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EP 2 Full Transcript

Jeni Whalan: Hello and welcome to Life’s Lottery, a podcast about disadvantage, its policy, its practise and its experience. I’m Jeni Whalan, the chief strategy officer at the Paul Ramsay Foundation.

Glyn Davis: And I’m Glyn Davis, the chief executive officer at the Paul Ramsay Foundation. And it’s a delight to welcome you to this session, thinking again about disadvantage and new ways of making a difference.

Charlie Leadbeater: I have this tremendous sense that the next ten years is going to be about whether we can move from breakdown to breakthrough.

Jeni Whalan: In this episode, we’re talking to Charlie Leadbeater, a visionary thinker, about systems and possibilities of new ways of doing things. Charlie works with diverse organisations all around the world, from UCL’s Institute for Innovation and Public Policy to Denmark’s Rockwool Foundation and closer to home for this podcast with TACSI – The Australian Centre for Social Innovation.

Glyn Davis: So we’re coming to this conversation at the end of two years of COVID in which a global pandemic has forced us to think again about how society, how government, how business interact in very strange and different circumstances, it’s the right moment to be thinking about systems and to be wondering what new possibilities might be before us.

Jeni Whalan: And it’s been a long time since we’ve needed to bring this much imagination to the task. And if there’s one thing for sure about a conversation with Charlie, you’ll have your thinking stretched and your boundaries tested by new ideas and new mindsets that you’d never thought of before.


Glyn Davis: So Charlie has traced a long and interesting intellectual trajectory. He began with some very important work on the British welfare system, thinking about its consequences for individuals. But over time, you can see a shift in what’s important in his analysis. So I began by asking Charlie to tell us a bit about that journey.


Charlie Leadbeater: I go back to thinking about my own work because that was all about individuals. What I’ve done since then has been all about understanding, ‘well, why doesn’t that work?’ I think the conclusion I came to – that whichever vantage point you took was never adequate on its own. Actually, you need some vehicle which combines these things together, which brings together change at the policy landscape level, change within systems and then this entrepreneurial kind of imagination coming from outside them.

I do think that the welfare system should be problem-solving rather than simply maintaining people in disadvantage, but actually more than problem solving. Now, I think it should be possibility-creating and that what we need is innovation, which is not designed just to fix a problem, but to create a possibility, create a possible new way of living. A new kind of system.

Glyn Davis: Tell us a bit more about this idea. That system, is it now at the heart of your thinking and what is the core message that we should take from your reflections over this time?

Charlie Leadbeater: Big change requires collaboration by many people at different levels of society  in the name of a common cause. Big change is brought about by creative communities joined in a cause and that’s what you need to shift entire systems. The work that I’m doing with Rockwell, one of the sort of central cases, is this amazing police officer in Glasgow called Karen McCluskey. And Karen McCluskey confronted a really stuck system, lots of knife crime in Glasgow. You know, a quite efficient justice system and police system to arrest people, just recycling the problem. And she decided to take a different frame and look at it from a different point of view. And so this reframing of the problem to possibility that Karen went through, she said, Well, let’s reframe this as if it were a disease or if as if it were a sort of contagion, what would a public health approach to knife crime be like? And out of that, she created a way of working not just for the police, but for their many partners and other people in Glasgow to make Glasgow free of knife crime, not better at dealing with it when it’s happened. Not “here’s an individual case, let’s process it really well”. But “how do we shift an entire culture in a city?” We need to think about those sorts of scale of opportunity and challenge, not specific interventions designed to fix specific problems. But how can you change entire systems of care, of work, of housing, of education and learning, of energy, of mobility, of transport. We need to think at a much more ambitious level.

Glyn Davis: You mentioned Glasgow, and one of the things in your case study that you emphasise is people realising the role they’re playing doesn’t make sense because the way it operates together doesn’t produce the outcomes people want. You mentioned in that case study that not just the police, but a whole lot of other partners had to rethink their role in a collective outcome, which is to reduce crime in Glasgow. Tell us a bit about that partnership model. What is it that the police were looking for from others to change the equation?

