Next generation philanthropy
Please note: The donor views expressed in this podcast do not constitute advice or recommendations.
With trillions of dollars of family wealth expected to transfer across generations in the coming decades, next generation philanthropy is a hot topic, and one that is already challenging traditional ways of giving.
In our latest philanthropy podcast, we hear from three inspirational next gen donors about their progressive approaches to giving, and how they’ve managed the expectations and responsibilities of inheriting family wealth.
Tune in as Juliet Agnew, our Head of Philanthropy, is joined by:
- Kristina Johannson, founder of the Solberga Foundation, which supports grassroots movements and climate justice
- Lily Lewis, founder and CEO of the Pocressi Initiative, which helps organisations addressing addiction and criminal justice
- Paolo Fresia, impact investor and adviser with a focus on climate change, gender equality, and sustainable supply chains
You can stream this podcast by scanning the QR codes with your smartphone camera or clicking the buttons below.
Juliet Agnew: Hello, and welcome to this Barclays Private Bank Philanthropy podcast, a series which shines a light on personal stories, trends and approaches that are shaping the landscape of giving.
My name is Juliet Agnew and I run the philanthropy service at Barclays Private Bank. Today, I’m delighted to be joined by three inspirational next generation philanthropists to discuss their motivations, experiences, the different ways that they approach giving, and how they’ve navigated the expectations and responsibilities of inheriting family wealth.
Let me begin by introducing my guests. First up, we have Kristina Johansson, who’s the founder of the Solberga Foundation, a family foundation that supports grassroots movements for climate justice. Kristina previously worked for Planned Parenthood and the UN Peace Women Programme. She co-founded Resource Justice, a community of young people with wealth committed to the equitable distribution of wealth, and is a founding member of Patriotic Millionaires UK, which works towards a fairer tax system. Kristina lives in London with her husband and two dogs, loves exploring the UK, wild swimming, and walking adventures.
Lily Lewis is the Founder and CEO of the Pocressi Initiative, which supports grassroots organisations addressing addiction and criminal justice, and the Founder of Kairos+, a free psychotherapy service for people who’ve experienced prison, addiction, or homelessness. She cofounded the Let’s Talk About Race workshops and is a director of Project 507 CIC, which works towards ending violence and trauma. Lily lives in London and North Cornwall with her two dachshunds, Dolly and Myrtle. Her passions include antiquing on eBay, how to get Myrtle to lose weight, and all things related to Harry Potter.
Last, but certainly not least, we have Paolo Fresia. Paolo invests his capital and advises others on how to generate positive impact in the fight against climate change, for gender equality, and for more sustainable supply chains. Through the Guerrilla Foundation and GiveOut, he supports grassroots activism to more radically question the root causes of our ecological, social, and democracy crises. He lives with his husband and two kids in London, loves adventure travel, is an Ayurvedic practitioner, and can cook a mean curry.
Welcome to you all. So the topic of our conversation is the next generation of philanthropy. By next generation, I mean the Gen X and Millennial generation that are expected to inherit a significant sum of money over the coming decade. Some estimates suggest trillions of dollars globally. That alone renders the topic a hot one, but the title next generation also suggests new ways of doing things. And, indeed, in the philanthropy world, questions are being raised about what the implications of this wealth transfer will have for the future of philanthropy, given the differing outlooks of this group.
And based on research and, to be honest from my own experience of speaking to and working with a number of next gen donors, there does appear to be, at least in some circles, a greater willingness to challenge traditional forms of philanthropy and perhaps a more self-reflective holistic view of wealth and how they use it.
The three speakers we have today are great examples of individuals forging new approaches, pushing for philanthropy to go deeper, to do more to address root causes, and certainly challenging some of the ways things have been done in the past, so I’m very excited to hear from them today.
I’m going to start with an opening question for all of you. Could you give us a brief overview of how you got started on your philanthropy journey, what your current priorities are, and how you approach giving? Kristina, would you like to dive in?
Kristina Johansson: Thank you so much for inviting me to be here and be part of this conversation with everyone. So I’m Kristina, and I am part of a Swedish and British family. I grew up internationally, and during my university years, I got involved in a lot of activism for social and economic justice. And at the same time as I was out at a protest, I felt this really deep shame about my own privilege and access to wealth, and the kind of contradictions I felt fighting for social justice.
And we know that business as usual has gotten us to where we are today, a profoundly unequal and unjust society, and yet, we’re at this beginning of the largest intergenerational transfer of wealth in history. So as my sisters and I were reflecting on our own inheritance, we felt this deep responsibility to do something and leverage the kind of privilege that we had for social justice, but we weren’t really sure what that means and how to do that.
So we founded this organisation Resource Generation in the United States that organises young people with wealth to learn about questions around money, the roots of inequality, and then to encourage each other to take bold action to redistribute wealth in solidarity with movements for social justice that create systemic change. And so with the support of this community I started my family’s philanthropic foundation, the Solberga Foundation, about four years ago in the UK, but it definitely wasn’t a straightforward process and it’s not very easy to do things with family as many people might know.
