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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 social 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 they work in and I was really impressed by Cripplegate’s history as a place-based organisation that really focuses on a certain geographic area and how it looks to go in deep in understanding the social issues that exist in the areas it works in. I have also been impressed with how the brave and bold the foundation is with how it funds social change, 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 process used to recruit for governors through 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. With Sarah Benioff coming in as the new Chief Executive and beginning to think about where Cripplegate will head in the I was excited by the exciting and unparalleled opportunity to really feed into this journey.

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

It is vital to bring in a range of lived experience into governance structures in order to ensure funders stay relevant to the communities they service. As someone who was not born in the UK and living for a large part of my life 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 who are from a more affluent background. I am keen to bring in this lived experience to Cripplegate to help it understand how it could tailor its funding to make it more equitable and to bring it into the decision making process.

Lastly, I was also interested in exploring ways in which Cripplegate could fund social change beyond giving grants. As a foundation with an endowment and with the links it has to corporates I am excited to explore how these can be catalysed to support the impact that Cripplegate looks to generate within the communities it serves. I am really attracted by the ability to bring some of those ideas into Cripplegate while working alongside the group of other new governors and to learn from them and the staff here at Cripplegate.

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 for me in my Cripplegate journey, but I've already started to think about how the foundation could think about social investment as part of how it funds social change. There is a massive opportunity to look at this both in the way social investment can sit alongside Cripplegate’s amazing grant programmes and also within the endowment that Cripplegate manages. I have been fortunate to attend my first panel for the Community Chest programme where I was able to  listen about the amazing work taking place at a local level which helps me understand where this programme goes next especially with the Covid-19 crisis and the impact it’s having on more marginalised communities.


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 at the moment. One of them is the increased demand for funding required versus what is available meaning that foundations such as Cripplegate have t make difficult decisions on what it can support. Furthermore, the impact of Covid-19 is accelerating social issues such as poverty, destitution, mental health and homelessness which will take many years to be fully realised. With government unable (and sometimes unwilling) to tackle these issues combined with local councils being stretched it is a challenging time for the sector to come up with solutions to tackle these issues.

For me there is also a wider challenge right now around how funders can stay relevant to the communities that we're working with. Covid-19 has seen the development of 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? There is a whole power dynamic 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. There is also potential pressure on the wealth that foundations have held in endowments which are used to generate funds to deploy as grants. The economic fallout from Covid-19 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 as well as a moment where there needs to be more innovation and new ways of working with communities.


Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I'm looking forward to being part of Cripplegate and it is a huge honour for me given the history and reputation of the foundation. I’m looking forward to engaging with the other governors, the various community groups, and once lockdown is over I'm looking forward to visiting some of these community organisations and hearing more about the work they're doing in person.