Our impact in an extraordinary year
As we publish our annual report for 2020/21, our Chief Executive shares his reflections on a year marked by a global pandemic and our renewed commitment to our mission.
Our Chief Executive, Kieron Boyle, shares his reflections on a year when health inequalities have never mattered more.
2021 has been a study in contrasts. It has been a hard and challenging year. We have seen who society protects, and who it fails. Yet for the mission we serve it has also been a year with great causes for optimism. From medical breakthroughs to inspiring community action, we’ve seen the very best of human ingenuity and drive.
Our mission is to invest in a healthier society. That means healthier lives for everybody and especially those who experience the sharp end of health. So for us, one of the most important developments of the past year has also been amongst the most abstract. It is the sense that health inequalities matter more, and to more people, than ever before. That they are a question of the heart and not only the head — a moral concern, rather than data on a page.
Our job as a Foundation is to make that abstract concrete.
Last year, like many others, we took the decision to lean into this moment. We recognised it as a powerful moment to seize the opportunity to affect change. We increased our funding, grew the organisation, and accelerated plans to develop our profile for each area of our work. The changes that we made are significant and will be long-lasting. As we end 2021, I’m proud we did so. The next decade will be a fight against the pandemic’s long-term consequences. We need to be incredibly well-prepared.
This time last year we launched Impact on Urban Health, our philanthropic arm dedicated to unlocking the potential of cities to be healthier. The great promise of our programmatic model is the ability to get under the skin of urban health challenges, work out what’s really going on and find practical solutions that can scale. For example, this year in our work to tackle childhood obesity, we persuaded major supermarkets to significantly increase their share of healthier food sales along with concrete in-store changes to achieve these goals. Working with housing associations, utilities companies and GPs, we established the UK’s first social prescribing scheme for debt advice, to alleviate financial pressures for those experiencing long-term health conditions. At the same time, our work with local community researchers led to vital reframing of the national vaccine effort, with much greater recognition of how trust is created and where it lies.
Over the last year, we have also created three new fundraising arms to help our partners at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust go further. The first of these is the Evelina London Children’s Charity. Every year more than 100,000 children and young people experience the wonderful warmth of Evelina London, and this charity helps fuel the incredible care they receive. The second is Guy’s Cancer Charity. This is the charity for the people behind every moment of progress at Guy’s Cancer, whether it’s a major medical breakthrough, an enhancement in treatment, or the day a patient gets the all-clear after years of personalised care. The third, launched this week, is a new Guy’s & St Thomas’ Charity. This name now represents our work as the charity for Guy’s and St Thomas’, the UK’s largest hospital trust. Together we are striving to meet – and exceed – the needs of one of the most densely populated and diverse areas of London. Care never stands still here – so neither do we.
Finally, we run our investment arm as Guy’s & St Thomas’ Foundation. This year we took the decision to set our endowment a dual mandate of achieving both health impact and financial returns. Practically, this has brought nearly £1bn of assets into play in support of our mission. For example, this year we backed funds driving healthcare innovation, alongside funds dedicated to addressing wider determinants of health, such as affordable housing for homeless people, as well as those focused on climate solutions. We also made progress in understanding our heritage and the impact of that legacy on health and healthcare today. Heritage can be complex and polarising, but to recognise how far we have come, is to make clear just how far we have to go, both as an organisation and in wider society.
These are concrete changes for urgent times. What they allow us to do is to work in ever wider partnerships to build a healthier society for everyone. And so, as we see out the year, and welcome in the next, I would like to thank everyone who has worked with and supported us in 2021 — and ask for your help in connecting us to new people and ideas in the year ahead. The challenges are big but so is our shared ability to rise to them.
For us, health is a collective endeavour, and these are opportunities that matter. Let’s make them real.