Annual Report and Accounts 2019–20
This annual report covers the 12-month period up to the end of March 2020, but our reflections on the year are dominated by what happened in the final weeks and which continues to dominate the world as we prepare this report.
COVID-19 has brought not just a tragic loss of life, but unprecedented restrictions on social and economic life across the globe, with huge changes in the way we work, socialise, travel and communicate. Nesta has been affected like others, with the closing our office for five months and staff working from home. But adversity has also forced the pace of innovation in many parts of our society. The impact of a lockdown, which would have paralysed the economy and kept many in solitary confinement in the past, has been alleviated by the use of new technology, both at a national level and in countless informal groups of neighbours and volunteers.
Many of the innovators that Nesta has supported over the past decade are playing a significant role in the national response. GoodSAM is a mobile app and web platform that alerts trained responders to life-threatening emergencies close by. It was used to sign up 750,000 NHS volunteer responders to assist vulnerable people most at risk from the virus. The Cares Family has been delivering food and prescriptions for older people, and arranging virtual meetups, using its network of 9,000 young people. And GoodGym, which mobilises runners who want to get fit while doing good, has become a key part of the British Red Cross’ emergency response to COVID-19. Volunteers are helping people in need of food, prescriptions or other practical support. These innovators are part of our Accelerating Ideas programme, a £5.5 million partnership with the National Lottery Community Fund which supports eight innovations that offer new ways to give older people more confidence and control over their health.
For Nesta, our immediate priority was to offer as much practical help as possible. Conversations with grantees revealed that non-financial support such as coaching, expert legal and financial advice, and technical assistance, were as important as flexibility with funds, so we responded to this with a combined support package to help them weather the storm.
In order to help alleviate the long-term consequences of the crisis, we also launched the £2.8 million Rapid Recovery Challenge Prize in September 2020, in partnership with JP Morgan Chase Foundation and the Money and Pensions Service. The Challenge will support tools and services that improve access to jobs and money for more than one million people across the UK, focusing on those hardest hit by the economic shock resulting from COVID-19.
2019-20 was also the last in our three-year strategy which focused on promoting innovation in the fields of education, health, economic policy, government, and the creative economy and the arts. As you will see from the report, we initiated and supported a huge range of innovations and programmes in these sectors, and explored new frontiers in innovation.
We launched the Arts & Culture Impact Fund, the world’s biggest investment fund for the creative arts at £20 million, offering loans of between £150,000 and £1 million to help social enterprises in the arts, cultural and heritage sectors to innovate and grow. In partnership with the Department for Education we set up the EdTech Innovation Fund, to support more effective use of technology in education. Fifteen ed tech organisations were given up to £100,000 to improve, evaluate and grow the reach of digital tools across parental engagement, essay marking, formative assessment and timetabling. The projects will reach over 7,700 schools in England.
Our newly-established team in Scotland launched AI for Good, a prize fund for projects that use artificial intelligence for social good. In Wales, we distributed £2 million of loans through Innovate to Save, which provides interest-free loans and support for ideas that improve public services and generate savings. The programme awarded £30,000 of grant funding and a loan of £1.5 million to Flintshire County Council, to test whether the Mockingbird Family Model – which replicates an extended family through ‘constellations’ of fostering households – could be introduced into its fostering service to meet increasing demand. Following research and development, five constellations are now due to be introduced by 2022 and it’s anticipated that this will save the service more than £500,000 each year.
A defining feature of the year was the amount of work we conducted in partnership. As an organisation that never works alone, our collaborations stretched across the globe. We worked with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the Canadian Government and key regulators to develop an anticipatory approach to regulation, allowing regulators to shape markets as they emerge. Our framework helped form BEIS policy and we helped set up its Regulatory Horizons Council.
The United Nations Development Programme’s network of 60 global accelerator labs used our guide, the Collective Intelligence Design Playbook, to help drive faster progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals. And we campaigned for research and development policy to recognise the needs of creative industries, which resulted in a re-evaluation of current definitions as part of the 2019 Conservative manifesto.
This year also saw a change in Nesta’s leadership as Geoff Mulgan finished his tenure as Chief Executive Officer. We thank Geoff for his energy, inspiration and dedication over the last eight years. It was under his leadership that Nesta became an independent charitable foundation focused on social good. He greatly expanded our work, creating new units, centres and funds in fields ranging from evidence and impact investment to challenge prizes and skills.
We also thank Simon Linnett, Piers Linney and Ed Wray, who retired as trustees, and welcome Sarah Hunter and Jimmy Wales to the Board.
As an innovation foundation, we need more than most organisations to challenge ourselves about how we can be most effective. With Ravi’s appointment as CEO in December, we launched a major review of our strategy for the coming years with the aim of bringing together, with greater focus, all of our capabilities, resources and networks, so we can better address the defining challenges facing the UK.
Our new strategy, launching this autumn, will build on the significant role Nesta has played to date, establishing and growing the field of social innovation, and by designing, testing and scaling new solutions to society’s biggest challenges. Now, more than ever, we must harness the power of innovation to change the world for good.