This year is our centenary. For the last hundred years our work has reflected the social and political challenges of the time. In the early days of the trust much of our work focused on the health and social needs of early 20th century Birmingham. Later our Quaker heritage led us to be involved in initiatives to create a more inclusive and peaceful society. Now we work with many others for greater social justice and equality in the fields of gender, economic, racial and criminal justice. However although times have changed, each generation of trustees has been guided by a commitment to social integration and the protection of engaged democracy.
In the last year as a board we have also been reflecting on our responsibilities as trustees of a family philanthropic endowment. We have questioned how we exercise our mandate and fulfil our role in the public domain when our endowment is derived from private wealth and as charity trustees, we are unelected.
We are still governed by a largely family board, descendants of the founders, Barrow and Geraldine Southall Cadbury, but are supported by non-family trustees. We recognise that board membership is both a privilege and a service and have taken steps to minimise the impact of that privilege.
Firstly, we recognise that this is not primarily ‘our’ money. It is held in trust for the public benefit and we must approach how we use it with care and humility, consulting and learning from our stakeholders and partners every inch of the way.
Secondly, the staff and trustee board endeavour to minimise the negative power imbalance in our relationships with all of our partners. We hope, as our stakeholders and partners, you’ll let us know when we fall short.
Thirdly we are committed to enhancing our skills as trustees so that our decision making is informed and responsible. Our non-family trustees augment our knowledge base and our perspectives. We also now ask family members who want to join the board to gain experience by serving a governance apprenticeship in a front-line charity.
Most importantly though, we consider ourselves to be an integral part of civil society. We believe we add value as actors, not just as observers or supporters, but in our own right, as all citizens are entitled to.
Over the past few months, as we prepared for the centenary, we reflected with great care on our long term goals and as trustees took the decision to protect the long term future of the endowment. In order to do this, we will have to reduce our spending from our capital to ensure that we have an adequate income in the future. We will do this gradually over our next five year strategic period. We have started to deliver several programmes now for other funding bodies, and we hope to develop this approach further.
As we embark on a new decade, we’ve also been impacted afresh by the surge of younger people renaming the climate crisis as an emergency. The Quaker activist John Woolman wrote presciently in the 18th century “the produce of the earth is a gift from our gracious creator to the inhabitants and to impoverish the earth now to support outward greatness appears to be an injury to the succeeding age”. In this spirit, last year we became founding signatories to the Funder Commitment on Climate Change and will be working over the coming months to translate that commitment to more action.
And in the midst of political turbulence and social division, I would like to draw your attention to the Decade of Reconnection, orchestrated by a number of our partners and others. Launching officially in the Spring, its purpose is to make deliberate efforts – all of us – to reach out respectfully to those who do not share our views. Let us reach out more and listen harder in the interests of a better future.
This blog is the first in a year-long series, drawing on ambitious and clear-sighted thinking and activities from a broad range of our partners, stakeholders and grantees – past and present. We are also delighted to launch our new animation ‘hot off the press’ which we hope captures how we arrived at this place, and very importantly where we’d like to be in another hundred years.
Chair, Barrow Cadbury Trust