Trusts told to embrace 'vision of social justice'

There is a "crisis of confidence" in the UK trusts sector, according to a major report by the Carnegie UK Trust into the future of progressive philanthropy.

The report, released as the Association of Charitable Foundations debates 'The role of foundations in the 21st century' at its annual conference in Reading this week, says trusts should move away from a "managerialist" approach to grant-giving and rediscover a vision of social justice.

It advises left-of-centre grant-makers in Britain to learn from the success of American neo-conservative foundations in dominating the US political agenda.

The report, now out for consultation, concludes that progressive foundations should establish a "centre without walls". Proposals include setting up a multi-disciplinary university research centre for philanthropic studies and a prestigious annual event at which foundations can engage with leading thinkers and scholars and debate the purpose of philanthropy.

Thirty foundations are to meet in Edinburgh on 5 October to discuss the plans, which it is estimated will cost £250,000 to implement.

Charlie McConnell, chief executive of the Carnegie UK Trust, hopes the proposals will bear fruit by the summer of 2006.

He said progressive foundations should become more political without aligning themselves with political parties. "We need to engage in advocacy and bring more evidence-based argument to public policy," he said.

He added that they should coalesce around a vision of social justice, a strong interventionist state and empowering citizens to participate in democracy.

"Where the neo-cons say the free market is the solution, we are saying state intervention in partnership with NGOs is the way forward," he said.

"We need to look at programmes that address structural injustices."

- See Editorial, page 22, and Third Voice, page 25.

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