Behind the scenes of Propel

Collaboration sits at the heart of Propel. Collaboration between funders, collaboration with equity partners, and collaboration with grantees, too. But what does that really look like in practice? In this blog, we aim to lift the curtain and shed some light on what happens within a £100 million, ten year funding relationship. 

Where did we begin? 

The pandemic sparked an extraordinary year of collaborative action by London’s funders.  The London Community Response (LCR) brought together 67 funders from across sectors who distributed over 3,400 grants worth over £57.7m to community organisations in record time. To meet the needs of communities, funders had to abandon some of their usual processes, act fast, and take more risks. 

It’s clear that collaboration at pace and scale is possible and the appetite is well and truly there from all participating funders. Collectively, we began to consider how we could take some of these learnings around collaborative action to change funder practice in a long-term and systemic way. As with any large scale collaboration, the barriers and blockers facing some, won’t be an issue for others, and navigating those differences in structure takes time.  

Maintaining accountability 

Back in 2021, a group of partners were convened by London Funders for a series of workshops to explore collaborative action for recovery across London. The group developed a series of ambitions for Propel outlined below: 

  • build a platform to act collectively on issues that are bigger than any one of us – drawing on the relationships between us and the assets of us all; 
  • prioritise equity, inclusion and social justice – our shared ‘north star’ – addressing structural inequalities for Londoners for transformational change;    
  • develop bold, innovative and creative programmes – sharing risks together to learn, unlearn, and achieve more; 
  • achieve system-wide impact – through civil society, the public sector and business, focusing on solving big problems and delivering impact at scale; and 
  • deliver both crisis and long-term funding – with strong and collaborative civil society as its legacy. 

The group also developed a list of principles, which enabled us to hold ourselves to account, along with a memorandum of understanding, which help to take care of the legalities of a partnership. Below we’ll explore the people behind Propel, who regularly revisit and reflect upon these ambitions and principles to ensure we’re still on the same page.  

The people behind Propel 

Currently, the Propel partnership is made up of 11 cross-sector funders and 5 equity partners, who you can read more about here. The governance, planning and management of Propel is delivered through three groups: Strategy, Operations, Communications – all of which are made up of representatives from across the partnership, and convened by London Funders. 

Strategy group 

The Strategy group meets bi-monthly, and consists of senior decision makers from across the collaboration (Propel Funders and Propel Equity Partners). Here, partners discuss big ticket items and agree key strategic directions. They balance the risk appetite of each collaborator, review intelligence on the impact of Propel and purposely plan for changing funder behaviour. 

Operations group 

The Operations group meet monthly, and are responsible for the designing and implementing of processes, grant management and non-financial support. Application forms, reports and processes such as Expand, are agreed by operational colleagues. 

Communications group 

The Communications group brings together communications leads from across the partnership to agree on shared messaging and establishing the collective voice of Propel. 

Whilst the above three groups have been involved in Propel since the very beginning, as the programme grows and changes shape, we continue to welcome other voices. We recently began convening a Grant Managers group who meet bi-monthly to report back learning from liaising with funded orgs, and feed issues back up to strategy level. 

Why is all of this important?  

Well, because collaboration takes time and work. At a recent Propel Partners away day, we convened over 30 people to begin planning the year ahead, and there were still many folks unable to join us. These spaces are imperative, not only for designing processes, or making significant budgeting decisions, but for funders to learn and understand about each other’s processes, barriers, limitations. We’re on a learning journey together, unravelling our own system alongside grantees.  

Where do you fit in? 

You know best about what works, and crucially, what doesn’t. In an early co design session for Propel, one of our grantees brought up the trauma associated with applying for funding and the power imbalance and assumptions that impact the development of meaningful relationships between funder and grantee.  

Grantees have been involved in shaping Propel from the beginning, through interviews, feedback, and group codesign. You will continue to be involved each step of the way as we change, adapt, and learn. We regularly convene a group of funders and grantees who, facilitated by our learning partner IVAR, consider how we better align funder practice. This is a brave space, where we explore together how we can support Propel to move closer to the principles it set itself at launch; and ultimately help improve the experience of grantees.