Cathy Pharoah: Why the Cadbury family were wonderful

They were modern reformers and philanthropists, says our columnist

Cathy Pharoah
Cathy Pharoah

The launch of the Barrow Cadbury Trust's new book on the 150 years of the reforming, philanthropic work of the Cadbury family was inspiring and sobering in its relevance to today's sector.

The packed room of guests, a Who's Who of the foundation world, showed the regard in which the trust is held. And though the book is rich in pictures of times past, it's the modernity of the Cadbury family's work that strikes me most.

Engagement is often seen as the hallmark of today's high-net-worth entrepreneurial donor. None could be more engaged than Barrow and Geraldine Cadbury, who were highly involved in the design, detail and outcomes of their projects to redress the effects of deprivation. Geraldine's efforts to improve the treatment of young offenders was a life's work, and she became a leading Home Office and international adviser on it. Partnerships also featured: they co-funded initiatives with like-minded trusts such as Rowntree, and the founding of a juvenile court directly pump-primed mainstream public service development.

The early intervention approach that we now emphasise drove the Cadbury's support for safe, healthy places for women and girls, children with poor health and better education. The impact of the rehabilitation of ex-offenders on outcomes - the focus of our first experimental social investment bonds today - was addressed in the 1960s by the Cadbury family in the Southfield Experiment, a special hostel for young male offenders.

Localism can be seen in how, as local employers and wealthy citizens of Birmingham, the Cadbury family directed much of its influence, skills and money towards living conditions in that city, and were actively involved in local planning and government reorganisation.

Austerity has today increased our expectations of philanthropy - like the renewal of charitable giving in inter-war Britain. This, coupled with tax incentives, led the family to establish the trust in 1920, funded through Barrow's personal shares in the business, as a better way of managing their giving in the long term. And while we are ambiguous about the accountability of major donors today, Barrow was, as the book says, "consistently clear that he viewed the money he gave away through his charitable trusts as not his, but wealth which, through tax relief, had been entrusted to him for the benefit of society".

There are many examples of the forward-looking approach of the trust, including its concerns about slavery, racism, social justice and peace. Many claim that charities can solve the problems of poverty and social inequity if only they develop better ways to tackle them. But the work of the Barrow Cadbury Trust, past and present, demonstrates just how intractable such problems are. We increasingly promote pioneering and innovation as solutions in themselves, when we should see them only as further steps on the way.

Cathy Pharoah is professor of charity funding at Cass Business School

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