The Foundation’s first strategic plan reflected a deeply held commitment to the importance of law in underpinning civil society, economic development and democracy.
We recognised that it matters that people are able to understand and use the law. It also matters that there is a skilled and diverse legal workforce that is equipped to play its role in helping people to secure rights, fair treatment and protection.
We recognised that we needed to prioritise, and two principles served us well:
- degree of need – areas which were either under-resourced, underdeveloped or underestimated and where there was a clear need for external support, and
- degree of benefit – where an intervention could make a considerable difference and where potential benefits were widespread and sustainable.
We operated open grants programmes and the majority of applications and grant decisions, shaped by our priorities and collaboration with the field, drew us principally to civil law and, within this, to social welfare and public law, often called the law of everyday life.
Early on in the strategy, we also recognised a particular challenge facing aspiring lawyers that wanted to focus in this field of law but who were prevented by a lack of opportunities to complete their compulsory training. In response, we established the Justice First Fellowship. Five years later we have supported over 80 new lawyers to train in specialist social justice organisations. We have been able to do this at greater scale thanks to collaboration with foundations, law firms, and other friends.
Some of the key themes and lessons from our first strategic plan:
- Law is not the end. It’s a powerful means to an end and can give people an essential tool for bringing about change.
- Collaboration within the legal sector and with other voluntary organisations, and with the public and private sectors, can position legal education and access to law in the places where it is most needed and where it can have greatest effect.
- A key operating principle is to support people and systems to act early, and to focus on supporting change that prevents problems from happening in the first place.
- We must invest in and help strengthen the people and organisations that make the change we want to see happen; and we need to understand how we as a grant-maker can play our part effectively.
- The work we support takes place in wider systems and structures, and policy and constitutional environments, which are complex, dynamic and under great strain. Civil society organisations need to be supported to engage with these systems in order to share expertise and to make heard the voices of the communities they represent.
- A commitment to collecting and using robust evidence is key to understanding the context in which we work and to designing effective structures and interventions to meet needs. As a funder, we can play a role in helping organisations to develop a learning culture which can acknowledge what hasn’t worked as well as to celebrate success.
- Information technology is not a magic bullet, but it has an important role to play – especially the less “glamorous” essential infrastructure.
- Good communications are vital for maximising the impact of the work we support and highlighting the way law can be a tool for transforming lives.
You can read more about the grants that were awarded under the first strategic plan here.
The lessons from this work have driven the development of our next five-year strategy which you can read more about here.