Why should social innovators and investors step up efforts to advance gender equality? What kind of gender equality innovation could make a difference that can be felt in people’s everyday lives? How can we make this happen?
These and many other questions were posed, debated and answered by the panel and standing room only audience at launch of a new report from the Young Foundation “UNEQUAL NATION – the case for social innovation to work for a gender equal future.”
This is the first report from Gender Futures, an initiative which aims to harness the power of social innovation to tackle today’s gender inequalities and accelerate a gender equal future. The report sets out evidence of the scale and nature of gender inequality in the UK today and considers the potential of social innovation to address it. It concludes with initial recommendations on how the full potential of social innovation to advance gender equality could be unleashed.
The launch saw panelists and guests from both the gender equality and social innovation and investment sectors respond to the report’s findings and recommendations. Opening proceedings was Baroness Glenys Thornton, CEO of the Young Foundation, who highlighted the importance of answering the key question of “why haven’t we been harnessing social innovation to tackle systemic gender inequality?”
Natalie Campbell, a trustee of Unltd, welcomed the report, in particular its consideration of how gender inequality further impacts social and economic inequalities, including racial disadvantage. She echoed the report’s emphasis on the need for a range of mainstream actors, including policy makers, investors, business and social organisations to step up to the challenge. She emphasized the need for the seeds of a new gender innovation movement to be better brought together and work to “better understand the impact this could achieve in the long term”.
Sara Llewellin, CEO of the Barrow Cadbury Trust whom had co-funded the report, talked about BCT’s emphasis on and the importance of “strengthening the hand of changemakers”. She also highlighted the need to tackle the root causes of inequalities rather than “working year after year” on its results. She contextualized her comments on the report’s recommendations for greater social investment into gender equality work by noting she was both “an advocate and a sceptic of social investment”. She emphasized the importance of social investment when “grant finance is a precious pool which should only be used to develop an income stream where money can’t be paid back”. She caveated this by recognising that whilst repayable social finance is good for many things it is no good for others. She concluded with three key points. First was the need for social financers to develop products that reflect the needs of third sector organisations, not vice versa. Second, that in the current and austere fiscal context, where women will continue to bear the brunt, this work will be extremely important. Finally, whilst welcoming the report she highlighted that our “unequal nation” is part of “an unequal world” highlighting the importance of ensuring we draw on and link to existing gender innovation learning and models from around the world.
Jon Huggett, chair of SIX and board director of ALL OUT, praised the report’s use of a gender lens to look at wider inequalities, and in particular the role gender norms play in the continuing discrimination and disadvantage experienced by LGBT people. He reflected that ultimately social innovation is all about power, and called for it to be placed in the hands of those for whom it will make the greatest difference, and who are also most likely develop solutions. It was Jon who introduced Paddington Bear into the conversation drawing a parallel between his words on London where he hoped “everyone is different – so anyone can fit in” and an equality innovation not based “on one size fits all”. He ended with a call for more social innovation to tackle the creation of the new powerful social class that Michael Young had predicted and which leaves no room for others.
Anne Kazimirski from NPC shared the report’s concern at the lack of systemic engagement with the expertise and insights of the women’s and gender equality sector. This is particularly important for the social innovation sector, she added, who must mainstream work on gender and “enable not block gender innovation”. Her call was echoed by Sarah Green, Director of EVAW, who highlighted the importance of recognising where gender equality organisations are already innovating, despite a growing struggle to find resources for influencing systems change when services are needed on the frontline. She thought the report was timely in bringing together an index on different but interconnected gender challenges, and “adventurous” in the potential it set out. She did however raise a key question which dominated the concluding debate amongst the wider audience: “Why, when we [the gender equality movement] have for years produced evidence of need and what works in practice, why is this not being listened to and acted on by those in positions to make a difference?”
Although the event did not seek to reach an agreed and shared conclusion, one nevertheless emerged. A central priority for the growing gender equality innovation movement must be finding new ways not only to evidence the need for change but to influence greater action on this. Ultimately it is those in power, politicians and businesses, who need to respond to demands of citizens and customers. This is a major and vital challenge that will require combining ideas, insights and resources from a wide range of people and organisations. Gender Futures has been created to bring these together – join us.