Developing a Regenerative Futures Fund #5 — Learning & Designing Together, Gathering and Collective Intelligence

Leah Black
7 min readFeb 6, 2023


Time is FLYING!

I’m now almost half way through a 12-month project to try to create a new long-term unrestricted fund for social sector organisations in Edinburgh to make big change happen around poverty and climate.

In Aug 2022 Zoe from Robertson Trust predicted that during the development year I’d probably at points feel like everything is making sense and falling into place. And at other points I’d feel like… ‘argh, nothing makes sense and why am I doing this?!’. She was right.

But I also know that we are in the ‘Messy Middle’, or on ‘Day 2’, as Brene Brown talks about…

It’s the place where chaos and magic, frustration and learning live side by side. We’re in the dark, the doors close behind us, we’re too far in to turn around and not close enough to the end to see the light.


Although the light that is beginning to shine at the end of the tunnel is our next big milestone in the project — coming up this week. Thursday 9th February. We are gathering, in-person at the beautiful Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh.

Our three ‘Learning Groups’ + some additional people with specific skills — will come together, in-person to work on ‘collective outcome mapping’. There will be around 45 people on the day. The day will be facilitated by Ailsa and Grace from Matter of Focus. Matter of Focus are evaluation, outcomes and learning specialists.

Side note — I had forgotten how many niggly wee things need dealt with when organising an event. It’s been a while since I’ve been responsible for an event. Last week I asked our wee facilitator group for some event planning moral support (I was faffing and fankling about catering and timings). Moral support offered and received! And also a book recommendation which I’m so grateful for (thanks Mhairi). Priya Parker’s book The Art of Gathering.

Priya Parker talks about being clear on ‘purpose’ as being the most important part of having a gathering. She says ‘make purpose your bouncer’ — the thing that helps you make all your decisions about the gathering. So what’s our purpose for our ‘power shifting / collective outcome mapping day’ on 9th Feb?

  • In 10 years time — thinking about poverty and the environment in Edinburgh — what change do we want to see? (taking into consideration our goals in Edinburgh of ending poverty and reaching net zero by 2030).
  • And — in 10 years time — what change do we want to see in how individuals and organisations are funded, where power and wealth sits and how decisions are made?


Until now we our three learning groups have been meeting separately.

Our learning groups are:

End Poverty Edinburgh Members:

Conversations with this group are facilitated by Mhairi Reid. This is an existing group supported by Steven Drew from Poverty Alliance. They are a group of citizens who have either lived experience of poverty in the city or care about it greatly. Here is an article written by Steven about his work alongside the group. They are passionate and determined to work towards ending poverty in Edinburgh. They get involved in projects and campaigns in Edinburgh, bringing their varied experiences to conversations, projects and meetings with people working on improving lives in Edinburgh. Mhairi and I have met with the group twice now and each time have felt inspired and challenged.

Funders Community of Practice:

This group is facilitated by Suzy Glass. Initially the group was formed around the funders who are funding the development year and therefore have an interest in longer term, less restricted, participatory and preventative funding models. And in supporting people to imagine better futures and to match this with more appropriate and flexible resources to begin to make long-term change happen. Our funders group has rep’s from The Robertson Trust, Corra Foundation, Turn2Us, Turn2Us Edinburgh Trust, The National Lottery Community Fund, William Grant Foundation, City of Edinburgh Council, Scottish Government and Foundation Scotland. We have been working on a set of ‘Learning Questions’ with this group:

  1. How can we create a shift in existing (funding) practices that will enable us to resource mindsets, attitudes and meaningful long-term regenerative change?

a. How can we become more comfortable working with uncertainty within the funding landscape, while also supporting others on this journey?

b. How can we make decisions about the type of change agents the fund will invest in to create meaningful long term regenerative change?

2. How can we ensure the Regenerative Futures Fund creates a cultural shift that impacts the funding landscape in Edinburgh more widely?

3. How can we design a long-term approach that is adaptable enough to support mutating outcomes as grant periods progress?

4. How can we design a blended finance vehicle that is able to hold and distribute funds from multiple sources to a variety of differently constituted recipients over a long duration in order to support regenerative change?

5. How can we identify and raise enough money to launch and maintain the fund over the long term, especially in the face of a rapidly changing financial and economic outlook?

