Since the launch of the original Institute of Community Studies in 1953, to the present day  work of The Young Foundation, we have striven to better understand, involve and innovate with people and communities who have been historically marginalised, silenced and underrepresented in systems that powerfully affect their life chances and wellbeing. We have supported and incubated hundreds of activist entrepreneurs and organisations to tackle social injustice and challenge inequalities.

Our founder, Michael Young, had an approach to creating social change that is as relevant today as it was when he was alive. It has been said that Michael ‘knew neither what a groove was or the meaning of orthodoxy’, consistently ignoring the limitations of working within silos, sectors and boundaries. A true, radical entrepreneur, he spotted opportunities and revealed injustices that spurred the creation of entirely new institutions and innovations; meeting unmet needs within the UK and across the world.

Building opportunities

The Young Foundation has continued that legacy. Over the last five years, we have relaunched our new Institute for Community Studies to bring renewed attention to the critical need to support stronger communities and centre their experiences in research and policymaking. Through our Peer Research Network, we have built greater opportunities for more people to become involved in research, driving real-world impact in many key policy areas. Working with organisations across every sector, we have demonstrated the power and potential of centring the needs of communities and marginalised groups in addressing inequity in all its forms.

But in that same period, our communities have endured a global pandemic, experienced real signs of climate breakdown, seen shortening life expectancy, and continued financial distress at both national and household levels. Through all this, at The Young Foundation, we continue to reveal discrimination that drives poverty and disadvantage across parts of our population and geography.

Empowering co-creation across communities, sectors and boundaries

Today, our public services are in acute crisis. Public trust is on the floor. The range of challenges we face are many, and deeply knitted together. Consequently, our mental health is often poor, and our resilience weakened. We know that our collective ways of working and organising are completely ill-equipped to meet the challenges of 21st Century society. We must be prepared to unravel and reweave for the common good.

Across the UK, we did this in dramatic and effective ways during the pandemic – with people, the state and business working together in entirely new ways, to meet the needs of a country in crisis. But this ebbed when the crisis ebbed. We need to rebuild and strengthen our muscle for long-term, collective action.

That means raising our expectation of participation, empowering radical acts of co-creation across communities, sectors and boundaries. For The Young Foundation, this is a moment to embody the spirit of Michael Young, to build on the collective effort we’ve seen so powerfully improve lives in recent times of crisis, and to work collaboratively, experimentally  and practically towards redesigning the social contract between people, communities, state and business as we shape a fairer, greener future.

Read The Power of Participation: our vision, 2024-28 

Climate change Community Education & Employment Inequality Places Systems change Posted on: 29 November 2023 Authors: Helen Goulden OBE,


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