In 2015 there was a dramatic increase in refugees and asylum seekers moving across Europe with an estimated one million arriving by sea and land. In the UK we have seen lower numbers of refugees seeking asylum than in mainland Europe and yet the number of new arrivals has nonetheless been steadily increasing, placing strain on the network of community- based support that is available across the country.
Last September, Comic Relief, Paul Hamlyn Foundation and the Association of Charitable Foundations jointly organized a meeting for over 30 UK funders to hear from the leading charities operating in the field on which areas should be prioritised when planning future funding in response to the refugee crisis. The meeting, which was prompted by increased public interest and media coverage of these issues, highlighted the need for funders to collaborate and channel funding to front-line refugee community organizations in order to help them build capacity and capitalise on their work with volunteers.
The recommendations made in that context inspired a group of funders, who decided to come together and establish the New Beginnings Fund – a pooled fund specifically designed to increase the capacity of small to medium-size local groups working to promote social cohesion by welcoming refugees and asylum seekers into their local communities. Six foundations have, so far, contributed to the fund: Barrow Cadbury Trust, Comic Relief, Paul Hamlyn Foundation, the Pears Foundation, Lloyds Bank Foundation and the Rayne Foundation. The fund, which has reached over half a million pounds, was launched on 12 February and will be administered by the UK Community Foundations through its existing network of local community foundations.
Why did the funders decide to collaborate? Collaboration is not perceived as a desirable option by funders in every scenario. It can be time consuming, costly and difficult to administer and monitor, and it often involves delegating authority that may not be aligned with established ways of working. In this case, however, funders have recognised the need to respond to the demands of those working at the frontline by coordinating their responses to such a pressing and global issue through local interventions. While it is too early to draw conclusions on the effectiveness of this pooled fund, it is worth looking at some of the motivations that have triggered it.
Key drivers included a real sense of urgency, which was partly fuelled by a surge in public concern. There was a sense that something had to be done quickly along with the realisation that the scale of the problem required funders to act together, by aligning aspirations, objectives and resources and by adopting a coordinated funding approach which could increase capacity and impact, spread the risk and add value to the work of individual foundations.
Moreover, the UK Community Foundations’ involvement in the administration of the fund meant that infrastructure and procedural mechanisms were already in place for the fund to be distributed and monitored in an effective way, which was reassuring for the foundations involved. Another perceived advantage of giving money in this way was that individual foundations would be able to support projects identified by the community foundations based on local need and, as a result, reach grantees they might not normally encounter. Finally, although the initial assessment of applications would be the responsibility of community foundations, the foundations contributing to the fund would still be able to retain some degree of influence on the decision-making process by making final recommendations on awards.
Despite its potential benefits, there are also a few factors that could limit the future impact of this collaboration. One of these being that, at present, the total amount of money contributed to this shared pot is only sufficient to cover seven areas of the UK: the south-east and Greater London, the north-west, the west-midlands, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. So, unless other foundations come on board at a later stage, some geographical areas where there is a recognised need for this type of support will be de facto excluded from the pilot. Another possible limitation of is that all grants will be for the duration of one year which means their focus is likely to be on short-term, emergency support, rather than on addressing the long-term integration needs of refugees.
However, despite these parameters, it is hoped that the existence of the fund will help expand the funding available in this area and provide a model for funders’ collaboration that can be replicated across the sector.
Cristina Andreatta is a network development manager at the Association of Charitable Foundations.