Reflections from Andrew, outgoing CEO

Foundation News

Reflections from Andrew, outgoing CEO

4 Feb 2021

It’s a strange time to be doing anything at the moment; and it’s a strange time to be leaving an organisation. My farewells have all been virtual; and when I start my new job in a couple of weeks I’ll be sitting at the same desk, typing at the same keyboard.

Things aren’t normal. And yet – I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else during this time of abnormality.

In my first 5 years at the Community Foundation, we built on the strong DNA the organisation had – a commitment to peace-building, to social justice, to independence; and we added to that a flair for philanthropy, expertise in democracy and participation; and a working culture that encouraged unity, flexibility, personal development, growth, empowerment. Looking back on those years I’m reminded of that bit of advice – ‘Don’t overestimate what you can achieve in a year; and don’t underestimate what you can achieve in 5 years’.

There is too much to name, but when I think of some of what we did – we…

  • deepened our peace-building work in partnership with the International Fund for Ireland and others; 
  • delivered the Space and Place programme – a £15m, 5 year capital programme to support local communities to connect people by developing under–used, contested and/or difficult spaces.
  • supported Building Change Trust to finish it’s 10 year, £10m project to support the third sector;
  • grew the Human Rights Fund to more than £10m, and through it helped independent Human Rights organisations speak truth into complex situations;
  • established the Foundation as the leading organisation working with local philanthropists – setting up Foundations like the McCall Social Care Fund, The Lightbody Foundation, or the Circle of Change – and through that brought much needed independent money into the sector
  • championed new and innovative forms of grant making, building a new ‘Community Innovators’ programme;
  • explored new ways to get people participating in their community, including supporting Northern Ireland’s first Citizen’s Assembly.

And then things stopped being normal.

And the team stepped up in an amazing fashion, raising more than £7m and supporting more than 1000 organisations to response to the pandemic – all while working in our kitchens, bedrooms, under the stairs, or in the shed.

I’m really proud of everything we’ve done; but I am especially proud of the last year – because more than ever we worked together as a team. Our values and our culture meant that we responded in the right way and had a huge impact.

I’m so grateful to my leadership team – Siofra, Fiona, Orla, Michael, Dawn and Paul – who are all talented leaders in their own right, and who it’s been my delight to support.

And to our Board of Trustees, particularly Maeve, who have been unfailingly committed and encouraging – giving their time and affirmation generously.

During my 6 years we’ve had major bereavements as a Community Foundation family. Maurice Healy, who worked for our Peace Impact Programme, died in December 2019. He was an incredibly smart, behind the scenes, courageous peace builder, and from him I learnt what a great impact quietness can have. And Joe McKnight, who was Vice Chair of the Foundation for most of my time, passed away in September 2020. Joe’s ability to ask the difficult questions whilst being completely supportive was incredibly important to me.

Looking forward for the Foundation – we can all see, more than ever, how important a strong, independent, grass roots civil society is. We support the people who see what’s happening on their street, in the local park, by the nearby shore, and who mobilise together and do something about it. These are the people who in 2020 visited the lonely, delivered meals, made hundreds of telephone calls, held countless zoom meetings – because of their belief and care for the community around them. The Community Foundation exists to support this kind of work; and to enable it to be visible to those who have the resources to get behind it.

There will be new challenges – some we can see right now, and some that are just round the corner; not least the impending Climate Crisis. I know the Community Foundation will be at the forefront of enabling Northern Ireland’s response to those challenges – connecting people who care to causes that matter; to help achieve our vision of a peaceful, shared, prosperous and just Northern Ireland.



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