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RSA Catalyst Awards: empowering Fellows to take action in the Covid-19 Crisis

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Catalyst Manager, Kimberley Staines, shares that the RSA has launched a fast-tracked Catalyst Award round for Fellows’ projects responding to Covid-19. Apply for Seed Awards of £2,000 by 17.00 BST on 28th April.

Covid-19 has laid bare structural inequities. For many these gaping wounds have been visible throughout their lives, but suddenly the sticking plasters that might have concealed them in ‘regular’ life have come unstuck. As manager of a grant programme for the RSA, I hold a privileged position within a privileged institution that is itself facing challenges to its own business model. Alongside this work, I’m navigating life in lockdown and acknowledging where my own sticking plasters are coming unstuck.

On a personal basis I work incredibly closely with a food bank and have done for years, despite maintaining that food banks are not a solution to the issue of food poverty. I typically just about balance this work combining operations, finance and governance alongside my regular work and family commitments. Right now, however, rapidly rising need has seen the food bank team scrambling to find food from atypical sources. We are frantically building ad-hoc partnerships with community groups who might be able to take the parcels we make to the households that can’t reach us, but so desperately need to feed themselves.

My day-to-day also involves frequent consideration of a disabled sibling (and key worker unable to work from home) who lives with a Covid-19-decreed ‘at risk’ family member. The nature of my vulnerable sibling’s invisible disability means that they are finding lockdown intensely difficult to navigate, and their choices can unwittingly put my family member at greater risk. Social services are doing what they can where they can right now, but are barely available even to those in the most dire of straits, and only then if they have the facilities and capacity to make efforts to access them. 

Why share my own experience of the crisis? Because it provides an example of the messy complexities linked to just one life today. The stories of struggle as a result of Covid-19 are many and varied, and our social and economic structures are straining under the weight of them. Meaningful action to support those struggling is needed now. While that support is given, we must simultaneously design and embed a better way for the future as a collective.

Through the Catalyst Award Programme, there are two steps we have taken to encourage action through the Fellowship.

  • The RSA has launched a fast-tracked Catalyst Award round for Fellows’ projects responding to Covid-19 and its effects. Time and time again our entrepreneurial Fellows have proven themselves to be creative thinkers, working with passion and dedication to alleviate social challenges. We are inviting Fellows to apply for Catalyst Seed Awards of £2,000 by 17.00 BST on 28th April. We intend to respond to the pandemic as a truly global community - this call is open to all Fellows around the world. 
  • We have also become a signatory to the Covid19Funders statement. While this statement was initially set up and is coordinated by London Funders, we’re applying this to all our supported Fellows’ projects, irrespective of location. Our commitment is to understand that, like the RSA, funded projects will likely need to adapt their work at this time, and as funders we are taking a flexible approach in connection with agreed activities, timelines and reporting, as needed.

Fellows can also share their ideas via a dedicated Wazoku platform established for anyone looking for ways to support communities and projects at this time. The platform aims to enable people to unlock and tackle the challenges this crisis is causing. Ideas seeking support include homeless charity - and previous Catalyst Award recipient - Accumulate’s Art Kits which are to be distributed to people living in hostels, hotels and temporary accommodation. Accumulate regularly run workshops and this is an adapted approach to support would-be workshop participants who are currently not able to gather, with the aim of improving mental health and wellbeing. 

The RSA is also building a distinctive research programme in response to Covid-19. The aim to build bridges to the future takes into consideration the need to get cash to people now and build the social contract of the future; to provide a fiscal stimulus for community; to establish a new 'schools plus' education service; to support agility in health, care and neighbourhood services, and to consider economic and social stimulus 'beyond GDP'. This work is exploring how these bridges can be built collaboratively encompassing diverse perspectives. The Covid-19 Catalyst Award aims to both enable much-needed action on the ground now, and to open doors to Fellows’ ideas so that we might begin the dialogue of building bridges through the RSA Fellowship. Contact RSA.Catalyst@rsa.org.uk with any questions about how to apply.

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