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.

This event took place on Thursday 8 December. You can watch the recording below.

Research has shown that the circumstances of a child’s early life can dictate their future outcomes, from health to career and life expectancy. However, we also know that evidence-based early interventions in education and care can change the trajectory of a young person’s life. The Youth Endowement Fund (YEF) focuses on finding and funding interventions that show promise in reducing youth violence and improving outcomes for young people. Building an evidence bank on the most effective ways to support children, the YEF evaluates ideas, scales up what works and takes action to improve the system.

Iesha Small, Head of Change for Education and Families at the YEF, joined us in conversation with our fairer start Mission Director Jenny Gibson. Jenny and Iesha sat down to discuss how interventions can improve childhood outcomes, which is an important goal of our fairer start mission.

So what kind of initiatives does the YEF fund? First and foremost, Iesha emphasised its flexible approach to grant-giving. The method the initiative focuses on, whether it be family therapy or speech and language skills, is less relevant than the outcome, she explained. As we do at Nesta, YEF looks to fund projects that create change are reproducible, scalable and effective. Jenny and Iesha discussed the importance of how both organisations conduct research – holistically, with an awareness of geographical, cultural or personal context.

Both Jenny and Iesha also reflected on how we measure achievement. Is measuring academic achievement the best way of assessing a child’s success? While ‘traditional’ measures of achievement remain important, not only to a child’s life but also to the longevity of a school or youth group, focussing exclusively on academic achievement means that children born into disadvantage miss out on some of the things that make life worthwhile, Iesha said. She asserted that it should be possible to be supported in academic achievement while having a rounded life. She also pointed out that more affluent pupils are not missing out on sports, drama or music and that these ‘softer’ skills have also been shown to improve educational outcomes. Focussing on one or the other fails to consider the fullness of a young person’s life.

Finally Jenny and Iesha discussed the scaling of projects – what happens after YEF grant funding? YEF specialises in producing guidance reports which advise policymakers and those working in education on which initiatives are supported by evidence to show their effectiveness. The aim is for this important evidence to be continually reflected in the educational policy of the future.

The opinions expressed in this event recording are those of the speaker. For more information, view our full statement on external contributors.


Iesha Small

Iesha Small


Iesha is a writer and charity strategist passionate about creating a fairer society, particularly for young people, she also has a passion for nature and the outdoors. Iesha is Head of Change for Education and Families at The Youth Endowment Fund. She was previously Head of Strategy and Policy at the outdoor charity, YHA. She has 15 years experience in the education sector as an assistant headteacher, governor and think tank researcher. Iesha has written and spoken about education, society and nature for various publications and national media and believes storytelling can powerfully complement research to create positive change. Iesha was an advisor to Split Banana, a social enterprise harnessing creativity for effective sex and relationships education in schools. She is currently a member of the Natural England Landscape Advisory Panel.

Jenny Gibson

Professor Jenny Gibson


Jenny is Mission Director of Nesta’s fairer start mission and Chief Scientific Advisor. Jenny joins Nesta from the University of Cambridge where she leads the Play and Communication Lab (PacLab), a team investigating the role of play, language, cognition, and neurodiversity in human development. Jenny completed her undergraduate studies and PhD at University of Manchester School of Psychological Science before going on to do postdoctoral research at University of Cambridge Department of Developmental Psychiatry. She joined the University of Cambridge in a permanent academic post in 2014 and was part of the founding team establishing the LEGO Foundation funded centre for research on Play in Education, Development and Learning (PEDAL).