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Imagination infrastructures

Nurturing hope: introducing the new Emerging Futures team

It was a big week last week for JRF's Emerging Futures team as they welcomed five new colleagues into the work. In this blog, Sophia Parker introduces the team, and shares some early thoughts on how they want to work in a way that embodies the futures they want to build towards.

Written by:
Sophia Parker
Date published:
Reading time:
5 minutes

Perhaps it feels a little self-indulgent writing about building a team - we’ve written previously about the kinds of people we were looking for, and what we’ve learnt from the carefully designed recruitment process we’ve undertaken - but we’re committed to learning in the open as we go with Emerging Futures work. And it’s clear from our conversations with pioneers and changemakers that building teams that are able to hold and grow this work of actively building alternative futures is a major undertaking, and one that people are keen to learn about. So we’ll keep sharing our own progress in case it sparks ideas in others.

We set out saying we needed a team that has:

  • An appetite for working with emergence and uncertainty.
  • A healthy attitude to risk, while respecting the need for rigour.
  • An ability to think in systems rather than projects and programmes.
  • A building mindset.
  • A clear commitment to equity and a deep awareness of privilege, position and power.

Through the recruitment process we refined and grew this list. We saw that we needed people who brought hope, and the action that springs from that. We needed people who are natural alliance builders. People who valued many forms of wisdom and practice to make sense of the world.

We also said we wanted to embrace a plurality of perspectives and in our new team we have this in huge quantities. Together the team bring an enormous hinterland of experience and perspectives. Between us we’ve worked across culture, creative practice, design, ecology, business, technology, policy, and frontline services. The funding experience we have comes from places like the Blagrave Trust, and the Baobab Foundation - places that are seeking to shift wealth and power back to communities - as well as from funders such as Partners for the New Economy, the National Lottery Community Fund, Arising Quo - where we’ve developed practices around transformative, systemic and strategic funding.

New team

So, I am very excited to introduce our new team. You can find out more about who we are and what we feel accountable to. You can listen to a playlist that sums us up in music too!

In brief:

  • Cassie Robinson and Yoanna Okwesa - our two Associate Directors who will be guiding the team and nurturing the design of the work.
  • Jonathan Hutchins-Levy, Urvi Kelkar, Tash Johnson, with Emma Shaw - leading on the different strands of the programme (you can read about each of these in this blog) and resource design.
  • Sepi Noohi - supporting work to convene, curate and produce content and events, plus building and sustaining relationships with all our partners.
  • Victoria Hughes and Kate McLaven - developing our work in our home city of York and surrounding region, starting with a New Constellations journey for a crew of local changemakers (this blog tells you more).
  • And finally me, in my role as the Emerging Futures director, playing a part in supporting the whole team and working with Frank, Graeme and the wider JRF team to bring our new strategy to life.

Culture we want to build

We are in the early days of shaping the team but here are a few thoughts on the culture we think we need to build to support this work well.

First and foremost, we want to build a team that feels publicly and personally accountable to the intentions and values of the work. That means centring equity and transformation as the litmus tests of all our strategic decisions. We will need to think about how to weave these ambitions into everything we do, from how we resource work, to how we communicate, and whose voices we platform and seek out.

We think we need to model abundance and a generosity of spirit, embracing a culture of working in the open, of sharing everything, and learning every step of the way, not just for JRF, but for the wider ecosystem of change makers and pioneers who are building better futures. That will mean embedding processes of learning into our work from the start. Blogs like this one are part of that practice, but there is more to do. This won’t look like classic evaluation work! - but rather, learning to inform our best next step as we find our way through this unfamiliar landscape of supporting the transition to more equitable and just futures.

Courage, boldness, hope

We want our watch-words to be courage, boldness and hope. That will mean making space for depth, creativity, and challenge. In turn this will require us to consciously dismantle and rewire unhelpful mindsets and models of working - allowing for rest as a source of new insight, for example (I loved reading Rest Is Resistance a few weeks back on this topic). We’d love to hear from others who have experimented with working in ways that make space for rest and space, as a way of valuing the wisdom that emerges from these peaceful moments.

Finally, we want to stay alive to how the world is changing around us, and resist the temptation to become fixed in our thinking. That will mean creating practices that keep us actively sense-making and scanning, as well as seeking out challenge and different perspectives - and doing that with others beyond JRF. 

So, a very warm welcome to our new colleagues. I can’t wait for you to meet them. 

Volunteers tidying a school garden.

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