This page was updated in September 2023 to reflect updates to our strategy for Creative, Confident Communities and A Fairer Future, as well as a two-year extension to our strategy, committing our support to the priorities we identified to the end of 2027. See a PDF version of our original strategy.
Over the past 15 years Esmée Fairbairn Foundation’s approach has been to back excellent organisations and support their goals across five different sectors (Environment, Food, Children and Young People, Arts, Social Change).
1.1 Why change
With our new strategy, we want to make more of a difference. We started working on our new strategy in a time of uncertainty for the UK. Brexit, the effects of austerity, and a growing awareness of the implications of climate change influenced plans for our work. This has been made more urgent by the impact of COVID-19 and the profound levels of inequality it has exposed and threatens to increase.
There cannot be a return to business as usual, and we want to play an active role in responding to the critical issues facing our society.
We have the freedom to ask, “What more could we do?” and so, faced with huge challenges like protecting our natural world, we are changing our approach. By making larger and longer grants, in smaller numbers, we hope we can do more to make a lasting impact. We will contribute all that we can to unlock the change by people and organisations with brilliant ideas who share our goals.
We have developed a series of impact goals against which we will track progress and collect, analyse, and share data and learning. We will concentrate on issues which:
- are significant, require a long-term view and are realistically achievable;
- offer forward-looking solutions based on opportunity, partnership, and with potential for leverage and systemic change;
- reflect the interconnected nature and complexity of the systems that we want to see changed;
- are coherent and purposeful without being prescriptive and programmatic;
- push on an open or emerging policy door, devolution agenda, movement for change or business practice; and
- build on what we do well, our expertise and experience (e.g. support for the unusual, our appetite for risk and our low ego ethos).
1.2 What will change
We recognise our role as an organisation in protecting our natural world and addressing the causes and impacts of climate change. This is a long-term issue but one that needs to be tackled with urgency and energy.
In our vision for a fairer future in the UK, social and economic justice are equal and interdependent partners to environmental justice. We have formulated our mission and three supporting aims: ‘Our Natural World’, ‘A Fairer Future’ and ‘Creative, Confident Communities’. These will balance long-term and immediate need, with clear priorities over the next seven years.
For ‘Our Natural World’, we carried out a detailed research and scoping exercise to identify where we could make the biggest difference, especially those which are currently overlooked by others. We looked at how we could take action ourselves to unlock the change we want to see. We will now use all our tools - not just grants and investments – to broker alliances, use our influence and remove barriers to achieve our impact goals.
For ‘A Fairer Future’ and ‘Creative, Confident Communities’, our strategy builds on our long history of funding the arts, children and young people and social change. The strategy combines what has been most impactful with what is now most needed, guided by the needs of climate change, racial justice, and recovery from COVID-19. Over the next year we will be developing this part of our strategy and it is likely to evolve. As we did with Our Natural World, our focus will be to identify where we can make the most effective contribution.
Across all our aims, we hope that working with a clear purpose will create positive ripples way beyond what we can achieve on our own. And where we find something is not working, we commit to learn and make changes.
2. Overall Framework
This is a summary of our overall mission, where we believe we can contribute most, our impact goals and how we plan to deliver against them within our 5-year strategy.
Esmée Fairbairn Foundation aims to improve our natural world, secure a fairer future, and strengthen the bonds in communities in the UK. We do this by contributing all that we can to unlock change by people and organisations with brilliant ideas who share our goals.
Our Natural World is protected, restored, and improved
|Impact goals by 2030||Priorities in the first 7 years|
|Preserved and improved species health and habitats||
Space for nature
|Clean and healthy freshwater||Freshwater|
|Sustainable and ethical food||
Nature friendly farming
Fishing in tandem with nature
A Fairer Future
|Impact goals by 2030||Priorities in the first 7 years|
Improved systems, policy and practice.
Organisations are strengthened to use their power to tackle systemic injustice and inequity.
Organisations work together and build movements to tackle systemic injustice and inequity.
