Directors Report

Innovation in troubled times

As this yearbook will testify, our main strategic aims all emphasise innovation. During the year the Innovation Unit (our partner in the Learning Futures Special Initiative) published ‘Honest Brokers: brokering innovation in public services’. The Foundation was named as one of a new type of intermediary organisation emerging within the world of public services, known as ‘innovation brokers’. These organisations enable innovation by supporting and challenging practitioner innovators, and by managing the drivers and barriers to innovation at scale1.

Such endorsements are heartening, but economic developments over the last year have caused us to reflect on aspects of our work. Investment decisions we took in early 2008 have fortunately insulated us from the need to implement quick changes to our plans. While it is too early to come to any certain conclusions, we have sought to assess the possible impact of the recession on the Foundation, on the outcomes we are seeking to achieve and on society more generally. For the year ahead at least we have decided that our aims and objectives remain as appropriate in a recession as before.

The Foundation’s work continues to develop as a result of our strategic review in 2006 and the six-year plan we began to implement in that year. The delivery of our strategic aims and objectives remains on track. As planned, we intend to carry out a comprehensive mid-term review in early 2010. Given the economic outlook, however, we will continue to monitor the detailed aims of our grants programmes during the year ahead.

Special Initiatives

Our plan this year was to stimulate high-quality applications to be part of collaborative action-research initiatives in each of our programme areas. We did so for three Special Initiatives: Right Here (established jointly with the Mental Health Foundation), Learning Futures and Learning Away. We have also made good progress with the development of a new Arts Special Initiative, which is planned for 2009/10.

It is unusual for us to have an impact outside of the UK and India, but we were delighted when the NAMM Foundation, the US-based international trade association for music products, awarded a major grant to the Australian Music Association to support the launch of Musical Futures in Australia’s schools.Also in an international context, our Learning Futures initiative has been launched at a time of intense interest around the world in more radical forms of innovation in pedagogy, beyond the existing models of school improvement. Leading these is the OECD’s Innovative Learning Environments project, involving over 20 nations, which is supplementing the knowledge base about learning with inspiring examples of learning arrangements that more explicitly enable young people to acquire 21st century skills. Learning Futures aligns closely with the OECD framework, and its specific focus – engagement – is now a particularly important topic of international research and development interest in education.Our aim over the course of our strategic planning period is to commit over half our resources through Special Initiatives. We are not yet achieving this aim, but are on track to spend more on Special Initiatives in 2009/10 than on Open Grants.

Open Grants

We nonetheless believe in the importance of maintaining Open Grants schemes, both as a scanning mechanism for identifying possible future activity, and because of the limited alternative sources of funding for untested approaches. The systems we put in place in November 2006 to improve our understanding of what is being achieved under our Open Grants schemes are helping us to develop a better understanding of what works, as illustrated throughout this yearbook. This knowledge informs decision-making and the development of our work2.

We have expanded our operations in India in line with our plans. Our consultant Ajit Chaudhuri is now able to devote the whole of his time to advising us. We also set up a programme committee modelled on those which we developed in the UK. We are delighted that Sushma Iyengar, Dr Donald Peck and Shankar Venkateswaran have joined us as advisory members of the India Committee. Our objective to set up an office in India remains unmet while we await the necessary consent from the Reserve Bank of India.

Across all our grant-making activity, we continue to pursue a ‘grants plus’ approach, by using our ideas and contacts to develop and share knowledge. This can range from a major piece of work to more modest interventions, such as bringing organisations together which we can see are working on similar issues in complimentary ways3.

Other strategic developments

This year we reviewed the impact of the changes made in 2006 to our governance. We concluded that our two main aims had been met. First, by establishing programme committees with external advisory members, we had improved decision-making about the development of each grant programme and on applications. Second, we had freed up more time at full board meetings to review activity and progress towards objectives. The review also highlighted that we needed to involve the full Board of Trustees at an earlier stage in the scoping and shaping of new Special Initiatives; we have since done so.

During 2008/09 we planned to develop and implement a formal research strategy and to audit our funding for capacity building. We were not able to complete these pieces of work in the year, and they remain objectives for the current year.

Our appointment of Lucy Palfreyman as Finance and Resources Director and Richard Robinson as Investment Director represents an unusual move for a UK foundation. While it is quite normal in the US for the finance and investment functions to be distinct, our decision to separate the functions is less typical here. It is intended as part of wider capacity-building measures for the Foundation. We have also increased our communications capacity with the appointment of a Communications Manager, Dan Watson. This has increased the amount and timeliness of the information we provide. A quarterly newsletter is now available, and we will be developing new online systems to deliver a higher quality of service to applicants, grant-holders and other organisations.

We also welcomed to the staff Ushi Bagga, Gillian Goode and Vicki Selby. We said goodbye to Gerry Creedon, our Accountant who had worked for the Foundation since 1990, and to our first Grants Officer, Ruby Ireland. We wish them both well in their future careers.

About this yearbook

This year we are explicitly required to report on how our work is of benefit to the public, following changes introduced under the Charities Act 2006. All our grant-making activities are directly linked to our mission, which is stated in full on pages 2–3. This yearbook focuses on the qualitative nature of our work and how we have impact at the level of the individual, organisation and sector. We seek to do this in a number of ways, particularly by encouraging innovation, empowerment and participation. We believe these demonstrate the public benefit of our work.

Following this qualitative approach, we have chosen to publish only summary accounts here; full accounts are available on request from the Foundation or online at To ensure full external standards of accountability, the text of this yearbook (when read with the full accounts) meets the required Statement of Recommended Practice for charity reporting and accounts.

Finally, we welcome feedback from readers and are always interested in the opinions of the people and organisations we work with. Please take the time to share with us your thoughts on this publication or any aspect of our work, using the form provided with this yearbook.

Robert Dufton



  • 1 Innovation: Our initiative Musical Futures is an example of how we have managed to scale up innovation. The Musical Futures ideas and tools were being used in about 30 schools in January 2007, at the time when we published our initial findings. They are now being used in about 1,000 schools. (See Education and Learning Special Initiatives)
  • 2 Learning points: We have sought to show how we are learning from the activities we fund, and such conclusions are highlighted throughout this yearbook
  • 3 Sectoral impact: One significant piece of ‘grants plus’ work this year was our participation in the public consultation by the Culture and Learning Consortium, which led to the publication of ‘Get It: The Power of Cultural Learning’ (see Arts report)