority.

With such a diverse spread of people, it is difficult to measure the impact of every individual on their community. We developed a framework encompassing the skills, confidence and knowledge gained through to what have they done as a result, plus examples and case studies. We have also commissioned an evaluation of some of the individuals, who in turn get training to make videos about what they’ve learned. This gives them additional skills and empowerment, but also provides us with materials to show what can be achieved.

The last cohort of award winners have now completed their online training and the Queen’s Young Leaders Programme is in its legacy phase. All the materials from the leadership course will be shared as open source, and we will publish our learning from the programme later in 2019.

Investing in individuals isn’t without its challenges or its risks, but with the right mechanisms in place, the rewards can be truly life-changing, for those in receipt of support but equally for those who get to work by their side, and especially the funder.

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