Arts and creativity making change
Children and young people’s rights
Creative, confident, communities
|Impact goals by 2030||Priorities in the first 7 years|
|Communities use their power to make change happen||Communities working together for change|
|Local economies work better for the people who live there||Community driven enterprise and regeneration|
|Culture and creativity build thriving communities||Community-led art and creativity|
In everything we do, we are motivated by the need to address the causes and impacts of climate change and inequity, and to recognise our role in addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion.
3. Our Natural World
We want to ensure that our natural world is restored and protected, and that people benefit from that recovery. Working with others, we will contribute to three key impact goals by 2030:
- Preserved and improved species health and habitats
- Clean and healthy freshwater
- Sustainable and ethical food
We have identified five key areas of work through which we believe we can best contribute to these goals in our first 7 years. The criteria we adopted in arriving at these five areas:
- They are pressing in their importance and urgency, on the evidence of our consultations and our own knowledge;
- They are tangible and self-contained so easier to identify goals and help align the efforts of others;
- There are also connections between them, and they contribute to broader priorities, not least the climate and biodiversity emergencies;
- They are timely and of increasing interest to different constituencies and we can help build on momentum. There is clear scope for a funder of our size and profile in making a difference;
- They are open to a ‘tools in the box’ strategy: where we can unlock change through convening, building evidence, supporting alliances, or using our influence and role as an asset owner;
- We have a history of engagement with these themes and know the territory well – we are familiar with key players and have internal experience and expertise.
It is likely that the work of many significant players in the environment sector will cross more than one area of work and this will make us more, rather than less likely to support them. To make progress on each area, we will need to support key organisations which work across sectors to convene, mobilise, or generate new ideas.
Our areas of priority will be:
Esmée has long been a supporter of preserving peatland because of its value to nature, climate change and for a range of other benefits including flood prevention and purifying water. Whilst still under appreciated, peatlands are more effective at carbon storage and mitigation than tropical forests. Peat has relevance across many of our priorities (habitats, climate, freshwater, nature-friendly farming).
- Peat is recognised as a climate change superpower as well as for its importance to nature.
- Peat is no longer a component of horticultural products and people understand the implications of their buying choices on global peat stores and climate change.
- Degraded peatland sites are restored for nature and for people
- All important peatland sites, including those outside protected areas, have statutory protections at least as powerful as currently in place and that those are properly applied.
- Farmed peat soils are managed sustainably.
- All UK countries manage their peat resource sustainably.
3.2 Space for nature
The scale of nature’s decline in the UK cannot be addressed by our existing nature reserves, nor without fundamentally changing the way we use land. Fortunately, this decline is mirrored by a growing movement for connecting with nature and for finding and creating more wild spaces for nature - enabling natural processes to shape land and sea, repair damaged ecosystems and restore degraded landscapes.
This is a good time to encourage people’s enthusiasm for achieving better land use, and to build the evidence for policy makers. As well as supporting restoration of nature across the UK, we also want to engage communities to lead change near to where they live so that nature is accessible to all.
- Space for nature, and biodiversity, is restored at scale in the UK.
- Restoration of marine habitats, reconnecting coastal areas with their natural heritage.
- More wild spaces for people in the UK to access, understand, enjoy and value - particularly those who have not experienced wild nature.
- The benefits of investment in different approaches to aiding the recovery of nature, building carbon stores, and reducing flood risk are explored.
One of the biggest challenges to the UK environment is the poor state of freshwater and the amplifying impact of climate change on it. Wildlife in freshwater has declined at a faster rate than in other habitats and is particularly susceptible to climate change. Despite the magnitude of the problem, it is easily disregarded by a public unaware of the implications of poor water stewardship.
Many rivers and lakes have water quality below the standard that is considered safe for beaches. There is already competition for available water and that is likely to increase, putting the natural environment at increasing risk whilst pollution from agriculture, industry and waste-water treatment continue to affect many rivers.
- Freshwater is valued and supports a flourishing economy and thriving natural environment.
- There is enough freshwater for wildlife and people.
- Freshwater-dependent wildlife and habitats have been restored.
- Floods do less harm to people and wildlife.
- Human activity does not cause damaging pollution.
3.4 Nature-friendly farming
There has been huge loss of biodiversity on farms – 56% decline in farmland birds since 1970. 97% of wildflower meadows present in the 1940s have been destroyed (3 million hectares). Current farming approaches result in 0.1 to 0.3 tonnes of soil lost per hectare per year.
Large areas of farmland will be unprofitable within a generation under the current model, but markets have not yet recognised the added value of nature-friendly farming. However, increasing innovation and a growing sense of awareness have created a window of opportunity.
- The benefits, including health benefits, of sustainable farming are widely recognised.
- Farmland wildlife and biodiversity is restored.
- The status of other species on farms is better understood and recovery is underway.
- Soil health is restored, soils contain more carbon and chemical usage has been reduced.
- Working with nature on farms makes good business sense and is widely demonstrated and accepted.
- More people have access to and buy locally produced food.
3.5 Fishing in tandem with nature
Overfishing is the biggest driver of biodiversity loss in the seas yet there are currently poor safeguards to prevent damaging exploitation. The implementation of an effective network of marine protected areas is key to tackling this, alongside more sustainable aquaculture.
With the UK leaving the EU and the Common Fisheries Policy, there is real opportunity for change for marine life, as well as the coastal and island communities who depend upon it.
- UK is seen as a global leader in the management of marine resources.
- Marine biodiversity is restored at scale and enjoyed by more people.
- Seafood consumed in the UK comes from well-managed stocks.
- Existing traditional coastal communities are sustained and the economy of small fishing communities is revived.
- The status of marine wildlife populations is understood, effectively monitored and safeguards are in place to allow recovery.
4. A Fairer Future
A fairer future will require changes to systems and structures, while building the power and capacity of people and organisations. We want to provide the support and space to enable others we work alongside to create lasting change, and to challenge systems that stand in the way.
We have five priority areas where we believe we can make the most effective contribution; using our existing knowledge and relationships, by working at the intersections of issues; and by building our understanding through working with others, especially those with experience of the issues we are trying to address.
We want to contribute to a socially just and anti-racist society, where people have their rights protected, as well as the opportunity to speak and be heard, and the freedom to express their creativity. And across all our work in A Fairer Future, we are keen to support organisations led by the people they serve.
Our areas of priority will be:
4.1 Arts and creativity making change
Our focus is on two ways in which culture and creativity can build a fairer future:
- Creating a cultural workforce that is more reflective of UK society, by enabling more people to progress in their career in the arts who identify as D/deaf, disabled or neurodiverse, are from communities experiencing racial inequity, or who are economically disadvantaged.
- Supporting young people to build their own creative lives and to use arts and creativity to influence the world around them.
- A representative cultural workforce.
- A new and diverse generation of cultural leaders are equipped to influence the world around them.
- Youth-led culture and creativity enhances young people’s lives, and enables them to influence change in their communities or wider society.
4.2 Children and young people’s rights
Creating a fairer future requires lasting changes to policy and practice that gets support to children in the vital first years of life, and to young people at important transitions in adolescence. This particularly includes those at risk of school exclusion or in contact with the care or youth justice system, along with earlier support for disabled young people and those with special education needs.
Through everything we do, we commit to supporting young people who have known injustice in their lives to drive change, reimagine and create a fairer future.
- A shift in early years provision to ensure that young children (aged 0-5) and their families facing barriers have quality support.
- Fewer young people, particularly those experiencing racial inequity, in contact with the youth justice system, excluded from school, and entering state care.
- Children’s rights are better met, with specialist legal support and better protection for marginalised groups.
- Young people (aged 14-25) with experience of injustice create and lead positive change, and shape decision making.
- An end to the ‘cliff edge’ of support for young people leaving care.
4.3 Racial justice
Racial equity and justice are a fundamental necessity for a socially and economically healthy nation. The historic under-funding of organisations led by people experiencing racial inequity has undermined progress toward this ambition. Our efforts need to be rooted in a better understanding of the interconnected nature of racial inequity and injustice across all parts of our strategy. Providing support that is sustainable, accessible and responsive will enable these organisations to create a more equitable future, while determining for themselves the best way they can thrive and achieve impact.
- Organisations working towards racial justice across our strategy, led by people experiencing racial inequity, are financially resilient and socially transformative.
- Racial inequity in leadership is challenged and changed.
- Disproportionate harm caused by racial injustice in systems, policy and practice is reduced.
4.4 Gender justice
Gender justice requires changes to systems, policy and practice so that everyone's rights are recognised and protected. We will work with others to ensure that women and girls can live in safety and fulfil their potential, and that transgender and non-binary people’s voices are heard.
- Gender based violence is reduced through the delivery of preventative work.
- Trans and non-binary people’s rights are recognised and protected.
- Policy, practice, and the law better meets the needs of women experiencing multiple challenges and discrimination.
- The negative impacts of the criminal justice system on women and their families are reduced.
4.5 Migrant justice
Migration is a vital part of UK life. The power and leadership of those with experience of migration, asylum and detention are essential to achieve a society where migrants, refugees and asylum seekers have the tools and resources to understand and advocate for their rights, have their rights protected and can live in safety.
Working in partnership, we will support the development of a just legislative framework, a less polarising public narrative and on ensuring that migrants have access to legal help that enables them to secure their rights.
- Migrants have improved access to legal help to exercise their rights.
- Legislation and support ensure that migrants' rights are protected, and reflects their needs.
- Public understanding and discussion of migration issues is better informed, particularly by those with lived experience of the migration system.
5. Creative, Confident Communities
We want to strengthen the bonds in communities, helping local people to build vibrant, confident places where they can fulfil their creative, human, and economic potential. Places where the local economy works better for the people who live there, where there is equality of access to arts and culture, and where communities are at the heart of change.
Our areas of priority will be:
5.1 Communities working together for change
Communities thrive when people have the power to take action and the capacity and capability to work together for change. We seek out ambitious work that puts communities themselves at the heart of the changes they want to make and can provide transformative models for others to learn from. We will support communities to exercise greater power over their economic, social, and environmental future.
- Local people exert more influence over the decisions that affect their lives and their communities.
- The corporate, cultural, public, voluntary, and community sectors work better together with communities to achieve collective change.
- Local people lead an aspirational vision of what they want their community to be.
- The power of people taking collective action leads to fairer and more equitable communities.
5.2 Community driven enterprise and regeneration
When communities have a greater stake in local transport, businesses, housing, and services, they can work better for communities, and generate financial and social returns that stay local. We believe that supporting stronger, sustainable, connections between people and their local resources can help rebuild and create collaborative, thriving, and green local economies for all.
- Local communities are the driver of transformational change in their local economies.
- Innovative models of community-led enterprise and shared community assets are tested, grown or shared.
- Locally owned assets and purchasing power drive positive social, cultural, economic and environmental change.
- Reinvestment in local economies reduces economic inequality.
- Community driven regeneration contributes to reducing climate impact and restoring nature.
5.4 Community-led art and creativity
The power of culture and creativity to transform lives and communities is undervalued. Through our long-term interest in, and history of, supporting culture for social impact, we understand the role that culture and creativity can play in releasing potential, strengthening community relationships and bringing people together. We want to see the best of community-led culture and creativity as a core component in local regeneration and planning for the future.
- Communities are strengthened and transformed through a collaborative approach to culture.
- Local people and local artists are at the heart of change.
- Community-led art and creativity are central to local policy and decision making.
- Community-led art is valued by funders and statutory agencies as a central element of community regeneration.
Throughout our strategic review, we have talked about ‘leverage’ and of using all our resources and organisational tools to effect broader change. This section describes the full range of tools that we are able to use.
We will continue to provide core/unrestricted, long term funding to the organisations that are best able to help us achieve our impact goals.
We see our expertise in social investment as being a key component to our new strategy. We are already discussing and designing environmental outcomes-based financing with Defra and are looking to build on our experience in using social investment to support local social enterprises and co-ops for communities. We believe that social investment will increasingly be important in delivering our mission.
