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World Habitat encourages better housing for people with few housing choices. We identify and promote great practice, bring people together to transfer solutions and ideas, and facilitate programmes leading to positive change. We are currently running a programme (which is also being supported by the Nationwide Foundation) to:

  • Strengthen the support for organisations providing community-led housing
  • Communicate clearly and widely the benefits of community-led housing
  • Support the delivery of more community-led housing

We are not just injecting funding, but driving an intensive, proactive attempt at building and sustaining collaboration and demand across the movement. Immersing ourselves to this extent provides first-hand insights that perhaps other Foundations aren’t often privy to.

Behind the veil…

Working in a Foundation often leads to mixed feelings of guilt and anxiety. There is always more that could be done; there are always more worthy causes than it’s possible to fund. An ever-present feeling in the back of your mind that perhaps you’re missing something, or that your actions are not benefitting who should be benefitting.

No matter how much we ask for ‘warts and all’ reporting, I harbour a sneaking suspicion that grant recipients generally report to their funders wearing their Sunday Best, diligently covering their bruised knees and presenting a front of unwavering optimism and positivity. Behind the scenes they are probably juggling a handful of other funders, stakeholders and their own boards, while the core activity – the reason for getting the money in the first place, slips further down the pecking order.

Being exposed to this way of operating has led me to believe two things:

  1. People who manage to actually achieve change (no matter how small) amidst the chaos of grant dependency are genuine, bona fide miracle workers.
  2. We as funders could do much more to enable sustained, positive social change.

We all sing together…

Effective collaboration offers many opportunities. This is as true for funders as it is for fundees. We might make our funding achieve more if we work together to reduce the amount of time those on the front-line spend trying to get it. Instead of making them sing for each of us, couldn’t we all listen together? Once you start looking there’s probably enough commonality to make that happen.

Perhaps charitable foundations and other funders could explore some very simple, practical ways to collaborate. For example; common application and reporting frameworks with aligned timetables; improved information exchange; and regular feedback loops. Just looking at practical opportunities could pave the way for more fundamental possibilities.

Put your mouth where your money is…

A criticism I’ve heard made of community-led housing is that it is an activity dominated by the educated and resourceful. While community-led housing does happen in deprived areas, I worry that to a degree this criticism is valid, and we should be doing more to address it. The challenge of getting funds into deprived areas is not lost on funders. I don’t think it’s exclusive to community-led housing. So what else can we do to help funding reach and empower the most deprived or excluded; the very groups many Foundations want to make a difference to?

I keep returning to the same conclusion. Just advertising a grant programme (no matter how flexible) without being proactive will not lead to increased take up among people who are already under-represented and on the back foot in terms of skills and resources. Within the system, scanning for and proactively responding to funding opportunities seems to be a way of life. Outside the system, opportunities are unknown and unnoticed, and life goes on regardless.

If we want to reach people we’ve never reached before, there is a need to work proactively, to get our hands dirty, to enable a response to the opportunities on offer. It might mean a substantial change in approach, but isn’t change what many of us are about?

See for yourself

In today’s cut-throat economy, where so many are fearful to take a punt on something new, charitable foundations have an increasingly important role to play in funding innovation. Housing is one of those areas where systemic change could make a huge difference. Community-led housing could play a part in driving forward that systemic change, but it needs funders like us to help drive it forward.

But don’t take my word for it. There’s nothing like speaking to real people to sharpen your understanding of a challenge. The community-led housing programme includes a series of Knowledge Exchange events to promote awareness and enable the exchange of ideas.

If you’re interested, and ready to get your hands dirty, I’d recommend going along.

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