So how do you even start giving and how do you decide what to give to? And with my family, we have a lot of strong opinions. We’re four sisters, and we considered multiple different approaches and issue areas that we were really passionate about, from gender justice to animal welfare and human rights. But we realised and came to the conclusion that climate change is the greatest threat to gender justice, animal welfare, and human rights in the 21st century, and it’s this terrifying overarching monster that touches and exacerbates every other issue that we cared passionately about.
So we decided that we wanted to focus on climate, but as a small funder, we don’t even know how to make a dent in this mammoth of an issue. But we also knew that we don’t have time to wait and we just needed to start. So, while we are seeing more and more attention going to climate, the current climate policies we have in place are projected to result in 3 degrees of warming, which most people don’t really know that means. I don't really know what that means, but it’s breaking past planetary boundaries and the earth that we know now will be uninhabitable and millions of people will die.
So very scary, and the bad news is we have nine years to radically transform our society. The good news is that we actually do know what the solutions are to effectively address this crisis, but we’re running out of time to take meaningful action, and that’s where I think philanthropy can play a really critical role.
So as a small funder, we decided that this was an area that we could potentially have an impact in. And we’ve joined a community of climate funders to learn how to collaboratively try to tackle this crisis.
Juliet Agnew: Thanks, Kristina. You touched on so many interesting topics there, which I hope we’ll pick up on, further along in the conversation. But for now, I’m going to ask Lily, please, to dive in and give us her overview of how you got started on the journey and your priorities and how you approach giving.
Lily Lewis: Sure. It’s so great to be here. Maybe it’s helpful for me to give a little bit of context on where I sit within my family as well. So I’m third generation within my family. There are around 35 of us altogether. It’s still a very active family business, and so our foundation comes from dividends from that business yearly.
And our family foundation has been acting for the last 10, 15 years, but very undercover, without a website, organically, like a lot of family foundations have. And so when I was 19, I got into addiction recovery, and that was my first opportunity in life really to examine my relationship with privilege and power in new ways.
And as I was starting on that journey, I started shadowing meetings within my family foundation and I became really interested in understanding how charities did and didn’t understand the concept of addiction and how to work with their service users. And without realising at that point, I started a field scan and a deep dive that lasted around one and a half years and developed a really niche focus area very quickly within funding abstinence-based addiction services within the UK.
Which was a massive blessing being able to figure out so quickly such a specific area to work in, and I got to know all the key players in organisations within that area really quickly. And over time that filtered out to doing a lot of work in prisons, and so developed another lens working within youth violence and criminal justice, and those are still the key areas of the work that I do today.
And the approaches within that are also quite niche. I work with organisations with an annual income of less than £500,000 per year that are majority black and brown led, and thinking a lot about power within the approach and how that comes into play within the different dynamics within the organisation, within our organisation, as a family, as a funder, and I’m sure we’ll speak a bit more about power to come. So in a nutshell, that’s the approaches and what drove it to begin with.
Juliet Agnew: Thanks, Lily, that’s really interesting and I think the thing you speak so eloquently about is sort of the personal lived experience that you’ve had, and how that can really inform and motivate your giving, and what that really brings to your philanthropy, which is quite special and really helpful as well. Paolo, can I ask you to dive in and give your perspective on how this all started for you?
Paolo Fresia: Thanks, Juliet, and thank you for having me on the podcast and I’m really, really excited to be here with these two other wonderful women, Kristina and Lily. I feel I’ve already learnt a lot from you just from your introductions. About me…I had a bit of a misfortune of losing all the people from the wealthy side of my family when I was about 25.
And so I inherited all my wealth with no real expectation of getting a lot more back then, which I knew was quite sudden and sad, and a lot of money, and way more than I needed for my own needs, and for my family’s needs, but I also knew that it wasn’t as much as to enable me to give away millions carelessly.
And so initially, the thought of philanthropy was quite scary for me, and that’s why I looked mostly at impact investing as a way to have a positive impact while at the same time preserving capital. But a couple of years down the line in the new, trendy world of impact investing, I realised that impact investing cannot address all the problems we have in society right now, especially not things like human rights and democracy, and so I really wanted to see how philanthropy could slot into that.
And what I did with my financial adviser is to do some financial planning that made me realise that I and my family don’t need that much money to meet all our wonderful needs of living a comfortable life in London, and that gave me the confidence with the rest to take risks, to make bold investments, but also to create a budget for philanthropy that allows me to have a yearly budget in which I give.
And the way I go about doing that is that I adopt a portfolio approach to my philanthropy. I have three buckets. The first one, I am taking very few chances. What I do is I outsource the decision-making of the grants to an effective altruism fund, which is a big word and I hope we can come back to that later. But basically they try to, in the most effective way possible, giving you the best bang for the buck, to address the symptoms of things like the health crisis in developing countries.
So they’re really trying to save lives in the most basic way. With the second third of my philanthropy, I am involved in activism, and that means looking at how to address the root causes of a lot of the problems that Lily and Kristina have already talked about by trying to, through activism, change hearts and minds.
And that’s something really, really hard to do, but I think it’s incredibly important and it’s also incredibly underfunded. And so that’s a central part of my philanthropy, quite different from the first third. And then I do reserve a third of my philanthropic bucket for things that are closer to my heart. And not because I care about me being involved particularly, but just because I feel that when you’re really passionate about something you can throw your full weight and money behind it.
