Carnegie UK is galvanised by wellbeing approaches that change people’s lives for the better. In our 2021 Strategy for Change  we committed to continuously reflecting on our programme learning and understanding our impact. And we were clear that we wanted to spend more of our time and resources investing in the collective impact of alliances and movements. We know that this is an effective route to change.
Our participation as a philanthropic organisation
As a philanthropic organisation with a presence in this piece of work as both a foundation and a participant in the community of practice, there has been much to learn and reflect on about the power we hold as an organisation and the role we play in supporting and – in some cases inhibiting – others. We were particularly thoughtful about the reflections from participants in the Community of Practice that few foundations or funders will resource movement building and narrative change work.
Investing in ideas and working with emergence requires relinquishing control. At times, we admit that this felt difficult. We had to accept that it may feel uncomfortable and challenge ourselves to reflect on why we felt such discomfort. We also had to acknowledge that when we seek to have influence, we are exhibiting pre-existing power derived from money and status. We have learned through this work that putting trust in others can lead to positive outcomes that we might not have reached otherwise.
We also learned about the importance of building open and honest relationships, and how difficult it can be to separate long-established perceptions of Carnegie UK as a funder, with our role as a participant in the process itself. As the community of practice grew over time, for those newer to the project, there was a noticeable shift in dynamic when it was communicated that Carnegie UK had funded some of the work. We are thoughtful, particularly as we challenge ourselves to work in this space more, how we might approach this dynamic in the future.
Building a community of practice that’s diverse and inclusive
Our involvement in the Coordinating Circle enabled us to learn much about how to build a community of practice that is diverse and inclusive; and how to design and facilitate spaces that allow people to participate equally and move forward towards practical action.
We noticed through this work that communicating ideas around wellbeing, and ‘a wellbeing economy’ can risk alienating people with inaccessible language and theoretical concepts. We are thoughtful about how we will in the future develop our wider messaging and communicate ideas in a way that addresses these barriers.
There is a balance between creating a space that builds relationships and enables generative conversations, and structuring an event in a way that moves towards clear actions. This is something we urge the community of practice to keep in mind as the project develops.
Moments of transition: preparing for endings and new beginnings
Movements, by their very nature, take time to build and sustain. This work has demonstrated to us that when resourcing movement building and narrative change work, it’s important to find the right balance between financially supporting the movement for long enough that it can build and flourish, and knowing when it is the right time to take a step back.
Stewarding endings is something that civil society organisations – like ours – are generally not good at. We have been thoughtful about this for the duration of our involvement in the project, considering our position of privilege and what we can do to support the community of practice to be sustainable beyond our financial involvement. Trying to hold these questions at the same time as trying to address power dynamics and participate as an equal participant was at times challenging. However, we found that because we had participated equally in the project, relationships and trust between and within the group developed.
Carnegie UK has acted as a critical friend and learning partner, asking questions, seeking clarification, and making suggestions to help others, like us, understand the urgency of the work or “the story of now”. And, in return, we have learned so much more about the island of Ireland, about facilitation, and about how arts and culture could be better used as a medium for bringing about change.
Long-term funding for grassroots organisations is scarce. We recognise that in many cases, it can be extremely enabling – allowing people to put down roots without worrying about future income streams. But successful movements have multiple people, stakeholders, and organisations involved. They empower local leaders. And they are built on multiple coalitions.
Looking at these characteristics, and the narrative of self, us, and now told here, the WEAll Ireland Cultural Creatives community clearly has many of these building blocks in place. As an organisation that is committed to using evidence to make the case for which approaches and systems need to change, we have garnered lots of learning from participating in this project. As the community of practice officially launches in Dublin this week, we see this as a moment of transition – a time to welcome in others to take the baton.
We would welcome a conversation about this work and our role with anyone similarly grappling with these challenges or curious to hear more about our approach – please do get in touch with Hannah on [email protected].