Organisation Learning Group:

The the most recently formed group, this group is facilitated by Talat Yaqoob and Shasta Ali. Between Sept and Dec 2022 we circulated a survey (results to be published soon but initial findings here) and popped up at a range of Edinburgh forums and network meetings to have conversations about the following principles:

  1. Collective long-term transformational change — contributing to ending poverty and reaching net zero by 2030.
  2. Shifting power in how decisions are made — in a genuinely participatory way by people with lived experience of the issues the organisations and groups aim to improve.
  3. Unrestricted funding for 10-years — on the basis that community-led organisations are best placed to know what needs done in their communities.
  4. New money — aiming to try to bring money in that can’t currently be accessed directly by organisations, on the basis that Edinburgh is a wealthy city.
  5. Administratively light — get as much money out into communities as possible by having as small an overhead cost as possible.
  6. Continuous learning, together — design an evaluation and reporting system that is light touch and useful for organisations.

Off the back of these conversations we asked for organisations to put themselves forward to be part of a small learning group who would help to design the new fund. We had around 50 people note an interest and had a big meeting in January where we collected ideas in a Jamboard looking at we looked at:

  • WHAT — do we mean by regenerative futures and what could be delivered through effective, power-redistributive funding under this term?
  • WHO — communities of interest or place? A specific area of Edinburgh or Edinburgh-wide?
  • HOW — do we deliver low bureaucracy but high on evidence and shared learning?

Our core Organisation Learning Group, who are all receiving a payment to compensate for the time they will spend on this project, are from the following organisations: The Welcolming; NKS; Canongate Youth; Passion4Fusion; Fresh Start / R2 & NEssie Network; LGBT Health & Wellbeing; Lauriston Farm; Fenicks; SEAG (Community Buses & Network); Edinburgh Tool Library; All Together Edinburgh; Hugo from EVOC — who is representing unpaid carer orgs to begin with; Project Esperanza.

We have tried to make sure that we are representing a range of sizes and types of orgs, working with diverse people across the city. In our first session we looked at a ‘funding cycle’ — a brilliant session led by Talat.


However a core element of the Regenerative Futures Fund is to ‘shift power’ in funding and decision-making. As well as our three learning groups, we are going to have specialists from other organisations in the mix who we think will bring useful and unique perspectives to the day — including: Carnegie Trust; Joseph Rowntree Foundation; Edinburgh Climate Change Institute; Sniffer; Edinburgh Futures Institute; Dark Matter Labs; Edinburgh Community Climate Forum; Capital City Partnership; Poverty Alliance; Ukrainian Crisis Response Programme and International Futures Forum.


My book pile is growing — eek but also exciting (doesn’t help that I joined a book group in January!). Two books I’ve been reading recently have brought to the fore the importance of bringing people with different perspectives together, from the beginning of a design or decision-making process.

Priya Parker in The Art of Gathering says ‘ I believe in few things as passionately as I believe in the power of the unlike being brought together and made to figure out the world’

Derek Bardowell in Giving Back: How to Do Good, Better, talks about the shocking lack of diversity in the mainstream social ‘how ‘demographic and cognitive diversity leads to rich, deep, dynamic collective intelligence’. He also talks about how in ‘grant-making collective intelligence should include lived experience, field/proximate experience (ie practioners, local awareness, thematic know-how), creatives, technical skills and someone with experince delivering work through an equality lens’.

Books I have read or am in the process of reading — this is only a part of my bigger pile!

So the rest of this week I’ll be focusing on our gathering. Then attention begins to focus more specifically on the practicalities of designing the fund, and the (not so tiny) job of using what we collectively design on 9th Feb and in our learning groups, of raising between £13 — £15 million to launch it… it’s going to be an interesting next 6 months!

Always up for chatting to anyone who can help, advise, challenge, contribute in any way. We can only manage this by working together.


Spring flowers are bringing me joy — two lovely friends brought me spring flowers last week ❤️

Tulips from Kate!
Tulips, Daffodils and Hyacinths from Claire!



Leah Black

Lead, Regenerative Futures Fund Edinburgh; Chief Executive, Whale Arts; Warden, Incorporation of Goldsmiths; MBA student, Edinburgh Business School.