And it’s also something that can help with family dynamics and to give even more. And so for example, I support an organisation called GiveOut in the UK that supports activism for LGBTQI causes in the Global South, and I also work with humanitarian aid for Doctors Without Borders. And so whenever a crisis comes up, I always feel motivated to give to the people I know can be there on the ground and help address some of these tragedies that are really urgent. That’s a rough sketch of my philanthropy with this portfolio approach.
Juliet Agnew: Thanks, Paolo. Wow, you’ve covered a lot of ground there from your personal story, which I didn’t know about actually. One of the things that you all have brought up as well is this sense of overwhelm actually, partly to do with the responsibility of inheriting wealth, but how overwhelming it also is to just, in the beginning of your philanthropy journey, to identify what causes to choose. And I know that a lot of donors and philanthropists when they start out on that journey have a similar experience, so I’m looking forward to delving more into how you all overcame that.
But I want to return to Kristina now, with a more specific couple of questions if I may. Kristina, you’ve got a really interesting quote on your website that I wanted to pull out from Martin Luther King, which states that “philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the economic injustice that makes philanthropy necessary”. So obviously there’s a theme in your philanthropy, which is that of justice and which really comes out in that quote, so I wanted to ask you why is this such a big theme for you, and how does that manifest in your philanthropy?
Kristina Johansson: When I joined the world of philanthropy four years ago, I really didn’t know what to expect, and I quickly found out that traditional philanthropy is not automatically synonymous with social justice or even social change. It doesn’t mean that all philanthropy isn’t, but the majority of private philanthropy has a lot more to do to tackle the system at its root, the same system that many wealthy philanthropists themselves have benefited from, and it’s important to address that philanthropy exists thanks to this accumulation and intergenerational transfer of wealth that has caused harm.
And we need to have a reparative lens when looking at how to make grants. And so as climate funders, we have chosen to have a climate justice lens in our grant making to address this. And what do I mean by climate justice? It’s a word that gets thrown around a lot so I think it’s important to unpack it – it’s the concept of understanding how the causes and effects of climate change relate to concepts of justice, so equality, historical responsibility, and reparative justice.
It highlights the adverse impacts of climate change on poor people in countries in the Global South. For example, wealthier countries have a greater responsibility for tackling climate change, as they have been the primary beneficiaries of carbon emissions for the last two centuries.
Through this climate justice lens at our foundation, we believe that the social, economic and ecological crises of our time calls for an unwavering commitment to grassroots social movements that are advancing transformative solutions, and philanthropy can play a crucial role in supporting movements here. We believe that by supporting people from below, such as Paolo was describing with supporting activism, is our best hope to tackling the climate crisis.
By supporting activists and social movements, we can transform the kind of landscape of power and political will and that individual and corporate action, though important, isn’t enough to tackle the climate crisis. We need bold climate legislation, regulation, and investment from the government, and it’s political will that will determine how fast that we move. So we need these mobilisations and advocacy and sustained public engagement, and we need everyone and in particular those who are the most affected by climate change. And yet, because of systemic discrimination, are often overlooked by the philanthropic community. By this I mean young people, indigenous people, people of colour, and women, who are severely underfunded in the climate funding space.
Though these groups have shoestring budgets, these are the people having the most outsized impact, and it’s these activists who are fundamentally changing the debate and holding leaders accountable for their action or, where we currently are, inaction. So I really feel like for us, philanthropy can play a critical role in empowering and resourcing these activists and grassroots leadership.
Juliet Agnew: Thanks. I think it’s important to reflect on the fact, you mentioned traditional philanthropy not being necessarily synonymous with social change. I think, again, correct me if I’m wrong, my understanding of what you mean by traditional philanthropy is what a lot of people think philanthropy is when they come to it relatively new, which is giving money to charity, writing a cheque, giving money away, whereas actually if you’re really committed, it’s about trying to change and address root problems.
And so what you’re talking about when you’re mentioning activism and movements is actually the process through which change really happens on the ground, and a lot of philanthropists are on that journey, but I would say a lot of the newer ones especially aren’t even aware that philanthropy has a huge role to play in that space and that there actually is a great potential to be involved in systems change which is, again, also what you’re talking about rather than just giving money away to other organisations. Have I kind of articulated that correctly? I don’t want to make any assumptions about what you mean.
Kristina Johansson: Absolutely. I think it’s interesting because it’s not like there’s one way to address these issues. We have pretty big global crises and there isn’t one philanthropic practice or approach that’s the best, but I think by being in a community, for me, of other funders who are asking these difficult questions about how we can be most transformative in philanthropy and how we can challenge some of the practices that we have, has been really helpful and it also has pushed and challenged me.
We’re just in an early part of our journey as funders and I think we continue to be in partnership with other funders and movements who are leading the way and where we’re saying to their leadership about the different ways that we can show up as philanthropists who can take this risk, and should be taking this risk.
