CEO Spotlight: Marcia Asare, Walcot Foundation

What does the Walcot Foundation do?

Founded 350 years ago, the Walcot Foundation focuses broadly on supporting low-income communities in the London borough of Lambeth, facing structural, social and economic disadvantage. Our funds go to the voluntary sector, charities, community groups, and schools. And we also fund individuals who need support while studying.

Why is the work you do important?

The Covid-19 pandemic disproportionately affected those already facing structural and economic disadvantage – the low-income communities that we support. Communities are still experiencing the effects of covid but now with the cost of living crisis on top. It’s an ever growing tsunami of need in the backdrop of less and less statutory support. And where there is statutory support and frameworks, they don’t reach deep enough.

Nearly 50% of young people in Lambeth live in poverty. 

There are plenty of brilliant organisations working on the ground. At the Walcot Foundation, we try to play our part by 1. providing funding and 2. using soft power. It’s hard, complex work because we’re talking about people – their lives, their families, their futures.

How did you get to where you are today?

My path is completely untraditional – let’s start with that!

When I look back at the last 15 years, every single thing I’ve done has been relevant to this role. Back in 2004 I was brought in to set up London Funders, a key membership organisation of funders in the city. This gave me my first understanding of the funding world. 

A few years later I joined the School for Social Entrepreneurs as their director, for four years. My first 18 months were hugely exciting – traveling around the country, seeing the flagship support programme being delivered in different regions, and meeting a huge range of inspiring social entrepreneurs.

After SSE, I ran a bursary programme for City and Guilds and a completely new fund which allowed us to be unencumbered and modern in our vision.

To give away money responsibly is really difficult – I think that’s one of the most misunderstood things about grant giving.

At the same time, I was studying for my masters, where my dissertation looked at new funding structures and power dynamics. This kicked off my new love affair of philanthropy and grant giving through a systems change lens.

What are your top three values and how do they influence the way you lead?

1. Compassion – it helps you to seek to understand where others are coming from, and gives you the capacity to always create a productive working relationship. You can be a better version of yourself when there’s compassion in the room

2. Learning and curiosity – if you’re curious, you never take the position of knowing enough

3. Collaboration – there is nothing in my life that I love and appreciate that has been created by just one person, so for me, something truly special happens when you collaborate

What is the biggest lesson you have learnt on your leadership journey?

The biggest (and hardest) lesson I’ve learnt is that there’s a special blessing and grace in learning to love the real you. As I knock on the door of 50, I feel increasingly more comfortable with the person I’m trying to be, the efforts I’m making to learn more about myself and my place in this world, and how I can speak truth to power.

What leadership development do you think you and your staff need the most right now?

We’re currently asking ourselves, what does it mean to be a learning organisation, to centre learning in everything we do? This means we must support colleagues on their own learning journeys, with a longer term goal or aim. It has to start with people’s individual learning journeys.

One piece of advice you wish you’d received 10 years ago?

Know you are enough. You have enough. Your unique personality and the skills you develop will be enough and will be enough.

One piece of content you’d recommend?

‘The danger of a single story’ – a TEDTalk by my favourite author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

How can we support the next generation to develop into leaders of the future?

We must make a conscious effort to help them see that all leaders look different; there’s no single way to lead. They shouldn’t be afraid or ashamed to ask for support, whether that’s through mentoring or a bursary.

Want to stay up-to-date with Walcot Foundation? Follow them on Twitter and LinkedIn. And connect with Marcia on LinkedIn.

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