About Nesta

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.

Movements for change

Across the country, people are banding together to change health. Often these are people at the sharp edge of inequalities, people whose voices are not heard and needs have not been met. They are passionate, often angry, and they are determined to bring their ideas and solutions to life, however difficult this can be.

Through history, social change in health has been driven by passionate people coming together to fight for their rights and forge new ways of thinking. In recent years, funders, policymakers and the NHS have been trying to support some of these movements. This isn’t always easy; grassroots movements often lack formal structures, they are complex, they change quickly. We want to work alongside them, to learn how best we can support them.

What are we doing?

Together with our partner, the Dunhill Medical Trust, we have developed a year-long programme to collaborate with seven social movements, learning with them as they work to bring about change. They are different to each other. Some are focused on a particular geographical area, others are seeking to support a community which itself is spread across the country. Others are led by clinicians who are frustrated at the way in which health services do things to patients and not with. We are inspired by their energy, creativity and determination and want to work with them to shape and frame their arguments, increase their influence and impact. With these movements, and with other funders and policy makers, we want to understand how best we can approach supporting social movements in the future.

Why now?

We believe that people are experts in their own health and the health of their communities. We have worked on People Powered Health for eight years, supporting and encouraging health and care providers to collaborate with communities, charities and volunteers. In a time of change, people are increasingly demanding the NHS to work more closely with communities and offer more personalised and equitable approaches to health. Social movements present a powerful opportunity for citizens and practitioners to come together to accelerate this change. We want to explore how we can help.

What have we done so far?

In 2016, Nesta contributed to Health as a Social Movement, an NHS England programme to support social movements in health and care. In September 2016, we published, Health as a Social Movement: The Power of People in Movements which explored the potential of social movements. In November 2017, we published We change the world: What can we learn from global social movements for health?

In November last year, we launched this programme receiving over 130 expressions of interest from social movements from across the country. Over the past three months we have worked to select a cohort of seven movements. The process has already been a valuable learning opportunity. These are not like other grant applicants - we weren’t focused on outcomes or clear plans of action. We were hoping to uncover passion and determination - and people on a quest to challenge the powers that be. And we certainly did!

What next?

We will launch the cohort of social movements at the beginning of April and want to share what we learn through the year. The application process exposed us to so many people engaged in this work - well beyond those movements we will be able to partner. The experts are the people marshalling and acting in movements. The community of champions for new approaches to health and care is itself a movement and we want to support that community, where possible offering advice, guidance and help in bringing about change.

We don’t exactly know where it will lead. There will be setbacks and challenges and some of what we try might not work but, in the spirit of movements, we are open to new ideas and collaborations. And we are optimistic.


Damian Hebron

Damian Hebron

Damian Hebron

Programme Manager, Social Health

Damian worked on Social Movements in Health as well as Nesta's Arts and Health work.

View profile