Juliet Agnew: I love what you say about asking questions. I feel like philanthropy should be all about asking questions. I’m going to move to a slightly different topic because one other thing that you and I have spoken about quite a bit, Kristina, which I think is really interesting, has been the potential I guess conflicts with your family, different perspective that you have from other members of the family about how to go about things. And I suspect this is probably a relatively common challenge for the younger generation taking the reins.
So I wondered if you could share some of your insights and experiences of how you’ve navigated your kind of own story around that, those personal family challenges?
Kristina Johansson: Absolutely. I think working with family in any capacity, you know, whether it’s a family business or with philanthropy, or like just planning something together can be really challenging because families are complex and there’s a lot of dynamics going on there. But it also presents incredible opportunities to come together and do something truly meaningful, and for us, this didn’t necessarily come naturally.
My dad is Swedish and in Sweden there isn’t a big philanthropic culture. So we really felt supported by bringing in advisers, facilitators, therapists, like majorly therapists, the most important part, to bring us on a journey together to kind of unpack some of the difficulties we were holding, and to get us into a place where we could take bold action and actually be proud of the work that we were doing.
And I think what I was, you know, kind of referencing earlier that, you know, we don’t have all the answers, that’s the whole point, we’re on this journey to learn and what I’ve learned from other funders, from Lily and Paolo on this podcast, has been to keep open minds and listen to those who are on the frontline, who have lived experience, to inform us and to guide us on how we can be most effective, and to just continue. We took the first step in setting up the foundation even though that in and of itself was challenging, but that we have to make sure that we keep on walking, and we keep on learning, and we take bolder action and hopefully we will continue to give more.
Juliet Agnew: Thanks, Kristina. I’d like to move on to Lily if I may. Lily, you brought up the topic of power in your intro and I wanted to get into that a bit, because there will probably be a lot of people listening who are asking why are we even talking about power in philanthropy, why is this even relevant, so I’d love to hear your perspective on that.
Lily Lewis: I think definitely when I started this work, I also wasn’t thinking of that question and I think each individual’s understanding of power is so different and depending on the different dynamics and contexts, it can mean so many different things. I could speak all day on this. So I guess for me, what’s really important is thinking about power in relation to how I distribute grants within the foundation.
And essentially, are we behaving in a way, and holding space in a way, that is letting the experts get on with their job, and letting the people with lived experience, the leaders in the communities that we need to be funding, feel empowered enough to tell us what they need? Because often, and I think we’ve all been in this situation as funders, we will go to an organisation and they will maybe talk about something and we go, ah, but we were kind of really interested in maybe funding this thing, but actually could you maybe do it here instead of there?
And that organisation will come back and say, yeah, of course. Yeah, yeah, we can definitely do that, no problem. And unbeknown to us as funders, that organisation is recreating a project just to please us to get our funding. And so I think unknowingly as a funder coming into this sector, I have set up so many unhelpful power dynamics going in, thinking I’m being helpful, thinking I’m coming into a conversation, into a dynamic that I feel is equal.
But I’ve also had relationships with organisations that have lasted like a year and a half, and I realise they don’t know my last name because they never felt that they could ask me, because I’ve never taken responsibility to think about what does it mean to acknowledge when I’m holding power in the space, and what can I do to hold myself accountable to that and think about that more? And so there’s the power in how I hold space as a funder in relationships with our partners.
There’s the power in how we have a grant process and our proposal process. And the way that we have approached that is that we don’t really have a formal proposal process. We have very, very clear, aims of what we can do because we’ve managed to be so niche in the organisation. And what happens is that I have a meeting with the organisation. If it seems like a good fit, I will write the proposal on their behalf to my trustees that is very, very simple, and we’ll maybe have a check-in call with them to see how it’s going.
And so that’s another way that we’ve had feedback over the years from our partners to try and manage the power dynamics, to essentially free them of tasks that they don’t really want to be doing, writing really big proposals and stuff that we’re not actually going to read because funders mostly I think we skim them, and they’ve spent hours and hours doing proposals that they also aren’t paid to do a lot of the time which wastes their resources. And so thinking about it from that angle.
And also supporting organisations to address power within their own structures. And with grassroots organisations that we fund and so many charities and companies as a whole, right, it’s difficult when you have a founder who started the organisation and then they’re thinking about succession planning and they don’t know how to address that. And I think within the charity sector, there’s a lot of trauma and there’s also a lot of ego for all of us.
And so I think how to co-create and build spaces where we can examine those dynamics and how they serve the organisation’s purpose, and either empower or disempower the people involved in that mission I think is really, really important. And bringing in experts to hold that space and figure out how that’s done in lots and lots of different ways. And there’s actually an interesting exercise that I started to do a few years ago to try and understand if I was meeting with the right people to understand a bit more of power, which was to go through my diary for the last week or last month, and with all the meetings that I’d gone to, who am I meeting with?
Am I meeting with just the CEO of a big organisation, am I meeting with like an impressive other kind of white person that I feel kind of familiar and comfortable with? Or am I meeting with people with different perspectives within the organisations who have different relationships with power within the sector, within systems changes, as you and Kristina were talking about, within their organisation? And that’s a really important thing for me that holds me accountable or gives me a different lens to understand how am I getting my information and my resources, and how am I thinking about power in that context as well.