Charlie Leadbeater: This is about starting with the problem, if you put the problem in the centre of the room, the problem sucks up all the energy. In Karen’s case in Glasgow, what she did was, first of all, say we’ve got to recognise the problem. But if we hit the problem straight on, we’re just going to keep hitting a sort of brick wall. So the next thing she did was let’s take a different perspective and step sideways or backwards, understand where the problems come from. Talking to education, talking to social workers, talking to housing, to bring those perspectives to bear on both the problem, but then I think the really critical thing that she did is she leapt to a possibility.

So she said, ‘what’s the possibility here’, rather than starting with the problem and how can we fix it? Let’s think about the possibility and how we can create it. And so she created the sense that Glasgow could be free of knife crime, that there was that possibility if you could find ways for people to work together in the right kind of way to prevent it. We are interested in what we call possibility thinking rather than problem thinking, because we think problem thinking gets you trapped in the problem. And the problem probably brings you back to the current system. Whereas we think you need to start from a sort of point of view that there’s a different, better system with better outcomes that you could create, which solves problems in a different kind of way.

Glyn Davis: So a  possibility implies that you can see a coherent answer or you can see a coherent alternative that might be produced, and so I’m just wondering how in some of those very fractious areas you’ve just described where there’s lots of interests and some tension and no resolution. How do those people outside government, interested in social change create coalitions that can produce the possibilities?

Charlie Leadbeater: So it’s a really important question, how detailed this sense of possibility needs to be, if it’s too detailed, it becomes too fixed. So you need to have a sense that something is possible, that a better set of principles is possible to work on, but how that’s realised in practise then becomes a process. Often systems need purposes, not purpose. They need multiple senses of what they’re trying to do. We don’t think that it’s all about let’s agree on a destination, set ourselves a mission – we want to get to the moon, here’s a programme to get to the moon. Social change isn’t like that. So it’s a process of sort of argumentation, experimentation, learning and sort of playing with possible future selves. So opening up the possibilities of the future. and then experimenting to find which of those really could work and what kind of architecture could get them to work.

Glyn Davis: Charlie, can we dive down into a concept you use at every point and that’s the idea of a system, can you tell us a bit about what you have in mind when you describe something as a system and how do you put boundaries around that?

Charlie Leadbeater: The system can become a sort of overpowering sort of concept, can’t it? It can become a sort of intellectual construct. Systems are sort of interrelated ingredients that bring about some outcome. And so whether they’re financial systems or the system that you rely on to get the electricity that’s lighting your room or the water that comes out of your tap. These are all systems. They’re all interrelated ingredients, and they have certain sort of boundaries which allow them to be managed, but they all relate to one another. So the pension system is related to the financial system, but it’s also related to the care system and it’s also related to the work system. What Karen McCluskey did, she said, I’m looking at knife crime. I’m looking at why young men in Glasgow are dying and how to stop that. And actually looking at this just through the police and criminal justice system doesn’t get me the answer. I’ve got to look at education, at housing, at care, at social work, to sort of see how you can connect all those to meet the purpose of bringing knife crime to an end.

Jeni Whalan: One of the tensions that seems to me is that we talk about systems often when it might be the absence of a system working in the lives of people. So when you’re talking about knife crime in Glasgow or when you’re talking about systems of care that aren’t working for the people who most need that care – what do you do in the gaps between systems?

Charlie Leadbeater: One of the things that we’re thinking about is what response you make to the epidemic of mental health. One response to that is, well these are conditions, here’s a medical system. They need a diagnosis and probably some sort of treatment, possibly a drug. That is a pretty dreadful outcome for a lot of people, and it’s the sort of wrong kind of response to it. A second might be, as you’re suggesting, Jen, that actually this is a problem that doesn’t really fit within any system. But maybe if you could find a way to catalyse different bits of existing systems you could assemble a kind of response. If you were to design a systems innovation programme to create, let’s say, a stress free society, if you were to design out depression, what would that look like? What would a systemic intervention of that kind look like rather than mopping up after? What’s happening when someone is telling you that the current systems don’t meet their need is a really interesting piece of information, isn’t it? Because actually, what they’re telling you is that their need might need to be seen in some completely different sort of way. That actually we need a different kind of system.

Glyn Davis: So perhaps in that context, you could tell us a bit about Buurtzorg, the inspirational Dutch care collective, which has brought together visionaries, historians, entrepreneurs to create quite a different set of relationships for aged care.

Charlie Leadbeater: Buurtzorg is a care collective, which gives the members much greater autonomy to work out what good care means for the people they’re working with. And so by having a different structure of ownership and then a different set of relationships within the collective, they can create different relationships with clients and communities, which also at the same time creates better work within an overall structure, which allows efficiency to be combined with intimacy. What I call love and power solutions. so they’re about empowering people to create better solutions in their lives because they come with a sense of intimacy and love and respect, and they’re relational.

Jeni Whalan: It’s so unusual to talk about love in the context of public services and policy and the stuff of government. So your paper that wrote about love and power with TACSI, the Australian Centre for Social Innovation was a bit of a refreshing change, as Tina Turner might put it, ‘What’s love got to do with it?’

Charlie Leadbeater: This comes from the Martin Luther King quote Love without power is sentimental. Power without love can be hard, but love and power combined can be transformational. And what I saw in many of the projects that I was working with was a sort of combination of this love commitment. I’m not going to be conditional, I’m not going to say  only if you behave in a certain kind of way, I’m not going to work with you anymore. So there was a real sense of commitment, but also a sense of I want you to be powerful. I want you to take charge of your life – back to that issue of control. I want you to be capable.

Charlie Leadbeater: Actually, a lot of these love and power solutions are just much more effective in terms of using public resources. Because the love turns the money into power. Whereas if you’ve got solutions which are entirely dependent on tax funded services going in to support people, they can’t transform their lives. Then you’re just going to keep supporting them. You know, in more and more kind of frugal ways, I suppose, to save resources. So in Denmark, where I work a lot of the time with Rockwool, 70 percent of the economy is public sector, it’s got the highest tax rate in the world. And there’s a sense in which the density of social relationships in Denmark is absolutely the precondition for the social good that gets created through that. But there’s still in Denmark, I would say, a sense that the welfare state has become too materialistic and it’s not. It doesn’t have a sort of emotional register to it, it’s too much about money being transferred and not enough about relationships being created. So how you do that, even in what in some ways is the is the in some ways the best social democratic society in the world that we know of, there is still that question: How do you how do you create relationships which allow people to transform lives, rather than giving them just giving them money, which they can then spend to support their consumption?

Jeni Whalan: That’s Charlie Leadbeater. We’ll hear more from him shortly

One of the really interesting initiatives modelling Charlie’s love plus power model to come out in Australia is Family by Family, it’s an initiative that  puts people and it’s relationships right at its heart.

Here’s Danielle Abbott from Family by Family.

Danielle Abbott: What we do is we take a family who’s been through a tough time, but they’ve come out the other side and they’re doing really well now. They’re having more ups than downs. And we train them and we link them to a family who’s right in the thick of that tough time. So instead of coming into contact with a service or a social worker, they can meet a friend who’s been there and done that. So the two families are supported by a family coach. They set a goal and they work on that goal together.

Jeni Whalan: Melissa Hughes discovered Family by Family when she was in the thick of a really tough time.

Melissa Hughes: So I just connected straight away and I just went, yep, that’s it, you guys are for me, you guys are for my kids and I’m holding onto you for dear life and that’s it. I’m 35 years old. Single mum. Three children. I’d gone through a period of homelessness with the kids. I had left a DV relationship and I’d come back to Adelaide. I’ve got two boys and a little girl, so I always kind of envisioned my children to be very social, very talkative and coming out of what we come out of. They weren’t like that. They were very withdrawn. Always on me, didn’t want to talk to anybody else, was too scared to make friendships. Their social skills were pretty much non-existent, and I had a feeling of just unworthiness to make new friends unworthy to be the mother that I wanted to be. My children had been exposed to some things and were suffering from trauma, and family by family were offering me a way to do the repair work with my children.

Danielle Abbott: Oh, it’s hard to describe what a feeling looks like, isn’t it? She was definitely scared at the time that we met her, and rightfully so, that edginess like on guard. But also, yeah, just like tired and withdrawn and just exhausted from everything she had had to do to keep herself and her children safe.

Melissa Hughes: For me, it was about having a clear understanding that I was good enough, that I was good enough for my children and that what I actually wanted to be able to provide for my children. I was going to be capable of doing that. I really wanted my children to see what a healthy relationship looked like, that they’re walking into a family home. There’s a father there. He comes home, he helps. It’s a partnership, it’s equal. So that sharing family was really there to hold me and say, You know, what you’re doing is, OK, what you’re doing is normal and how your children are responding is going to take time. But if we’re doing these steps, going out to the park, having some family gatherings, they’re going to see that this is actually what’s normal and this is how you make friends. This is how you bridge out and make connexions. They were a married couple. Jasmine’s husband, Glen, was a very positive role model. I remember sitting back all kind of happened in slow motion where my daughter was sort of standing back behind her older brother, sort of watching Glenn and was really observing his interactions with Jasmine and the other children. She was very observant. She went through a period there where she stopped talking as well for a little while. So I was very observant of her body language and what she was saying through her movements. And it was in that moment that we all kind of had a light bulb moment where we just went, Yep, and slowly, all of my children, really, but mainly Elly was coming out and building a trusting relationship with other people. I felt it was kind of a mix. It was really conflicting. So I was sad that, you know, my child was having to feel this way in the first place. But at the same time, it was a good reassurance that I was in the right place with the right family.

Danielle Abbott: That edginess left her and she started confidently being herself. That was beautiful to watch that happen, and I think now she’s mighty. I think that’s a trap of the service system, isn’t it? It’s like when we meet families in crisis, we look at them as if they are the trauma that they’ve come from and that we’re here to help them. Whereas I think Family by Family can do is look at the growth that can come from that trauma. That’s something that you can utilise and you can flip and you can turn into a powerful kind of healing approach to help others.

Melissa Hughes: I know what it’s like to feel unworthy, and I know what it’s like not to have the confidence. And sometimes all it takes is for just someone else to sort of stand by your side and go, You are good enough, and I wanted to be able to give that to someone else. I feel like I just have a lot to give, and I feel like if I’m holding that all into myself, I’m not helping anybody. It’s really good for the children, too, because they get to role model what they’ve learnt. So my kids, especially my youngest, he really loves feeling like he’s the big brother. Going into other services and with Centrelink and stuff is very clinical and it’s very like, These are the rules. This is how it happens. This is the system. But with family by family, it kind of just breaks all of that away. It’s just a completely different way of connecting in a very human experience. And I suppose that’s the whole point, isn’t it? Because that’s what we are humans and we’re connecting and that’s what we are, you know, we’re designed to do. We’re designed to connect with each other. And when you’re missing that, you feel lost. Do you feel alone, you’re isolated. And the minute that starts coming into play, it’s like, you know, a whole new bunch of neurons in the brain are growing. Like, Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. And you start seeing light at the end of the tunnel.

Glyn Davis: So we’ve just heard from Melissa Hughes, who began as a participant and is now a mentor in Family By Family. And we’ve also heard from Danielle Abbott, whose important role can be described as a professional friend. And it’s this concept that informs much of Charlie’s work as well. So Charlie tell us about this idea and why it matters?

Charlie Leadbeater: They’re professionals. So they make judgements, they’ve got knowledge. They often have expertise in dealing with complex cases. They can critically navigate larger public systems, but they can blend that with a sort of commitment to people and an engagement with them emotionally, so they don’t lose their professional judgement, but they find a way to allow themselves to engage emotionally with the relationship without becoming overexposed or overcommitted to it. In a way that’s what Karen McCluskey did. I mean, Karen McCluskey did what she did out of a love for Glasgow and out of a love for the people and out of a sense of identification with the mothers of the men, the young men who had died. But she absolutely knew how to deal with systems. She had a video of a mother talking about her son, who died on the streets of Glasgow. And she would take this video and show it to senior police officers or health officials or politicians in Glasgow. Without exception, they would all cry. And then she’d say, OK, you’ve got to stop crying and you’ve got to get to work. So in a way, she used the sort of emotion and as a sense of purpose and, you know, drive to get them, then to commit to work in a different kind of way.

Jeni Whalan: Charlie, do you think that kind of innovation is condemned to stay on the margins? Can innovation become part of the mainstream?

