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What are the building blocks of empowerment?

“Social innovators are really passionate about their communities, but they’re also spinning a lot of plates - the risk of burnout is really high. If we as a funder place additional stress and conditions on top of that, we’re only adding to their challenges.” - Member of the Insights Group

As Footwork prepares for the launch of its 2023 fund later on this year, we are continuing to engage, listen and learn from our Insights Group to understand methods of supporting local social innovators to create lasting positive change for people and places.

An essential step in Footwork’s learning was to explore with the group what, beyond funding, excellent support looks like. Using our collective experience on the ground, we discussed what elements make up the strong foundations that are essential to empower local social innovators to take action or tackle issues in their communities. Together we had fun (literally) constructing the building blocks of empowerment. But fun aside, this was very revealing both for the range of different elements and their order of importance.

Image: Underground Foundations Model

This model of support works into two camps of support: organising the idea (red blocks), and implementing the idea (green blocks). Both support mechanisms are then supported alongside a clearing house for ideas (blue block).

“A support hub that can quickly give me what I need as an innovator to be able to react fast on the ground”

There were strong common themes too. Access popped up a lot. Local social innovators need access: to spaces within their communities, to knowledge and data to help them further their work, to funding opportunities, and to people in positions of power who will listen and actively support them. It’s worth reflecting on the range of skills required to do all this! And how can a relational funder like Footwork provide support?

It was agreed that all the data and resources social innovators need is out there in the public realm – it’s just not accessible enough. One sub-group suggested the need for what they labelled a ‘clearing house for ideas’, a centralised resource that innovators can easily access to find the expertise and knowledge to propel their idea further.

Image: Underground Foundations Model

This model looks into the network around a social innovator and all the key stakeholders they might want to access, these form the 'stepping stones' of empowerment (bottom row). Community is both a stepping stone and at the heart of what the social innovator does (green blocks). This model also has a strong emphasis on securing their wellbeing above all else.

“It’s not just money that social innovators need. It’s about building a network around a community business and what that does in terms of access to skills”

There was also collective agreement on the importance of networks. Sharing skills, connections, and knowledge with one another - and including between social innovators and those who are in positions to make things happen - helps to level out the playing field, making lasting positive change in their communities all the more achievable.

But it’s not just about innovators learning from the powers that be. Both sides need to be willing to learn and exchange knowledge to ensure 2-way transparency. One Insights Group member pointed out that the more vocal and activated groups are on the ground, and the better-trained local authorities are in their engagement skills, the better the outcome for everyone.

Footwork is excited to continue learning and growing as a funder, with the support of our Insights Group, and we look forward to refining this knowledge and applying it as we define the criteria for our 2023 fund.

Image: Underground Foundations Model

This model is split into three tranches, all supported by capacity exchange (red block). The first level represents the personal capabilities of a social innovator (green blocks), the second layer is all about mediating capabilities (blue blocks), and the final layer represents the system capabilities that need to be put in place.


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