Juliet Agnew: Thanks, Lily. You’ve used the word expert a few times and I just want to clarify your understanding of what we’re talking about here and the word expert is people with lived experience, right? I don’t want to, again, make any assumptions for you, but other people when they hear the word expert probably think of something else. Could you clarify?
Lily Lewis: Thank you for asking. So I think it can mean so many different types of things, and I think it’s really important to have diversity of experience in a room, and for those people, once they’re in the room, to feel empowered and safe enough and that’s each individual’s own definition of what that means to be able to contribute and to challenge, right? I think lived experience is incredibly important, but I have also seen limitations within that, and people being objectified just for coming in, sharing lived experience and then leaving.
I think you need so many different types of expertise in a room. You need people who understand the communities that you’re working with. You need people who understand the policy stuff. You need people with experience with a big organisation, small, within the different levels of each organisation. People working in the prisons. We need prison governors, which is just as an example because that’s the area that I work in. People who have graduated from the programmes, service users that you’re paying for their time to come in, to give you feedback on that.
I think it’s more thinking of it, the issue, and then zooming out and trying to do a 360 view of like whose perspective are we missing because I think that’s the difficult thing. An exciting thing I’ve found over the years is that I don’t know what I don’t know, and there’s a lot that can go wrong, right? And there’s a lot of harm that can be done when we’re trying to do good or when I’m trying to do good.
But if I’m trying to surround myself with so many different types of expertise that are maybe also quite different to my understanding growing up of what I thought an expert was, right, the kind of people who are maybe interviewed more on TV or very impressive, you know, professors at Cambridge or whatever, like can I flip that internally as well to try and be more inclusive, so essentially we end up having greater impact.
Juliet Agnew: Thanks. I think a lot of what you’re talking about here, and you mentioned it before, is understanding the field. And that requires comfort with discomfort of not knowing and being OK not to know, and being OK to ask lots of questions because there is so much that you’re just not going to know. And you talked a lot about the unseen implications of funder behaviour before, which I hear a lot about myself.
You mentioned accountability. Again, why do we need to be concerned about accountability in philanthropy? Why is it even relevant?
Lily Lewis: I think my understanding of accountability is that it’s one of the ways to examine power and the different routes that it can go down. And I think like Kristina’s previously been mentioning, I mean I would go as far to say a lot of philanthropy that I see isn’t really fit for purpose. There are lots of money that I think is wasted.
And especially if someone has grown up with a very specific experience, you know, if we think of capitalism and the way that say, for example, a lot of tech founders, white male tech founders between the ages of 25 and 35 think about things, that entrepreneurs make a lot of money within a small space of time, and then they want to leave that environment and go be a full-time philanthropist, which is very commendable in lots of ways, absolutely, but also the reason why I use that as an example is because there’s a very specific mindset coming into that.
It’s single-minded, I’m going to come in and solve a problem, because with a lot of people that’s how the money’s been made, right? One person or small group of people thinking how do we solve this problem, but just us in our heads. It’s not reaching out, it’s not collaborating a lot of the time because that’s not how the money’s been made with the wealth holder to begin with.
And so we’re just going to go with what we’ve grown up with and what feels comfortable and what seems to work within a making money kind of capitalist environment, but that kind of power is really dangerous. And so for me, what seems to be really important is accountability within the communities that I’m working with. And so for an example, who is building our funding strategy? If it’s just me, it doesn’t work because again I have my blinkered spots that I’m not even aware of.
And so I guess an example that’s started to work with us is when we went to our impact partners, and we said how do you think we should be funding, how do you think we should be thinking about the next say three to five years? We ended up getting a group of them together, again on like the different levels, different perspectives, and obviously paying them for their time because I think that’s really, really important for people to do as well, to pay people for their time.
I think there’s an assumption within the model of charity and philanthropy that everything should be done for free, but a lot of the time that is taking resources and time away from people who can’t actually afford to do that but don’t feel like they can actually say it to people like me because they’re worried of how that will implicate the power within our relationship, right? So paying people to come together who have the different expertise to build that strategy and to tell us what we should be doing and what we should be funding, and what that looks like to continue that relationship.
For me it’s also really, really important to constantly be working on and defining my personal relationship with power and money and co-dependency and wealth, and different types of intergenerational trauma I may have experienced, or my family may have experienced, in the way that maybe money was made or even before that in terms of how that impacts our giving. Maybe holding back, you know, wanting control, wanting power.
Why do I feel like the need to constantly check on an organisation? Why do I need to know so clearly that they’re spending it here and not here? And is that actually maybe more something to do with me than them? And how can I hold myself accountable to all of that? And I think a great example of how that comes into practice is through the organisation that Kristina cofounded in the UK, Resource Justice, which holds praxis groups of people with wealth coming together and thinking about really, really difficult questions on our relationship with money and our money stories.
And like unpacking that, and unpacking the layers of our relationship with power in community with other people. And I think why it’s so important to do that with groups is because I may not be thinking of something, but Kristina or Paolo may then bring something up in their own experience which triggers like, oh God, yeah, I do that too, that feels really familiar or that feels extra uncomfortable for me, which means like that’s an opportunity for me to dig deeper within that. So I think accountability and group accountability are particularly important for the sustainability of this work and thinking about systems change.
