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Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

Innovation in Giving

Yesterday we launched a new fund to support innovation in giving.  It's funded by the Cabinet Office and will back ideas with the potential to achieve a big impact on how people give time, share time or give money. The sums are quite big - £10m over two years - and I'm hoping we'll get some really imaginative ideas.

I've been involved in the worlds of charity, timebanks, volunteering and LETs for a long time now, from a big overview of the future of charity for CAF in the 1990s, to the recent Commission on the future of Civil Society for the Carnegie Trust. I've had the good fortune to learn from some of the most successful changemakers in the field (including three Michaels - Michael Young, Michael Brophy and Michael Norton, who between them have spawned literally hundreds of successful new ventures). But this is the first time that I'm aware of that significant resources have been invested in systematic innovation.

It matters because although the UK is blessed with strong and confident voluntary organisations, I often feel that we haven't quite got the right models to make the most of people's willingness to give and share.  The same is probably true of the many devices already out there for giving money, from payroll giving to chuggers. There are lots of brilliant projects underway around the country, and no shortage of expertise. Hopefully with this new fund we can help some of them evolve to another order of impact. A striking finding of recent social science research is that giving is one of the best ways to make yourself happier, and not just the person on the receiving end of the gift. This is also true of whole societies: global data shows that giving has a strong correlation with reported happiness, a co-efficient of 0.69 compared to 0.58 for the link between GDP and happiness. [1]


Some of these new tools for giving and sharing merge into the related field of collaborative consumption. Along with Comic Relief's founder Jane Tewson and others, I was part of the team that set up what became Time Bank as well as helping Nick Wingham Rowan launch the idea for Guaranteed Electronic Markets (which later turned into Slivers of Time). The original idea was to provide a reliable platform on which you could share, or rent out, your drill or car, or for that matter your time. Since the typical drill is only used for about 20 minutes in its entire life there were obvious gains to be made - the prospect of much cheaper access to tools as well as being better for the environment. We also hoped to make it much easier for people to share time with each other, whether for looking after children or cooking meals. 

The field has evolved a lot more slowly than I hoped, and if we'd been smarter we might simply have launched eBay and become billionaires. But platforms like this are now spreading fast and showing just how much can be achieved by mobilising underused resources. One example is Bookshare and a nice new addition to our website shows what they are and how to set them up. It's a very simple idea - why not encourage people to put all of their books onto a site so that they can be shared? Most of us never look at a book again once we've read it. But pooling all the books on a street or in a community makes it possible to massively grow the resources of a library system. There are plenty of interesting practical issues - like how to organise pickups and returns. But Sutton Council in London - which has put this into practice - has found sensible ways of handling them.

High growth

On a very different front The Telegraph has been running a piece based on NESTA research on high growth firms. We've shown that about 7% of firms count as high growth (more than 10 employees, and at least 20% growth each year for three years), and that they account for about half of all job creation. We've also shown that they can be found in all sectors and at all sizes. The interesting next step that we've done is to show where these firms are.  

Reading the press you might think that all of the growth is now happening in the southeast. But our data shows that every area has at least some high growth firms. Indeed in every region at least 5% of firms are high growth. 


[1] World Giving Index



Geoff Mulgan

Geoff Mulgan

Geoff Mulgan

Chief Executive Officer

Geoff Mulgan was Chief Executive of Nesta from 2011-2019.

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