Over the last four years we have developed a capacity building product that we can be proud of and we aim to make sure that it continues to enable the organisations that we support to flourish.
Influencing and Co-Design
We have learnt from some of our more strategic relationships and initiatives that when we use our expertise and experience to co-design or be part of a larger initiative, we are often likely to have significant, if quiet, influence. This might be in setting more ambitious outcomes, in holding a strong line on mission, in being on advisory or recruitment panels.
We have seen that where we work with other experts and practitioners in commissioning research and evidence, the ripple effects are much greater than if we do so alone. We do not always have to lead on these initiatives but are involved in their core design and development (see above).
Through our funding we will support key infrastructure organisations or intermediaries and those who support collaborations through representation. They are often best practice hubs and develop work and strategic partnerships, amplifying the collective voice around an issue. We will support key infrastructure organisations which contribute to each impact goal, but also those which work across our aims to ensure the independence, capacity and integrity of the charity sector.
We have sometimes used our position to convene and connect networks of organisations to meet regularly to foster dialogue, share learning, create joint opportunities and develop new, collective approaches. We support those collaborations that bring together corporate, public and voluntary sectors to work better together to deliver collective change. We are also approached by others who are trying to convene people around a particular issue. In our new strategy we will be open to convening and to be part of other efforts where this supports our strategy and is appropriate.
Throughout the development of our strategy we have been told that one of our key strengths is to be open to the new and unusual. This has been described variously as ‘left-field’, ‘punk element’, ‘growing oaks from acorns’. We have also been told that our key strength is also to stick with these ideas through their growing pains. We will support new ideas which contribute to each impact goal, and also those which work across our aims to unblock barriers, test new approaches or build movements for change.
Data and digital
We recognise the importance of digital and data in both our own strategy and for those who we fund. We will embrace the opportunities brought by tech innovation, and be open to experimenting with new technologies, without changing for change’s sake. These efforts should be collaborative and involve other funders and charities where opportunity allows, while accepting that sometimes we will need to take the lead.
Environmental Social, and Governance (ESG) Investment Strategy
We have begun to use our role as an asset owner and investor in support of our impact goals. Working with our advisors, we are transitioning our portfolio towards ESG factors, planning our move to net-zero and becoming a more challenging shareholder. We will also continue to avoid investing in new funds that are directly in conflict with our impact goals and will continue reporting, monitoring and challenging investment managers on their ESG performance.
Communications and Learning
We will build on our strong reputation for sharing insights and challenges from our work, further developing this approach to ensure that what we learn influences our strategic decisions. We will also work to ensure that what we ask from those we fund is proportionate and useful – in line with the principles for better reporting we developed together with IVAR and other partners.
7. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
We are committed to social justice, and to tackling injustice and inequality. Racial justice is a critical element in this, in the UK and across the world. We acknowledge that we have a role in addressing structural and systemic racism in the UK both as an organisation and through the work we support.
As an organisation, we are committed to understanding, tracking, improving and sharing our progress on diversity, equity and inclusion. To do this, we will use the recommendations of the 2019 Association of Charitable Foundation’s report Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: The Pillars of Stronger Foundation Practice as central principles in putting our new strategy into practice over the next seven years, and commit to sharing our actions and progress through our website.
Through our work, we have funded some significant organisations seeking to tackle injustice, including racial injustice, for many years. However, we know that we need to do much more. Under our new strategy, we commit to funding more organisations led by Black or Asian people, or those from other ethnic minorities by:
- giving more long-term funding and support to organisations already in our portfolio that are working to advance racial justice;
- working with partners to identify, fund, and nurture smaller organisations led by Black, Asian or other ethnic minorities that are working towards our impact goals; and
- using our power as a funder to influence recruitment and governance practice to be more inclusive in sectors (e.g. environment) where the majority of organisations are not ethnically diverse.
8. Climate Change
We are a signatory to the Funder Commitment on Climate Change. This means that we will report annually on our progress against the six goals in the Commitment. We will encourage other foundations to consider climate change as core to what they do.