Juliet Agnew: Thanks. I think one of the challenges we’ve got for the sector is not everyone is as self-aware as you guys. You guys are particularly self-aware. But I do think that one thing that everyone can definitely benefit from if they’re going on this journey is to recognise that their mindset has a huge impact on their giving and their effectiveness, and that support groups and working with others and sharing stories with others can really help them accelerate their learning and understand how to give in a better way.
But thanks, Lily, that was really interesting. I’m going to move on to Paolo, if I may. Paolo, you have a slightly different approach to the others, although there’s some overlaps too. I wanted to start by asking you, what you understand to be the role of philanthropy?
Paolo Fresia: Thank you, Juliet. I think philosophically we have total overlap. I was snapping my fingers at every word that Lily was saying, basically. Preach! I agree 100% with what she said, however the way – because of our family situations – we’ve gone about doing so are slightly different. And so before I get philosophical again about the role of philanthropy, let me tell you about the role of philanthropy within my portfolio and get very practical. So when I look at my portfolio, my goal overall is to maximise my positive impact.
And so what I try to do is to very intentionally deploy every single dollar that I have available, and to recycle capital as much as possible, so that those dollars can keep having a positive impact. And by that, I don’t mean preserving my capital. As I said before, thanks to my financial planning, again, accountability, I do want to spend down all my assets during my lifetime.
But I allocate the capital by optimising for both impact and returns. I consider all my capital as investments and the role of philanthropy is basically a specific kind of investment that has a negative 100% return, which I choose to use only for very specific issues that I cannot address with any other tools in the toolbox.
And so I go into philanthropy for things that impact investing is not great at addressing. Impact investing is – picking, you know, Kristina’s example of climate – is great at scaling solutions like more green energy production, but it’s not really great at changing people’s hearts and minds about how you change your life so that you need less energy in the first place, right? And so I would then go into philanthropy to look at activism to change those hearts and minds.
Or philanthropy is very good for things that are just simply not investable and that are extremely urgent. If we know there are still millions of children in Africa dying of essentially diarrhoea, and we know that there’s the cheapest solutions available to just prevent those lives from being lost, then it makes sense right now, I know it’s very sad, but it still makes sense right now to just give that immediate capital.
And so that’s kind of where I go with my philanthropy and the role that it plays in my portfolio. It’s very much a continuum though with impact investing. So sometimes there are issues where I go like, hmm, you know what, social enterprise in the UK, actually what about I don’t give you a grant, but get to speak to your local council commissioner on, you know, better ways of commissioning this type of work with addicts, for example Lily, so that with an innovative structure, we save the taxpayers some money.
We as funders get our money back so we can give it for future philanthropy, let’s say. And we have better impact, better outcomes for the ultimate people who need it. And so there are ways of essentially of playing around with this continuum between philanthropy and impact investing, which is very, very exciting and something that I’m very active in.
Juliet Agnew: I also wanted to ask you, because you’ve mentioned before the effective altruism movement and I feel like that’s quite relevant to what we’re talking about. Could you explain what the effective altruism movement is first of all and maybe share some of your insights and thoughts on it?
Paolo Fresia: Absolutely, and I’ll try to be as brief as possible. It’s a huge topic and that’s come to be a pretty loaded term. But actually to me effective altruism and it’s, you know, my own, what I’ve taken, what I like about it is the fact that for the altruist bit, it acknowledges that we’re here in the business of philanthropy. So mechanically, yes, we are giving away money, but it also removes the importance of the funder.
As Lily was speaking, I think effective altruism as a school of thought does a great job of saying, hey, you don’t matter. What matters is the impact out there in the world, so let’s make every dollar you deploy as effective as possible. And I think that is fantastic because then you just remove yourself from the equation. And I think the second thing that effective altruism is great at doing is prioritising. As others have said before, there is just simply not enough money going around and the urgency is immense.
And so effective altruism and the people who’ve worked around the movement I think do a tremendous job of providing you with frameworks to think about prioritisation. For me, personally, those have been extremely helpful because each time now I have an investment proposal or a philanthropic donation proposal, I merely think, OK, well, how neglected really is this issue or are there many other funders thinking about it? If we find a solution or something that can help with this issue, how efficiently can we scale it or how severe this problem really is?
And thanks to this kind of framework, I can very much prioritise my investments in a way which is very, very helpful when you have to make investment or philanthropic decisions. What maybe I don’t like so much about effective altruism, and I’ve written some blogs about, is that when it’s taken so narrowly and dogmatically that it would exclude some things that might have an expected very positive impact that is very, very hard to measure and that’s why, you know, they get excluded.
But, for example, I’ve worked very closely with the foundation started by a friend of mine called the Guerrilla Foundation, and we were among the first £25,000 into a climate movement called Extinction Rebellion that basically, you know, sent us a very short proposal saying we are going to chain ourselves to Waterloo Bridge in London and get arrested in the name of saving our society from the perils of climate change. And that sounded total whacko.
