In the summer, we decided to rebrand Firetail, in order to refresh the way we talk about our work, showcase some of our incredible clients and introduce our great team.
It also gave us a moment to reflect. The world has changed a great deal since the firm launched over ten years ago.
Everything is connected and nothing makes sense.
Or at least, it seems that way.
Popular sentiment around the world appears to be turning inward and looking backward. Debates are simplistic, reductive and negative. Securing funds for important causes is difficult. The landscape for our clients has never been more competitive and for many, their future has never looked more uncertain. In many places, the space for civil society is closing.
But there are many reasons for optimism. It has never been cheaper to make a difference, or turn an idea into action. If you are interested in social progress, you have new tools and technologies to make change happen. It is possible to engage large numbers of people. There are more opportunities for partnership, with new types of partner. The idea of “purpose” is becoming mainstream, especially in parts of business, higher education and social investment.
People now recognise that the big issues are all interconnected, needing interdisciplinary answers, creative approaches and surprising coalitions. Power is shifting, slowly.
It’s a complicated world, but I have always believed that if you address it in a positive, open, inclusive way you can get the future you want.
It is difficult but worthwhile work.
Our clients understand this. From beating malaria to reinventing journalism, from tackling humanitarian emergencies to ending domestic abuse, from research at the frontiers of science to engaging young people in social action; our clients have always been at the forefront of important issues.
Firetail's new brand reflects this. Our purpose remains the same. We want to help our clients to make the choices that will help them realise their ambitions for society.
Strategy for civil society
When I started Firetail, I talked about “strategy for civil society” to introduce the idea that “strategy” was an appropriate thing for charities to spend time on.
I had a hunch that if you could combine the passion of the campaigners in charities with the strategic discipline found in the private sector, you could do almost anything.
My ambition was always to introduce a more evidence-based and coherent idea of strategy. Over the last ten years, Firetail has grown as this view found an audience. The sector today is far more strategic, thoughtful and interested in its impact.
Ten years ago, “civil society” in the UK meant voluntary, social, campaigning and charitable groups. The term was often used interchangeably with the “third sector”, a definition that described the sector in terms of what it was not. They weren’t businesses, nor were they parts of government. They were what was left when you had counted everything else. Ideas of social enterprise, social investment and social innovation were still new. Social media was a niche. As a definition, the “third sector” never really made much sense to me.
Strategy for social progress
Today, it makes even less sense. “Business”, “the public sector” and “civil society” are neither interesting nor distinct categories. Legal form is the worst possible way to categorise purpose-driven organisations. The people who want to make a meaningful contribution to the challenges facing society come in all shapes and sizes.
Their real distinguishing features are values, ambition and impact.
Most organisations interested in social progress, if you look under the bonnet, are hybrids. They mix mission-driven goals and commercial incentives. Their funding comes from multiple sources, including earned income, philanthropy, government grants, contracts and commercial relationships. They rely on staff and volunteers, academics and campaigners, public supporters and corporate partners. Fundraising partners one day can be targets of campaigns the next day. Coalitions and networks draw together different types of organisation in pursuit of common goals.
In a complex, connected world, the case for strategy has never been clearer. Strategy is not planning. Strategy is about understanding what’s going on, what you want to do and how you are going to do it. Good strategy, backed by good insights and linked to evaluation can be the difference between success and failure.
Every organisation Firetail works with understands this complexity. They balance competing definitions of success. They balance the pursuit of a long-term vision with the practical challenges that come from having limited time and money.
From foundations to universities, from charities to social entrepreneurs, from frontline caseworkers to technology entrepreneurs; people interested in social progress are asking themselves these complex questions about strategy, purpose and values. These lead to further questions about funding, operations, approaches, competition, innovation and partnerships.
As a result, the idea at the heart of our new brand is “strategy for social progress”.
Answers for impact
Bold, independent thinking needs to be applied to the world’s most complex challenges to make everyone’s lives better and fairer.
Firetail's job is to give our clients the ideas, insights, confidence and clarity they need to develop strategies as strong as their values.
Our values, of optimism, openness, practicality and purpose lead us to work with ambitious, mission-driven organisations that want to contribute to a better society for everyone.
They work with us because together, we can generate answers for impact, by working on:
- Strategy - Defining what success means and how to achieve it
- Growth - Growing, developing and innovating with confidence
- Engagement - Influencing change, inspiring support and telling compelling stories
- Learning - Understanding how change happens
And I still believe that an organisation that can do those four things well can do anything.
Andy Martin, Director