Increasingly we see organisations, networks and individuals struggle to navigate the complex realities of creating social change. Many are looking to create change through funding and building social movements, yet we see them struggling to evolve traditional ways of thinking around institutional infrastructure to become fit to serve movement members.

Earlier this month The Social Change Agency co-hosted Losing Control with Practical Governance. It was a 2 day hackathon that brought together movement makers and specialists to create a peer-to-peer network. Interspersed with challenging discussions were breakouts of booming music (ranging from Frozen to Missy Elliot), chillout zones, and an opportunity to write a postcard to your future self.

We wrote up some of the most important takeaways from the event, which include the changing attitude of funders, the numerous approaches to governance, and the importance of inclusivity.

Partnerships are powerful- A funder’s perspective

At Losing Control, we heard from the funder’s perspective. Funders are increasingly finding working in partnerships the ideal way to work with the social movements they fund. Vidhya Alaekson from the Power to Change Trust described the idea of a relationship between funders and social movements as one of ‘trust-based collaborative partnerships’. Alex Sutton from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation emphasised that funders should ‘act in solidarity’ with movements and ‘be comfortable with failure’, and Jess Cordingly from Lankelly Chase stated that trust and patience are key to funding social movements.

There isn’t one organisational model

We heard from an array of organisations about their different approaches to governance. CHAYN, for example, is an open-source project designed by survivors of abuse for survivors of abuse. Dina Ariss from CHAYN described how the non-hierarchical structure of CHAYN led to its global success.

We also heard about Carver Governance from Andy Goldring, about the wholly flat structure of Suma Wholefoods from Bob Cannell, and about co-operatives and sociocratic decision making from Kayleigh Walsh’s experience of working at Outlandish.

Each organisation and movement has based their organisational models on their fundamental values, and their models work for them. So don’t be scared to test out new models – there’s a lot in between traditional hierarchical organisational models and completely flat-structure models.

Start taking steps to be more inclusive

It was inspiring to hear from Immy Kaur and Paul Steedman about the necessity of indcluding a diverse range of people at every level of decision making. Immy stated: “Unless there is a wide ranging group of people in positions where decisions are made, how will we have a diverse movement?”. Paul Steedman from Friends of the Earth candidly spoke about organisations’ tendency to veer towards control. They both emphasised that we can take immediate steps such as ensuring events are accessible, in preparation for the long term steps such as a deep interrogation of organisational strategy.


Think about the bigger picture

Day 2 saw the beginning of The Hack. This was the beginning of turning the tools and skills attendees have learned into something concrete.

We had 8 movement building groups, ranging from the Migrants’ Rights movement to the Youth Leadership movement to the Community Business Movement, all ready to implement their learnings from the past day to the challenges they were facing in their own movements.

The movement building groups really considered the bigger picture when they were applying their learnings to their challenges. Some groups interrogated their very theory of change while others looked towards making partnerships. By the end of the day all groups had something solid they were ready to implement.

What’s key to take away from this event – whether or not you participated – is that funders are keen to find new methods of supporting social movements that works with movements’ varying organisational models. There are many different models of leadership and governance, and there will be one that works for you. And, finally, collaboration is powerful. Collaborate with your peers, with your competitors, with people across your network and across other networks. You never know what you’ll learn, but it’ll almost certainly be powerful.

Keen to find out more about Losing Control? You can find all of the resources from the event here: