Job and partnership opportunities with an evolving organisation – The Gatsby Charitable Foundation

By Justin Highstead, The Gatsby Charitable Foundation

Job and partnership opportunities with The Gatsby Charitable Foundation

The Gatsby Charitable Foundation is expanding as part of our changing strategy in Africa and our new approach to sector development, and we invite people to explore job and partnership opportunities with us.

The Gatsby Charitable Foundation is a grant-making trust set-up by David Sainsbury – former finance director and chairman of J. Sainsbury plc. David Sainsbury (now Lord Sainsbury of Turville) has given the trust more than £1 billion to distribute to charitable causes.

In 1998 Lord Sainsbury was appointed as Minister of Science and Innovation in the UK Government. He left office in 2006 to concentrate on his business interests and philanthropy, re-engaging with Gatsby, which had operated as a blind trust while he was in government.

It was soon after that I joined to lead our Africa programmes. I had previously worked in commercial consultancy across a range of industries and sectors before joining DFID, where I spent most of my time focused on economic growth and sector development. I have been fortunate to have been part of the evolution of our focus and approach to development in Africa.

Changing the strategy

For over 20 years we had largely operated as a grant-maker – administering more than 300 grants to about 80 different beneficiaries operating in more than 20 countries across Africa. Although a broad range of causes and organisations were supported, grants predominantly focused on either agriculture or SME development through the building of six African institutions with their own boards of Trustees and local staff.

While these grants made a significant difference to the lives of many people and created a network of contacts and store of knowledge that we continue to leverage, I was convinced that a more focused strategy could achieve improved results. This new strategy would involve us playing a more proactive role in designing, shaping and implementing a smaller number of much larger programmes in East Africa. Each programme would aim to catalyse the growth of a key sector by partnering with government and the private sector to tackle constraints impacting the sector both along the whole value chain and also in terms of supportive markets and institutions.

Our approach to sector development

We work in sectors that fulfil three basic criteria. They must be competitive and have growth potential; impact large numbers of people; and be conducive to change.

The last is particularly important, and is informed by Lord Sainsbury’s vast experience in both the private and public sector and his understanding of the role of government in catalysing growth. This means we work in sectors where there is existing private sector momentum and where the government will offer political support and tackle vested interests to create the right environment for growth. Most of our programmes are therefore based on an initial discussion and agreement with presidents or senior ministers.

We believe public institutions play a critical role in ensuring sectors have the necessary regulatory frameworks and public goods provision that incentivise private sector investment and improve competitiveness. For us, the private sector is the engine room of growth. All our programmes are based on understanding market dynamics and commercial realities through dialogue and partnerships with the private sector.

We also believe that government and other stakeholders must own the vision for a sector and have sufficient capacity to address future challenges long after our involvement. Markets do not magically function on their own. Sustainable change is therefore about more than just addressing immediate constraints in a sector. It is also about building functions and capacity of players and institutions so that they can solve the challenges they face tomorrow. Only when a sector has a dynamic in-built ability to continuously adapt and change can growth be sustainable.

Building on the past

This represents a significant change in approach, but Gatsby has proved well-placed to make it. As a private foundation we can remain flexible and opportunistic and take risks. Such flexibility and lack of bureaucracy is ideal for sector development programmes, for example allowing us to easily use loans or equity finance alongside grants where this makes sense.

Political support and local intelligence is essential to enabling change. Critically, our older programmes and institutions continue to provide an understanding of the local business context and politics. This is further strengthened by Lord Sainsbury’s ability to engage politically. As a former Government Minister, he is able to empathise with African leaders and Ministers and understands the challenges they face. He recognises that achieving impact sometimes requires patience and political pragmatism, and gives programmes the space to deal with such realities.

While our evolution is still ongoing, much progress has been made. We have launched programmes in the Tanzanian cotton and textiles sector and in tea in both Tanzanian and Rwanda. We are also restructuring our forestry projects across East Africa through a sector approach and scoping other sectors, including rice. In addition, we have helped two independent African institutions, originally founded by Gatsby, as they focus on sector development. Several of the other institutions we have supported have also been restructured and assisted to scale up operations and become more sustainable.

The model

Our role has changed a great deal. The boundary between funding and implementing has naturally become more blurred. While we still fund and work with other organisations, this is now on a partnership basis, where we retain a key involvement in the analysis, strategy and oversight of programmes and where we can bring to bear our strengths as a trust – both operationally and through our ability to engage politically. Our culture has become more business-like and market-focused.

While we remain flexible in terms of how each programme is implemented, our overall approach has become more proactive, requiring a larger team. More time is spent on sector analysis and relationship-building with governments, the private sector and implementing partners.

It is essential we understand the sectors in which we work and have good contacts and experts to provide business intelligence. The scale-up of our current programmes and the launch of others will require a huge amount of work to implement over the coming years.As such, we are both recruiting new staff and looking to form further partnerships with like-minded organisations.

If you are interested we would encourage you to look at the current vacancies linked below or visit our website at where you can explore our programmes and find our contact details:

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One Response

  1. Hello Justin Highstead:

    I was hosted at the Sloan School of Management at MIT for three years.  I founded the Sustainable Development forum and working groups.  The working groups were divided among the Millinnium Development Goals of the United Nations.  I was asked to help establish based on the plans of the World Energy Council  one of the regional groups of the plan.  The Regional Sustainable Energy Center of Excellence (RSECE) for Sub-Saharan Africa is a facilator of actions with a strong technical team.  We have many Minister level council members and advisors.  Most notability direction from our Chairman Dr. Sambo who is the Director General of the Energy Commission of Nigeria  and they have six university based R&D Centers budgeted.  However, RSECE is built upon the framework of a Type Two Partnership with cooperation of governments, non profits (university and tax exempts) as well as the for profit businesses.  This structure was promoted by Kofe Annan when he was Chairman of the UN during the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in 2002 held in South Africa.

    Several paths may be travelled that includes a Triple Bottom Line approach.  Measurable benefit to the Planet, People and Profit can be developed.  The Profit or earnings above cost could permit expanding of the programs that have strong Top Down services that meet Bottom Up actions by the poor that we will uplift.


    I believe that we can demonstrate a ethical philosophy as suggested by John S. Mill a British Economist and Philosopher.  His test for ethical actions are those actions that create the greatest good for the greatest number of people.  I often mention that we have a high road to follow as expressed in Matthew 25: 31- 46 in the Holy Bible as expressed by Jesus the Messiah (Isa al Mesih).  When we uplift the poor we enable them to afford food or other goods and services.  This will improve the economics of the local, regional and global trade.  Many efficiencies are to be applied and can be explained.


    Best regard,

    Sidney Clouston

    International Director for RSECE

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