Kids Company: Sex Pistols or the Clash?

Last summer, maverick Kids Company founder Camilla Batmanghelidjh launched a media campaign to achieve further government funding for her organisation. My post at the time ended with the words "Ultimately, we’ll see how it turns out; I’d imagine they will get
another 3-year government funding package, particularly given their
work hits one of the key priorities….But I wonder if
the long-term effects of this move might not be wholly positive".

Sure enough, last week it was announced that Kids Company was going to receive £12m over the next three years; one organisation amongst five sharing £27m (44% to Kids Co.). Which is no doubt good news for Kids Co and the other four organisations (if not the other 85 who submitted an expression of interest), and signals a real investment in delivering appropriate services to young people across the board. (It also means that Camilla’s threat to strip in Parliament won’t happen).The reason I’d written that "the long-term effects might not be positive" was because I felt that this was not a sustainable way of working for the sector: as someone put it at the time, should we all enlist Max Clifford, rather than fill out applications?

Interestingly, Craig Dearden-Phillips of Speaking Up (one of the other funded organisations) has written a blog post which reflects what I imagine to be a wider view from the youth sector: it’s titled "Why Kids Company Excite Me….But Scare Me Too", and gives a real insight into those views, so I’m going to quote a couple of chunks of it:

"While part of me rejoices at an exceptional character like Camilla
facing down Government, part of me is a bit unsettled by it too. Should
a talent for PR and platinum inside-connections get you this quite this
much money? A lot of people are privately spitting feathers. Yeah,
sure, some are jealous but others just feel this kind of largesse to a
small organisation serving a few hundred kids across a few postcodes to
be grossly unfair. And they do have a point: How, I wonder, does a
community group on a council estate in Hull closing its doors in April
feel when they see Camilla playing the government (and, indeed, the HM
Opposition) like a salmon?"

Craig goes on to tackle their approach to impact measurement, replication, funding and, of course (and related to all of these), founder syndrome:

"My final point is about how KC needs to redefine the role of Camilla.
KC is the creation of its brilliant founder who has unbounded
commitment and energy. To get out of the starting-blocks, the drive and
hands-on approach of someone like her is absolutely necessary. Beyond a
particular point, however, it is damaging. Once out of the baby phase,
leadership needs to be shared-out, the entrepreneur needs to step into
an outward-facing role and the `grown ups’ need to be allowed to get on
with the serious business of running an operationally and financially
sound organisation. Believe me on this point because I have got form!
As a Recovering Founder, I know the pitfalls of `Founderism’. From the
bits I have heard from people who have been at KC in the past, the
organisation shows all the signs of Chronic Founderism. If KC is to
grow and help more kids in more places, Camilla needs to start a Twelve
Step Programme for Founders – now. I can recommend a good one…"

I won’t add much to that, as I think it speaks strongly enough. We will see what happens in three years’ time and whether, as Craig puts it in his conclusion, Kids Company "do a Sex Pistols – and crash and burn in a self-indulgent heap. Or, like
the Clash, evolve into something incredibly special and lasting".

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