We need a government innovation fund, says Barnardo's chief

Javed Khan argues that charities are 'behind the curve' on digital innovation and must move to a digital-first approach

Javed Khan
Javed Khan

The government should launch an innovation fund to help charities develop and share new approaches to providing services, according to the chief executive of Barnardo’s

Speaking at a virtual launch event for New Philanthropy Capital’s report State of the Sector 2020 yesterday, Javed Khan said charities were “behind the curve” in terms of digital innovation and called on the government to invest in helping the sector to innovate. 

He said the sector needed to move to a “digital-first” approach and it was “not an option to go backwards” even after the coronavirus lockdown ended.

He referred to his own charity’s efforts to contact vulnerable children using email and WhatsApp, and to set up a digital family centre.

“But investing in innovation costs money, and money is the big problem for all of us at the moment because fundraising has been decimated,” he said. 

“So how do we invest in being innovative at this time without the right support? I would argue that the government needs to go further and set up an innovation fund specifically for charities to fund this kind of innovative development.”

As part of the deal, he said, whatever intellectual property that came out of any such fund should be available to the whole sector, not just the organisation that developed it. 

This model would “reduce costs and duplication” and stop charities “trying to reinvent the wheel”.

The State of the Sector report says there was a fall of 11 percentage points in charities’ confidence with digital technology, even though the Lloyds UK Charity Digital Index 2019 suggested their capability had increased in recent years. 

“Familiarity does not breed confidence when it comes to charities and digital,” the report says. 

“It may be that the more you know, the more you realise how much there is that you don’t know.”

Khan said he was not surprised by the finding.

“I think charities are behind the curve in terms of where we need to be. Digital-first is the way to be, now and after lockdown. We can’t go backwards. It's not an option any more, I would argue.”

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