USA and UK flags

Learning from international relations

It’s funny how often we look to other nations and dismiss what’s going on there based on the all-too-easy assumption that the context is different so we can’t possibly apply it to ourselves. Yet every time I get the chance to share and compare experiences in the fairly narrow niche of the social impact and effectiveness world with others beyond the UK, I find I have much to learn.

Whether or not we enjoy a special relationship with the US politically, we certainly seem to share a strong bond in the philanthropy and social investment spheres. Take Steve Goldberg’s latest comparison of the US and the UK worlds of social investment; he argues the UK is ahead on social investment, but elsewhere makes the point that we’re behind on evidence-based practice. Having recently witnessed the import of a number of US evidence-based programmes into the UK, I certainly agree that we could learn from the US in this area. And based on the number of individuals and delegations travelling back and forth between the UK and US to talk about social investment, there may be something in the other side of his argument too.

It’s because of these close links that NPC is putting on a series of events this month in Washington DC, New York and San Francisco. We want to learn from efforts in the US to transform the social sector and offer some promising examples of work in the UK that could potentially be implemented by our transatlantic friends.

Take the data labs model, for example, which we’ve piloted with the Ministry of Justice and are now looking to replicate in other areas of government. Could the same model work in the US? Would it survive in a world of federal and state-level government? Or shared measurement frameworks, which we believe are vital if we’re ever to have data that allows us to learn from, and compare, different interventions. Can they flourish in the US, or does the size of the country and variation between states make it unworkable?

Ultimately, we believe that NPC needs to work with global peers if we are to succeed in our mission to transform the social sector. Over the last decade, we’ve worked with many—from the Bertelsmann Foundation and Phineo in Germany to Midot in Israel, the Hewlett Foundation and Gates Foundation in the US, as well as the European Venture Philanthropy Association and the Asian Venture Philanthropy Network. In the coming years we hope to work with many more because the challenges we’re faced with—see this recent SSIR blog—are too great for any one organisation in any one country to tackle.

We need to build and be part of a movement that’s experimenting with different approaches, sharing learning and building support. Only then do we have a chance of achieving our goals.

If you’re interested in what we’re talking about, and want to come along, please sign up to our events here. And if you want to know more, just drop me a line at