Little did we know that, you know, months or years later, that led the UK government to declare a climate emergency and to set a policy towards net zero. And in hindsight that money’s, you know, relatively little money, £25,000, had an enormous positive, very fuzzy societal mindset impact that maybe a very narrow-minded effective altruism wouldn’t have considered. But the way I interpreted it with my tools, I think we could make it work and I’m glad we did.
Juliet Agnew: I think it has. As to your point, there are some real positives in there and if any of our listeners are interested to find out more about those frameworks, I’m sure they can find them online. There’s a lot been written about the effective altruism movement, but as you say it has its limitations, so it’s good not to be too obsessed with metrics and measurements, I think. We can get a little bit obsessed with what’s measurable, and we do have to ask ourselves what about the things that are not easy to measure that are also really important.
So that’s really helpful. I’m very conscious of time. I could talk to you all, all day but I feel we have to come to a conclusion soon so I’m going to ask you each to answer one question for me, and to keep it relatively concise if that’s possible. I’m going to ask you to each share a brief example of something you’re really proud of, and perhaps something that you wish you knew when you were starting out on your funding journeys. Kristina, do you want to start?
Kristina Johansson: Absolutely. For me, I’m really proud of the incredible grassroots and funding communities that we’ve been able to support. That in the recent COP in Glasgow, we supported the COP26 coalition and the global campaign to demand climate justice, and they brought together voices from the Global South, and voices of the people in the halls of power, like the UN climate negotiations, and these are the communities that are, you know, the most intimately familiar with the crisis.
They’re the ones who describe the crisis in the clearest terms, and they point to the directions of solutions, and they expose the greenwashing and the false solutions that are happening at these negotiations and making the issues impossible to ignore. And so, you know, supporting these incredible organisations, even though we don’t get to see the impact overnight, we know that social transformation doesn’t happen overnight, and that we as philanthropists are uniquely positioned to take risks and to be flexible in funding and taking these risks, like Paolo was describing with Extinction Rebellion, because we can see the outsized impact and transformative work that happens when we do.
And I think for me the mistake was waiting so long to start and, you know, I really thought I had to be an expert on everything. I felt I needed to have a clear solution and strategy for the climate crisis before I started even touching giving in climate. I thought around the stuff that Lily was talking about with power and the way that philanthropy embodies a lot of unjust practices. I thought I needed to be a perfect funder that shifted power or broke down all the power dynamics and changed the way that philanthropy operates, a much bigger project than one small foundation can do, but there are things we can do within our practices that can improve it.
So learning from people like the Guerrilla Foundation that are doing really innovative ways of including activist voices in decision making and democratising the decision making within philanthropy. And then the mistake I’m still making, and Paolo is always, you know, my inspiration for this, is to, you know, address like the full capital. So impact investing, I feel like I have to have this like perfect impact investment portfolio before I start doing it.
And I’m so inspired by Paolo because he looks at the entire portfolio and thinking about all the ways that capital is having an impact. And so just like not being afraid and you know, there’s a million different ways that this is going to look and that philanthropy and wealth in general can just play a role and to step into it. There’s a community of accountability, a community of learning, a community of sharing practices, that are breaking down siloes and thinking collectively and creatively about how we can address these kind of giant problems that we’re facing in philanthropy and beyond. So, you know, having conversations like this is part of it, so thank you.
Juliet Agnew: Thanks, Kristina. Lily?
Lily Lewis: I’d have to say, for me, it was investing in policy change. And I feel incredibly grateful to have been presented with the opportunity to understand and fund policy change so early on within my career, especially within the journey of funding abstinence-based addiction treatment in the UK. And it came to be from spending more time working in prisons, receiving unanimous feedback from prison leavers and professionals on the ground in the prison estates that around 70% of people imprisoned were there for drug-related crimes.
And this would include being under the influence of a substance when committing a crime, or more likely for women, stealing or taking the hit, essentially, on behalf of a male partner who they were in an abusive and drug-influenced relationship with. And the feedback I also received from leaders within the sector, was that at least a quarter of rehabs had closed in recent years, and I was frequently told that it was around 45% in total.
And it can be really difficult to rely on government statistics for stats within underfunded and complex areas that involve trauma, as either the data often doesn’t exist, is majorly downplayed, or no independent analysis has ever taken place because no one wants to fund it.
And so you do often end up having to rely on collective feedback from people on the ground and or with lived experience. But I found that when you ask enough people what they think, you will end up with an average kind of statistic. But it did become very clear from these things that funding policy change was the most impactful way for me to invest in changing the system for good, and for getting significant investment back into the treatment sector.
And so it only took five years of funding an incredible think-tank called the Centre for Social Justice, which works in political advisory, to essentially advise Dame Carol Black to shape her recommendations to government. Which ultimately translated to getting government to develop and commit to a new drugs strategy, where they said they were going to invest a further £780m into the treatment sector within the next three years1.
Policy change work, in my experience, is often incredibly slow – five years is very quickly in comparison to how it can happen. And it can seem for years as a funder that nothing is really happening. But I think it’s definitely worth it, even if it took 20 years for that to come into fruition, because it’s investing in long-term change. You don’t see the impact as you would if you were to fund frontline services, but you are responding to a deeper systematic issue. So I’m incredibly proud to have been a part of a team that showed me what that change and strategy can look like.
