Dame Mary Marsh: We must collaborate, share ideas and show effectiveness

Foundations and trusts have an opportunity to find new ways of investing amid the challenges facing the social sector

Dame Mary Marsh
Dame Mary Marsh

One question I continue to think about is the sort of leadership we need to respond to the challenges now facing us in the social sector in the UK.

It was very evident after the comprehensive spending review that any projects that are preventive and discretionary are the most vulnerable.

The sheer scale of the reductions in the local government settlement in England, which is likely to be mirrored in the devolved administrations, means we really must think only about how to do things differently, particularly at the local level and in communities.

Funders are thinking about this too. The government has set aside some transitional relief for small organisations in England, which is very welcome. But it will not go far. Foundations and trusts have an opportunity to find new ways of investing that involve different approaches, including more partnership working.

It is likely they will try to engage increasingly with organisations that recognise the new world we are in and are not just seeking to sustain current initiatives.

There are also possibilities of partnerships with the private sector, as some projects have demonstrated. These are long-term relationships that need to be built up over time. The big society public sector reform proposals mean that services will increasingly be outsourced, but on a scale that will be difficult for small, locally based organisations to address on their own. We need to collaborate where we can to meet these new expectations. Most importantly, we need to share information with each other about what works, and why and how it works.

Investment linked to social impact is under way with social investment bonds in offender rehabilitation.

Re-offending rates for those who have been in prison are relatively easy to measure. We need to use the principles of this model to track effective interventions for other, more complex social outcomes.

We recognise that early intervention and prevention can work. Our challenge now is to find the evidence to demonstrate that this is where investment is most effective in the long term, before too much of this work is stopped.

Effective leadership in this context is something that is built on confidence as well as business capability. We need to invest in this too. It is my belief that, in the end, all leaders need to be sure they know themselves well, to learn to be themselves and, most importantly, to look after themselves.

- Dame Mary Marsh is director of the Clore Social Leadership Programme

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