Alexandra Meagher: Case study

Senior Policy Advisor, Social Investment and Finance Team at Cabinet Office

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Senior Policy Advisor, Cabinet Office

The breadth of thinking I experienced during the first week of my Policy Fellowship at Cambridge stayed with me when I went back to London, with insights from my Fellowship having a direct impact on a review launched by the Minister for Civil Society.

I work as a Senior Policy Advisor in the Social Investment and Finance Team at the Cabinet Office. Earlier this year, the Minister for Civil Society kicked off a review into “mission-led businesses”, looking at businesses which commit to having a positive impact on society and the world through their business and operations. In their potential to bring scale, sustainability and talent to challenging social issues, these businesses are a powerful addition to the world's charities and social enterprises.

A Policy Fellowship meeting with Professor Steve Evans (Institute for Manufacturing) helped shape our policy thinking for the review. Steve suggested that I think beyond the typical business models associated with mission-led businesses. For example, he shared his own experience building Riversimple a company where the governance model reflects the business model. The board answers to six custodian representatives, each representing the critical stakeholders of the company (environment, users, neighbours, employees, investors and commercial partners) and works to balance and protect the benefit it delivers to all six. This ensures stakeholders have an equal stake in the company.

Likewise, my thinking was shaped by my Fellowship meeting with Paul Mylrea (Director of Communications, University of Cambridge), who made me think about the importance of communication for mission-led businesses. Drawing on his own varied career, Paul did a fantastic job of putting corporate social responsibility into context, explaining how it’s moved from an “offset model” twenty years ago to something much more core to businesses today.

“The outcomes of a workshop in Cambridge were incorporated into the review commissioned by the Minister for Civil Society.”

The opportunity to bring the rigour of academia to policymaking was one of the things I most valued about my Fellowship. What effect have these meetings had on the review commissioned by the Minister? Provoked by meetings like those during my Fellowship, we broadened the scope of the Review, taking a more ‘big-tent’ approach, as well as narrowing in on specifics.

After my Policy Fellowship meetings, we also held a workshop at Cambridge Judge Business School, linking in with the work of Belinda Bell, Neil Stott and Tim Guilliams, three researchers I met during my Fellowship. The outcomes of this workshop were an important part of the Review, and the report of the Advisory Panel was published in December 2016.

“Waking up in a Cambridge College for a day of meetings going from the British Antarctic Survey to Judge Business School makes quite a change from a normal day in Whitehall!”

I also enjoyed having productive conversations with members of the wider Policy Fellow network. For example, a meeting with Peter Parker (CSaP Policy Fellow, then at the Financial Conduct Authority) provided a stimulating perspective into overlapping areas of our work.

Waking up in a Cambridge College for a day of meetings going from the British Antarctic Survey to the Judge Business School makes quite a change from a normal day in Whitehall!