Charlie Leadbeater: It’s, I think, really difficult given the entrenched embedded incumbency associated with a lot of public systems. But I think we have to believe that you can create entirely new ways to organise care, to organise learning, to organise support for people with disabilities, to travel and use energy in different ways. We have to create entirely new systems now and we need to think at that kind of level. because without them, I think life will be pretty intolerable.

Glyn Davis: So if we think about the future, something you’ve written in a number of places very powerfully is the risk that in 2030 we look back and realise we weren’t bold enough in all of the areas where change was required. One of the institutions you single out in that conversation is philanthropy in its role, which, as you point out, is so often tied up with dealing with underfunded systems and areas where government isn’t that it doesn’t get to make a change, it’s just trying to keep people alive and families going. What role for philanthropy in your thinking about social change?


Charlie Leadbeater: I think philanthropy has to put its capital at play in the pursuit of a better future. It has to be about enabling people to imagine and act on new and different, better possible futures. But that requires philanthropy to work in completely new and different ways in taking risk, imagining possibilities, backing entrepreneurs, bringing people together in coalitions to bring about change, that kind of thing. I mean, it requires a very different way of working. On one hand, you have pressure on philanthropy from people campaigning about issues of structural inequality, social justice, Black Lives Matter and Me Too and other things are very impatient, justifiably impatient body of young people concerned with climate change and so on and so forth. And on the other hand, government saying the role of philanthropy is charity is actually to go back to a very old charitable model, help the poor and help communities. That’s what your role is. And if you step into a political space, we’ll bang you over the head.That’s the dilemma I think increasingly philanthropy is going to face. Government saying your job is charity and constituencies, saying your job is social transformation and radical change and how you navigate that space together collaboratively with communities.

Jeni Whalan: At the same time, the legitimacy of philanthropy is under increasing challenge. So the idea that the structures and the systems that allow for the creation of enormous wealth might in fact form part of the cycle of disadvantage and big philanthropy is able to set social agendas by virtue of its wealth. Is that the way it should be?

Charlie Leadbeater: No. But I do think that philanthropy has then a responsibility, but also a possibility for engaging creatively and being at the forefront of all these big debates about the future of capitalism. Where’s the endowment going? How big does the endowment need to be? How is the endowment being invested? Foundations with big endowments need to be working, putting some of that capital at risk to develop new ways of investing and new models of investing and new standards for investing and leading that debate. Philanthropy needs to engage in that debate about what the future of capitalism is, and including whether it’s about endless growth or is it about different models of different models of consumption and production.It’s got to use the power it has to help society create better models of economic organisation, and it shouldn’t be frightened of doing that.

So how could you reimagine care not as a service or as a sector, but as an organising principle for an economy. So how would you put care right at the centre of that care for people, care for communities, care for the environment and care for one another? Could you make care an animating central principle for a future sort of social economy, if you like, rather than consumption, profit productivity, these other measures? These are all sorts of conjectures aren’t they? We’re in a period now and unless we’re prepared to think big and make big proposals and big propositions, actually, actually, we’re going to find life really hard, I think. 

Jeni Whalan: So, Glyn, underlying so much of Charlie’s encouragement for us to think bigger is that shift from problem solving to possibility thinking, possibility thinking could be such a superficial buzzword. But in Charlie’s hands, it really feels like a provocation to us all, but in particular to government, to the bureaucracy, to the public service, to ministers to find better ways of doing things.

Glyn Davis: That’s right, any provocation is a good word, a sense of a door being kicked open and suddenly you can see possibilities it hadn’t hadn’t occurred before. And in particular, for government, as you can say, there’s been a movement away from the idea of service delivery toward the idea of co-production and community and Charlie’s ideas about care, a way of rethinking, in a sense, the fundamentals of what government is trying to do in community, which isn’t something for people or even worse to people, but something with people. And he’s showing us just a bit of the way that path might take us.

Jeni Whalan: There’s a sense of tension at the moment, I think on the one hand, this pessimism that government can’t really tackle this type of social complexity. And then on the other, as we heard in episode one from Alison Pennington, you know, COVID inspired such policy innovation from free childcare to doubling unemployment benefits overnight, things that before COVID, we just had written off as impossible. It’s the kind of possibility thinking I think Charlie is talking about. Maybe that’s a call for a bigger reinvigoration of the purpose of government?

