When Andrew Carnegie founded his UK Trust, he had the breadth of vision to give it the unbounded task of improving the wellbeing of people across the UK and Ireland. In doing so, he ensured that the task would be unlikely ever to lose relevance and he avoided the potential risks of philanthropy shaped by the preconceptions of particular times, which in some cases have been overtaken by the extensive development of the role of the state over the past century or so.
He also had both the foresight and the generosity of spirit to enjoin successive sets of trustees to interpret the task in ways which would fit the circumstances of their own time. I and the other current trustees are grateful for the opportunity which that affords us and the responsibility which accompanies the freedom of action which is such an important part of his legacy.
Over the past 9 years of my own association with the Trust, first as a Fellow and then as a trustee before becoming Chair of the trustees, the concept and language of wellbeing has moved from being a loose thread connecting a very diverse range of work, to something as central to our thinking and activity as when Andrew Carnegie first chose it as his key word.
Renewing the centrality of wellbeing to our activity has owed much to the increased prominence which the concept has enjoyed as a way of framing the shared purpose of society, as determined for themselves by different societies in different parts of the world. As part of that, there has been a particular focus on the way in which the contribution of government to that shared purpose can be both shaped and measured.
The prominence which has developed around both theory and practice in relation to wellbeing, including the role of governments, has generated healthy debates in which Carnegie UK has had an opportunity to be one of the most active participants, both internationally and across the British Isles. We have sought to work particularly closely with those who are engaged in turning theory into practice and to play a part in assisting the sharing of knowledge between them.
In engaging with this work, we have derived benefit from the attention which we pay to the different constituent parts of the British Isles. This is a feature of Carnegie UK which has been an important part of our work over a long period, increasingly so in the past two decades. The development of devolved governments within the current United Kingdom has widened the opportunity for us to engage with a diverse range of social identities and distinctive developments in public policy. One of our objectives is to ensure that the value of this diversity is recognised and used to good effect.
In approaching the task of setting a fresh strategic direction for Carnegie UK for 2021 onwards, the trustees have reaffirmed the value of collective wellbeing as a concept which embraces all that seems to us most relevant to contemporary discussions about what we want as a society. It provides a framework which is capable of linking aspirations about the environment; about inequality; about prosperity; about diversity; and about cultural values, while being sufficiently flexible to recognise that the way in which those linked aspirations are framed or pursued is not necessarily the same in different places.
It’s an approach which allows us to be open-minded about how the delivery of aspirations relates to the political programmes of different parties or their underlying ideologies. It does not prejudge the respective roles of individuals, families and communities, and of governments, businesses and voluntary organisations.
Above all, collective wellbeing provides a framework which creates opportunities for Carnegie UK to bring to bear an appetite for addressing questions which others may not be asking, and for open mindedness about the potential answers.
It allows us to apply the knowledge which comes from over a century of operating under Andrew Carnegie’s injunction to improve wellbeing in ways that are appropriate for the time in question. It allows Carnegie UK’s executive team to build on the expertise they have built and to create fresh opportunities for making an impact both on wider thinking and on the substantive wellbeing of our fellow citizens. It allows partnerships with others to flourish, and for us to demonstrate partnership within Carnegie UK between the trustees and the executive team in the delivery of our strategy.
The trustees, in following Andrew Carnegie’s injunction to interpret his powerful founding mission in a way relevant to the needs of changing times, see the launch of our new Strategic Framework as a moment of excitement and opportunity. We hope that you come to share that view and our enthusiasm to make an impact in contributing to progress.