Fellows have risen to the challenges of Covid-19, taking action to drive social change
With the pandemic stress-fracturing systems as we know them, it has been heartening to see the surge in social entrepreneurs rising to meet the new challenges we face. These individuals have been attentively listening, rapidly adapting, and learning from their own lived experiences and those of the communities they care and advocate for to create solutions.
In my recent conversations with Fellows about their Catalyst-awarded projects, I have been deeply moved by stories of understated strength and resilience. Individuals and communities continue to believe in a better future, keep their senses open to opportunities and take focused action to drive social change.
The Catalyst Awards programme privileges us with a glimpse of this limitless vision within our Fellowship. At its core, Catalyst is about investing in and supporting this potential to drive social change. We offer tangible resources to a number of Fellow-led projects each year in the form of Seed (£2,000) and Scaling (£10,000) Grants and dedicated help. Grants are awarded so Fellows can test and grow their ideas and projects, with a member of staff allocated as a point of contact for the duration of the funding, able to offer guidance and explore ways in which the project can connect with the wider RSA community.
Last year, we launched a fast-tracked Covid-19 Catalyst Award round, dedicated to funding projects that had been specifically developed to tackle a pandemic-related matter. We funded some amazing projects as a result, but many of our other Catalyst projects, which were just starting their activities at the beginning of the pandemic, have also adapted and achieved impact in their own ways. Below are just three stories of such Catalyst projects.
The Doorstep Collective
Working as a Deliveroo rider opened Rich Mason FRSA’s eyes to the precarity and insecurity of many workers. He wanted to improve pay and conditions for gig economy workers and was awarded a £2,000 Catalyst Seed Award to develop the idea of an ethical, worker-owned alternative, the Doorstep Collective.
When the first wave of Covid-19 cases rose in the UK, the nascent network responded by organising riders to provide emergency deliveries for vulnerable and self-isolating households in south-east London. Within four weeks of starting, the network numbered over 100 riders delivering 150 food parcels, or one tonne of food every day, five days a week.
Now equipped with substantial learning, greater credibility and strong local relationships, Rich is returning to his focus on job security and good work for couriers. With £20,000 of funding recently confirmed by a major local authority funder, the Doorstep Collective now aims to launch in March 2021 and provide stable, employed jobs for riders on a London Living Wage.
At 15 years old, Zaqiya Cajee founded SwopItUp to facilitate real teen-led environmental action, initially focusing on helping young people establish clothing swaps in their secondary schools in the UK.
With support from her mother, Gayle Cajee FRSA, and a £10,000 Catalyst Scaling Award, at the time the first school closures began last year SwopItUp was poised to sign agreements with schools that would give it a reach of upwards of 15,000 young people.
The SwopItUp team redirected their energy towards a new programme of online activities, including a Creator Programme that presents young people with a set of Eco Briefs that prompt them to create powerful, shareable content for taking climate action during this difficult time. Through this programme, SwopItUp has achieved Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Approved Activity Provider status. With digital activities now complementing in-school activities, and modifications such as tech-based solutions to make the swaps ‘virus-safe’, SwopItUp will be ready to resume and scale in-school activities when schools are able to fully reopen.
FASTN’s charitable purpose is to promote healthy, dependable relationships that support families in all their forms to thrive. Long before the pandemic shifted working and schooling into our homes, Catherine Hine FRSA was considering how workplace policies have a huge impact on the sustainability of employee families.
Wanting to get employers thinking about and responding to the reality of diverse and dynamic families in the UK today, Catherine landed on the idea of reframing the wellbeing of employee families as a sustainability issue. Seeing alignment with the RSA’s Future of Work research, she applied successfully for a Catalyst Seed Award to test her idea.
Project activities began just as the pandemic completely shifted the landscape and highlighted the importance of dependable and healthy relationships in building our resilience. This realisation could herald a systemic change in mindsets, and Catherine sees in this an opportunity to be more assertive in making her case with employers. She hopes FASTN will be able to spend less time selling why the wellbeing of employee families matters and more time focusing on collaborating and seeding solutions that can scale and make use of the polling evidence that was gathered through Catalyst.
Committed to hope and impact
The RSA’s Catalyst community and wider Fellowship stand for something that has always been incredibly important, and is particularly so at the current moment: the power of bringing together collective visionary hope with an unwavering commitment to impact.
We hope these stories engage your sense of possibility and lend resilience and resolve to your own efforts to create change.
Visit MyRSA to connect with our Catalyst Awardees and offer support.
This article first appeared in the RSA Journal Issue 1 2021.
For generations, villages everywhere have kept going thanks to interwoven ways of thinking, being and doing. Can we activate the best aspects of those "resilience values" for all?
RSA Fellows are invited to join a short and focused webinar hosted by NorthernLight, together with The Revels Office in the UK, about dreaming up cultural experiences that mean more.
This report highlights six transitions in policy and practice that can help local authorities advance and embed local participatory democracy.