Juliet Agnew: Yes, absolutely agree, policy change work is so important and often overlooked. And how about any key lessons learned?
One of the things that I kind of cringe most on when I think back in terms of kind of learnings and failures was I assumed organisations to be able to measure their impact, even if they didn’t have the funding. I didn’t think about how complex it was. I would meet with organisations and if something wasn’t really like simple being able to be presented to me I’d think, hmm, they just kind of don’t understand what they’re doing if they’re not able to like automatically measure their impact.
And I was obviously totally wrong about that and feel very kind of embarrassed when I think back on that now. And so we’ve tried to kind of amend that by now doing add-on grants to support organisations to bring in experts for them of their choosing to measure their impact.
Juliet Agnew: Thanks, Lily. Paolo?
Paolo Fresia: Well, I think that they’ve said it all but to riff off something that Lily said earlier about power and also Kristina mentioned, it’s maybe not what I’m most proud of, it’s what I’m most excited about, is that finally after four or five years at the Guerrilla Foundation that was started by a friend of mine, we decided to actually give up all our power as funders. And so what we’ve done is to radically change the governance structure whereby the actual grant decisions are only made by people with lived experience of the problem.
It’s fully participatory, it’s only activists themselves who know about the problems and the countries where these grants are made get to have voting power over who gets the money and I think that’s very, very exciting. We are just wallets. We just provide the money and we trust the process that the activists co-create, both the process and the decision. So that’s very, very exciting, and messy at times, but very exciting.
In terms of my own failures and learnings, as I said at the very beginning, initially for me, the learning was that I was giving too little and I could afford to give way more and still absolutely meet all the needs of my family and have some left over. So having some good financial planning really, really helped me open up that wallet and having a plan, then stick to that plan. And then maybe the second learning was that with the little that I gave, I also made some grants that in hindsight were not as impactful.
And though the amounts were pretty small, some of them are multi-year grants, so every year I’m reminded of them, and I’m reminded about the fact that having some, you know, quick and easy but fairly rigorous frameworks to sort of make decisions based on, hey, you know, I have a choice between A, B and C, which one is the most impactful thing, is really, really, really helpful, not just in maximising impact, hopefully, but also in avoiding this feeling of regret, which is really bugging me. So that’s been really helpful, to have those frameworks and a sound financial plan.
Juliet Agnew: Wow. Thanks, guys. We’ve had some fascinating insights today and some practical tips too. We’ve covered a lot of ground. We’ve discussed some thought-provoking ideas, everything from the role of philanthropy to the importance of community and support, asking questions, devolving power, learning, being on a learning journey, using all your tools in the toolbox, and I think you’ve all talked really eloquently about both the opportunities and the challenges and critiques of philanthropy actually, which we all need to be aware of if we want to be the best version of ourselves when we’re on our giving journey.
You’ve also really demonstrated that there’s no one way to do philanthropy, which is important, you’ve all said it in various ways. But you’ve certainly demonstrated some new perspectives today and I really want to thank you for joining me, for sharing so openly your experiences, and I want to congratulate you on your thoughtfulness and your dedication and commitment really to making the world a better place. So thank you so much for joining us today.
And thank you to our listeners. I hope you’ve found the discussion as inspiring as I have and look out for our next philanthropy podcast where we’ll be bringing more fascinating speakers to the table to discuss how your giving can make a more meaningful impact in the world.
About the speakers
Kristina Johansson is the founder of the Solberga Foundation, a family foundation that supports grassroots movements for climate justice. Kristina previously worked for Planned Parenthood and the UN Peace Women Program. She co-founded Resource Justice, a community of young people with wealth committed to the equitable distribution of wealth, and is a founding member of Patriotic Millionaires UK, which works towards a fairer tax system. Kristina lives in London with her husband and two dogs. She loves exploring the UK, wild swimming, and walking adventures.
Lily Lewis is the founder and CEO of The Pocressi Initiative, which supports grassroots organisations addressing addiction and criminal justice; and founder of Kairos+, a free psychotherapy service for people who have experienced prison, addiction, or homelessness. She co-founded the Let’s Talk About Race workshops and is a director of Project 507 CIC, which works towards ending violence and trauma. Lily lives in London and North Cornwall with her dachshunds, Dolly & Myrtle. Passions include antiquing on eBay, how to get Myrtle to lose weight, and all things related to Harry Potter.
Paolo Fresia invests his capital and advises others on how to generate positive impact in the fight against climate change, for gender equality, and for more sustainable supply chains. Through the Guerrilla Foundation and GiveOut, he supports grassroots activism to more radically question the root causes of our ecological, social, and democracy crises. He lives with his husband and two kids in London, loves adventure travel, is an Ayurvedic practitioner, and can cook a mean curry.
Juliet Agnew is head of Philanthropy at Barclays Private Bank. With nearly 20 years’ experience in the industry, she brings a broad and fresh perspective, having joined us in May 2021. Juliet began her career on the frontline of social change, working with award-winning international charities. She has spent the last decade working with companies, charitable foundations, and families to design and manage high-impact giving across a range of causes and geographies. Juliet is a seasoned foundation leader, board member and coach.
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