If you’ve got ideas, if you’ve got provocations, get in touch. You can reach us at We’d love to hear your questions, your thoughts, your feedback, your ideas for the new possibilities.

Glyn Davis: And please join us next time. We’re going to be thinking about mothers in prison, their children and new ways to break this cycle of incarceration.

Jeni Whalan: You’ve been listening to Life’s Lottery, a podcast produced by the Paul Ramsay Foundation in collaboration with UTS Impact Studios. The podcast was recorded on Gadigal Lands. We pay respects to elders past and present.


Podcast playlist


The challenge to philanthropy

November 22 · 36 MIN

If we want to inform better public policy to end poverty and disadvantage, hard data and facts are more important than ever. This sets up both a challenge and an opportunity for organisations as philanthropy in Australia develops even further. In this episode, we draw together the threads of our earlier conversations.

We talk to Susan Urahn, from the Pew Charitable Trusts, about philanthropy’s role in bringing diverse groups together and governments to the table. She shares her insights from over two decades of work as a pioneer in the field, especially in relation to sentencing and corrections reform in the United States.

And we also hear from Anhaar Kareem, a young Australian woman, with her imagining of what a better future looks like.

This is the final episode is this season of Life’s Lottery. Stay tuned for more in 2022.

Visit for more.

Produced by UTS Impact Studios: 
Executive Producer: Olivia Rosenman
Audio Producer: Nicole Curby
Researcher/writer: Jackie May
Theme music and Sound Design: Frank Lopez
Production music: Blue Dot Sessions
Graphic design: Celia Neilson


Collective impact: communities driving change

November 15 · 37 MIN

No major social problem has a single cause so why would a single approach or organisation be able to solve it? Collective Impact starts with social objectives that are agreed upon across all sectors of society. This episode considers the idea at the heart of Collective Impact: that large-scale social change comes from better cross-sector coordination rather than from the isolated intervention of individual organisations. How does abandoning individual agendas and short-term solutions kick-start long term processes of social change?

Matthew Cox shares the experience of building Logan Together from the grassroots up. The project is making gains around a singular focus – to improve life outcomes for children in a region with some of the most entrenched poverty in the country.

We’ll also hear how justice reinvestment works to tackle existing systems and structures geared towards ‘isolated impact’. Julie Williams and Judy Duncan from Just Reinvest NSW give insights into their lived experience of the criminal justice system and talk about their holistic efforts to divert young people away from it for good.

Visit for more.

Produced by UTS Impact Studios: 
Executive Producer: Olivia Rosenman
Audio Producer: Nicole Curby
Researcher/writer: Jackie May
Theme music and Sound Design: Frank Lopez
Production music: Blue Dot Sessions
Graphic design: Celia Neilson


Parents in prison

November 08 · 35 MIN

Most people in jail have experienced disadvantage at some point in their lives, and it’s a legacy that often passes from parent to child. This episode examines current Australian research into the experience of mothers in the criminal justice system with Professor Susan Dennison from Griffith University. Her research project, Transforming corrections to transform lives, explores how having a parent in prison shapes the development and life outcomes of their children. A better understanding of parental identity in prison could help to improve the experience of those parents, and promote their rehabilitation.

We’ll also meet Tegan in this episode. Tegan is serving a sentence at the Darwin Correctional Centre, and her mum is there too. We’ll hear what it’s like for Tegan trying to parent three young children from inside prison.

Could transforming policies and systems for parents in prison reduce the intergenerational transmission of offending and disadvantage? What kind of measures would ensure prisoners maintain strong relationships with their children and why are these investments worth it? Might this be a way to ensure a prison sentence becomes an offramp to break the cycle of disadvantage?

Tegan’s story is excerpted from Birds’ Eye View, the first podcast made by women in the Darwin Correctional Centre. For more information, and to listen to the podcast in its entirety, visit

Visit for more.

Produced by UTS Impact Studios: 
Executive Producer: Olivia Rosenman
Audio Producer: Nicole Curby
Researcher/writer: Jackie May
Theme music and Sound Design: Frank Lopez
Production music: Blue Dot Sessions
Graphic design: Celia Neilson