20 March 2018
As Chief Reform Officer of Catch22, I have the privilege of leading the work Catch22 does to leave the world better than we found it. We aim not only to deliver services that change lives, cradle to career, but to do so in a way that changes public services overall, making the whole system more effective.
Last night we invited friends and partners of Catch22 to ‘Meet the Innovators’, a showcase for five very impressive people who each had a eureka moment, an idea of how to do things better. But they took things one step further than that and turned their vision into a plan, and with our help are putting it into action. Catch22’s ‘incubation’ relationship with each of these pioneers is different but the common factor is a supportive partnership based on common values, to achieve shared goals.
We met in a building on Cubitt St near Kings Cross because it also reflected common values, a shared worldview, and genuine partnership. Cubitt St is the home of Only Connect and Launch22, two fantastic, mission-driven, organisations forming part of the Catch22 family. Only Connect run creative rehabilitation projects in prisons, across youth justice, and in two membership sites in London. Launch22 is also a membership space for people launching their own digital businesses, providing affordable desks and access to mentors and skills, for people who might not otherwise have thought about joining the start-up community.
Catch22 is a social business, but what does that mean? In part it means we don’t think we suit the label ‘charity’ or ‘not for profit’. The work we do – in education, prisons, probation, and social services – forms a core part of the welfare state but also requires all the efficiency and financial sustainability of any national employer of 1800 people. We also call ourselves a social business because we think the idea of three distinct sectors – private, public and charity – is increasingly meaningless. The LEAST interesting thing about an organisation is its structure, size or governance. The MOST interesting thing about an organisation is the goal it has set itself, and the impact it has. Again, this is why we found ourselves drawn to provide a supportive platform from which our five social entrepreneurs can launch.
The whole Catch22 group exists to create a strong society where everyone has a good place to live, a purpose, and good people around them – the 3Ps. We believe the public services that best help us to build our 3 Ps are those that are human, local, and that unlock capacity and strengths in individuals and communities. The worst public services – of which there are far too many – are bureaucratic, centralised, transactional, and inflexible.
Which is why we want to incubate, accelerate and amplify great ideas. Just because we have a national footprint and big delivery infrastructure doesn’t mean we have ‘nailed it’, nor that we have the right to exist. Too many large organisations become complacent in their assumptions about how change happens, and impose one size to fit all. They lose the very traits that made them effective in the first place. At Catch22 we believe it’s both our duty and frankly in our interest to support people who share our ultimate vision for society, and the basic principle of the 3Ps, but are testing many different variants of ‘how’. We have no interest in imposing a common brand, or constraining their independence– why would we? Our unity comes from bringing different – equally valuable – skills and knowledge to enhance each other’s work. It comes from relationships, not contracts.
Emmanuel Akpan Inwang of Lighthouse has developed a 21st Century children’s home; Rachael Box has combined human trust with digital connectivity to create the London Village Network; Kiran Gill has worked out how to make The Difference by getting the best teachers into the schools who need them most; Natasha Porter is opening up the prison service to Unlocked Graduates; Lisa Clark is using OWLS Problem Solving Booths to do what everyone involved in social work over the last 30 years knows, but that public policy makers designing social services over the last 30 years seem to have forgotten: people like helping each other.
All our innovators have a compelling proposition and their relationship with each other and with Catch22 is mutually beneficial. Together we will be far greater than the sum of our parts.
Chief Reform Officer, Catch22