Outside Edge: A rare boost for audacity

Nick Cater urges grant-makers to learn from Rowntree's visionaries and take risks to change the world.

The really impressive thing about the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust's grand idea for its centenary celebrations was not the hard cash it planned to invest.

OK, so six awards of up to £40,000 a year for five years, plus support costs and administration, adds up to well in excess of £1m to support its Visionaries for a Just and Peaceful World project.

No, in today's super-safe environment, what impressed me was the sheer audacity and sense of fun in backing the worldchanging aspirations of five individuals and one job-share couple in the dual hopes that their aim will be true and that excellence will emerge.

Look around the grant-giving trusts. Even those that might be accused of being liberal with a small 'l'are also fairly conservative with a small 'c'. Upsetting applecarts is not, it seems, their top priority - more's the pity.

Of course, whether it was due to the mood-altering effects of chocolate or the qualities of the Quaker faith, old Joe Rowntree's enthusiasm for backing keen people with interesting visions proved a great foundation for his three eponymous yet independent trusts, all of which have a pretty good track record of investing in smart ideas.

Contrast, then, the Rowntree courage, imagination and enterprise with the craven popularism, appalling cowardice and numbing tedium of the National Lottery.

Where is the significant lottery cash for inspired individuals, or any real risk-taking? Stuck in small grants with limited impact.

Why does reading a list of lottery grantees - worthy, yes, even essential - reassure us that there is honey still for tea?

But what can we expect when Camelot is merely a machine to make money off the back of good causes, tickets are effectively a poll tax on the poor to reduce demands on the rich and outsource state responsibilities, the Government betrays its own institutions when refugee-related grants come under scrutiny and the best idea they can come up with is a cash-for-charity gameshow?

Whatever the failings of the Government or the lottery, keep an eye on Rowntree. As well as whatever the winners come up with, there has been discussion about how to encourage the 1,600 or so who didn't make it - disclosure: damn it, me included - to network among themselves, which could produce yet more impact.

In fact, keep both eyes on Rowntree, for those involved in the project sound very excited by the idea of hundreds of people who still believe an individual can make a difference. Let's hope that, in time, the trust comes up with yet more audacious ways of helping visionaries change the world.

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