Straight to content

Book review: ‘Giving Back – How to do Good Better’ by Derek Bardowell

Posted in category:
Published: 7 July 2022

Derek Bardowell provides a platform for the many voices of ‘Black pain’. For him, this is personal and political. But sometimes it can get in the way of his important messages

‘Giving Back – How to do Good Better’ by Derek Bardowell

In brief

  • For the author “political Blackness remains a core part of my identity and perhaps always will”. He capitalises ‘Black’ throughout
  • The UK is trapped in an ‘Empire State of mind’ that leads Black practitioners in the social sector to despair
  • This is bedevilled by “white saviour complex” and an addiction to “poverty porn”

Derek Bardowell is highly experienced in the non-profit sector not least at the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, Laureus Sport for Good, and the National Lottery Community Fund.

He is now the CEO of Ten Years’ Time which creates bespoke programmes for philanthropists and funders to help them “see the world through the lens of people most impacted by social, economic, environmental and technological disparities”.

“Giving Back” is very much directed at that audience, or indeed “anyone who gives”. He wants them/us “to embrace a new way of contributing to a better world. This book is about creating a new culture, giving to alter everyone’s life chances radically”.

It is an intensely personal work. Rambling over 400 pages stuffed full of details on everything from what kind of music he likes to appreciation of his mother’s cooking.

It comes from a deeply felt “Black pain”, which has led to endless sleepless nights. He describes “the terrible misery of being a black man entering a boardroom comprising the white great and good. I watched as they circled on me at times so I could not win this game”.

He refers to the “claustrophobic feeling” of being black and describes having had “fleeting moments of belonging in Jamaica, in New Orleans, but never in Britain”.

Highly political

He is not alone. He marshals witness statements from others “from racially minoritised backgrounds” who have worked in the UK’s social sector.

Ruth Ibegbuna, the founder of RECLAIM, a youth leadership and social change organisation, cries when she looks “at the state of this country, like a lot of black people I genuinely thought about leaving [and]…examined my Nigerian passport”.

Marai Larasi, former director of Imkaan, a organisation dedicated to addressing violence against black and minoritised women, states “there’s something around carrying the pain in our bodies all the time and resisting: the Haitian revolution techniques involved slow poisoning, burning things down, and trickery”.

This pain has certainly made Bardowell highly political. “Political Blackness remains a core part of my identity and perhaps always will”, he writes. If not revolutionary. “Our institutions are little more than Europe’s colonial offices, reinforcing the white power structure. We have an education system that supports the ‘Empire State of mind’ in such racialised hierarchies. Capitalism is the son of colonialism. It will bleed black communities of their resources.”

There is a lot of criticism of the UK’s Conservative government and prime minister Boris Johnson in particular, although Margaret Thatcher also looms large despite not having been in power for 32 years.

“A white, patriarchal, elite, hetero-positioned Britain will not benefit many people; it will only create rules and conditions to serve what it sees in the mirror.”

Perhaps all this politics is the inevitable response to the mistake of “applying a sticking plaster to a far deeper problem”. But it does crowd out his important message. “Social institutions are woefully outdated [and] ill prepared to meet every day modern needs.”

Sector gentrification

Most especially, Bardowell argues it would be better to listen to the voices of those most vulnerable and to get away from what he describes as “white saviour complex”. “White privileged well-meaning saviours are positioned to use their resources and wealth to help the poor and needy.” This is an important argument also made by others.

Bardowell is biting. “This approach provides little to no dignity for those facing disadvantage, those being ‘saved.’” In his mind it is “poverty pimping” or even “poverty porn” as Bonnie Chiu, the director of the Social Investment Consultancy, describes it.

He notes that “often community based organisations of local people are already working towards alleviating the issues… but instead of backing existing efforts these large entities and privileged people tend to parachute in with their ideas”.

How has this come about? According to Bardowell, the has been a “gentrification” of the sector and, ultimately, funders are to blame. “They have loaded the decks against applicants, forcing them to achieve outcomes in unnatural timeframes… ask[ing] for too much information which they don’t use.”

Bardowell also points out that “One of the most significant crimes in the social sector lies in its inefficiency, hours of actionless meetings and…. reports that go nowhere.” Something I’m sure a lot of us would agree with, even if we lack his courage to react.

“After a while I started to lose patience deliberately, or shouted, or barked in these meetings. Reality was always on my side, it was personal.”

At one point Bardowell says “if only those disapproving of my actions knew me. You would know I rarely complain.” I’m not sure about that one.

Share on social media

Latest articles