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Amir Rizwan Interview: “I’m really interested in thinking about what can be done beyond giving grants”

19 February 2021

Amir joined our board of governors a few months ago. He thinks it’s vital to have people with lived experience at the board level and brings a wealth of experience on social investment.

 

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

For the past six years, I've been working in the social investment sector here in the UK, working with social sector organisations, supporting them in the growth, impact and sustainability through repayable finance. A lot of my day-to-day work is working both with organisations that are keen to raise investment in order to increase their impact, and then at the same time, improve their sustainability. But also, I do a lot of work building the market and ecosystem around this activity here in the UK.

 

Why did you decide to become a governor, what did you think that you could bring into the foundation?

For the past few years, I've wanted to look for trustee opportunities, but I've never really found the right opportunity where I could use my skill set and experiences. I'm always interested in understanding how foundations can do more to support the communities and I was really impressed by Cripplegate’s history as a place-based organisation that really focuses on a certain geographic area and it does go in deep. The foundation also looks at being brave and bold with the funds, looking at evidence, working with the community and partners on the ground and also with the council and the people who live in the borough.

I was also really impressed with the governance, when they recruited for governors they offered a very open and honest discussion of where it was, why it needed to bring in the governors, how it could be doing better in terms of representation and bringing in more diverse voices. Sarah's role coming in as a new chief executive as well, looking to think about where Cripplegate is going next; it looked like an exciting opportunity to really feed into that overall journey.

I think it's important to bring in a range of governance with lived experiences in different ways.

I also think it's important to bring in a range of governance with lived experiences in different ways. So having not been born in the UK and living in a part of London that isn't on the affluent side, there's often an outsider syndrome that sets in to say is this place really for me, especially if you look at the people around the table and they come from more affluent backgrounds. So I think bringing in that experience around the difficulties of moving up the social ladder should hopefully be a benefit to how Cripplegate could look at the designing and making of decisions.

Lastly, I was also interested in thinking about what could be done beyond giving grants. As an endowment it has all these other links to corporates and think there’s a potential to bring about more impact for the work it does. So I was really attracted by the ability to bring some of those ideas to the full and also to join with a group of other new governors at the same time, which could help build connections, learn from other experiences and about the work that Cripplegate does.

Amir Rizwan during the Zoom interview

Is there any particular piece of work or project that you have started working in as a governor that you could tell us about?

It’s very early stage, but I've started to think about how we could think about social investment as part of that overall investment direction and looking at opening a discussion about the wider funding that Cripplegate sits on. I attended my first panel yesterday for the Community Chest programme. I think that I was more listening than contributing because, at this stage, I'm trying to absorb all the work that gets done and trying to understand where it goes next especially with the Covid-19 crisis and the impact it’s having on more marginalised communities from certain demographics, mental health issues, skyrocketing domestic abuse issues, poverty looking to increase as well and so going to cause more demand on services in the future.

 

Which do you think is or are the biggest challenges in the sector at the moment?

I think there are a lot of challenges in the funding sector. One of them is the demand for funding required versus what is available and how the impact of Covid-19 is pushing up issues on poverty, destitution....at the same time, the government is unable to come in and local councils can't fully fill in those gaps because of a variety of reasons to deal with how they're funded, and government policy around austerity.

I think there's another challenge right now around how funders can stay relevant to the communities that we're working with. Because there have been a lot of interesting things happening on the ground, like mutual support groups, local people and neighbourhoods coming together, so how can funders support really localised initiatives and interventions? The whole power dynamics between funders who sit on lots of money and community groups that are doing lots of really good work but lack of resources and money to be able to do that work. And the potential pressure on the wealth and the money of a foundation, the system where they make their grants come from investments and money they hold and endowments, but it could be a challenging few years because of the economic impact of Covid, which might mean that later on down the line there might be less grants to distribute out. So, we really need to be aware that this is a very difficult period and it requires, I think, difficult decisions and for the foundations to start thinking about giving up some of the power they have.

 

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I'm looking forward to this and it's going to be a really interesting, challenging role but also fun. I’m looking forward to engaging with the other governors, the various community groups, and once lockdown is over I'm just looking forward to visiting some of these community organisations and hearing more about the work they're doing in person.