We work with social start-ups in an increasingly intensive way, offering our partners a powerful package of support. So we invest a lot of time in finding the right organisations to work with. Before we invite organisations to apply for our support, we’ll always meet face to face to explore whether we’d make good partners.
This is the favourite part of my working life. It’s a privilege to be given a personal tour of an organisation and to learn about the people and ideas behind it. Since we started out two years ago, hundreds of organisations have opened their doors and welcomed us in. And, along the way, we’ve learnt that a few things work particularly well. Three things stand out:
1. Getting out of the office
We get most excited by an organisation’s work when we see them in action. It brings the work to life for us, sparks questions and often inspires. For example, in May we met with The Breakdance Project Uganda at their weekly breakdance session in downtown Kampala. We were able to see for ourselves how leader Abramz brought young people from different backgrounds together to learn how to dance, build leadership skills and promote social responsibility.
Pictured: Abramz, Breakdance Project Uganda, doing his thing
We’ve found that taking the conversation out of the office relaxes us and our hosts, creating a more open dialogue where we can better explore whether we’d make good partners. Being outside four walls encourages creativity, important when thinking about how we can work together. With Breakdance Project Uganda, we were able to have a wonderfully open conversation while watching on as breakdancers did impossible things with their bodies.
Pictured: Breakdance class, Breakdance Project Uganda
2. Meeting young people
As well as meeting with an organisation’s team, we love meeting with those closely connected to their work. Not only can this validate and strengthen everything we’ve heard from our hosts, these individuals often provide different perspectives that we might not have considered. We’ve met with trustees, donors, partners, and the government, but the people we most like to meet are those that we exist for – young people.
We’re at our happiest when we’re meeting with young people. It’s often the most memorable experience of a visit. We particularly like the rawness and openness of their responses to our questions, enabling us to clearly understand the impact that the organisation aspires to create.
Pictured: Forward Foundation with Suzanne, freelance designer and alumni of KampaBits.
Earlier this year Anna and I met with super impressive Suzanne, a talented designer and graduate of our brand new partners KampaBits. We were struck by the impact that their intensive digital design programme had on Suzanne’s life. Our conversations with Suzanne and her peers influenced our decision to support KampaBits.
We don’t think grant-making is a scientific process. A lot of it is about gut instinct. And a memorable meeting with a young person with an inspiring story to tell can influence our thinking.
3. Getting to know the leader
We place an awful lot of emphasis on the leader behind the idea. The first thing we talk about when we walk out of an organisation’s doors is the leader. Did we think they had the skills to launch their new organisation? How did we think they interacted with young people and with their staff?
We’ve written a blog about some of things that make an exceptional leader. During our visits we’ve been particularly impressed with those leaders who have acted naturally and been able to show off their best qualities to us.
Take Samuel from our Kenyan partner, Tumaini. Samuel took us to the dumpsites of Eldoret in western Kenya to visit the young people who lived there. We met many people he knew along the way. By being able to watch Samuel interact with others he was able to demonstrate his exceptional ability to build relationships and his deep integrity. Samuel acted in the same way with everybody he met, whatever their situation, giving everybody his time and respect. And he didn’t change the way he acted just because we were there.
Pictured: Samuel, leader of Tumaini
Similarly, Alex, leader of KampaBits, designed our visit earlier this year so we had lots of interaction with others. By being able to observe Alex interacting with his colleagues and young people he was able to demonstrate his warmth and passion for supporting people. We wouldn’t have picked up on his special talents had we been stuck in his office watching a powerpoint presentation.
Pictured: Young people and staff at KampaBits HQ
Finally, and this might well be just us (!), we love a bit of fun and silliness on our visits. We often end up playing football and other games with children. We’re found that doing something different can create stronger relationships and make for a more memorable experience for all.