HISTORY-WEBThe Young Foundation came out of The Institute for Community Studies (ICS) which was set up by social researcher and innovator Michael Young in 1954. The ICS was an urban studies think tank which combined research and social innovation. In 2005, it merged with the Mutual Aid Centre and was renamed The Young Foundation, in honour of its founder. The Institute of Community Studies and The Young Foundation have together created and supported over 80 organizations including: Which?, The Open University, Economic and Social Research Council, Social Innovation Exchange (SIX), School for Social Entrepreneurs, Uprising, Action for Happiness and Agenda.

Michael Young, Founder (1915 – 2002)

Michael Young is recognised as one of the world’s most creative and influential social innovators and visionaries.

Political life

Having written the Labour Party manifesto which brought Clement Attlee’s government to power in 1945, Young played a key role in shaping the post-war welfare state. In 1957 he authored ‘The Rise of Meritocracy’, coining the phrase ‘meritocracy’ and criticising the constricted view of merit championed by successive governments.

Social innovation

In 1954 Young set up the Institute of Community Studies from which he built and fostered organisations, initiatives and movements to combat unmet social needs; including NHS Direct, the Open University, The School for Social Entrepreneurs, and Which? Consumers’ Association.

In his later life, Young continued to pioneer social innovation, this time focused on family issues and in particular the experiences of older people, and was instrumental in creating the University of the Third Age and Grandparents Plus.


In 1978 Young was made a life peer, as Baron Young of Dartington in the County of Devon. Young was a fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge, from 1961 to 1966, and President of Birkbeck, University of London, from 1989 to 1992.

Ethnographic approach

With Peter Willmott, Michael Young undertook one of the most influential sociological studies of the 20th century: Family and Kinship in East London. Published in 1957, the study examined the effects of post-war housing policy on the urban working class community, which saw many East Londoners moved out into the new estates of Essex.

The study exemplifies the work of The Young Foundation today, investigating people’s attitudes, beliefs and feelings with immersive research. Michael Young’s emphasis on ethnography enabled them to identify and understand social need in depth, as it was being experienced.

We still pride ourselves on our distinctive approach to research, and emphasis on ensuring theory works as well in practice as it does on paper.