As we near the end of 2021, the Institute’s team share their top picks from the year of what to read, watch and listen to.
Jonathan Roberts, Teaching Director
Working to create social impact requires deep engagement with the lives and experiences of others. Bernardine Evaristo’s novel Girl, Woman, Other offers a profound but accessible narrative of intersectionality: women’s identities, their lived experiences and the challenges they face are complex intersections of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, culture and class. Freddie Mercury: the Final Act is a clever interweaving of the rock star’s story with the suffering and experiences of others during the AIDS / HIV pandemic. It’s a poignant reminder of what happens when society’s structures and norms repress people’s identities and construct them as ‘the other’. Finally, rather than trying to understand the lives of others and enact social interventions accordingly, perhaps we should strive to cede power and agency so that individuals and communities take control of their own lives. This is a powerful message from The Systems Work of Social Change by Cynthia Rayner and François Bonnici.
Stephan Chambers, Institute Director
I was very struck this year by David Runciman’s Talking Politics podcast episode ‘How to Fix British Democracy’ and in particular his ideas about votes for children. It made me think about something I’d never considered seriously before. I learnt a lot from Amia Srinivasan’s The Right to Sex as I did from the authors of books the Marshall Institute interviewed this year: Cynthia Rayner and Francois Bonnici’s The Systems Work of Social Change; Aunnie Patton Power’s Adventure Finance; and Nichola Raihani’s The Social Instinct: How Cooperation Shaped the World. I listened enthusiastically to our colleague Tom Hughes Hallett’s Changemakers: How to create better lives podcast series and I watched Small Axe, The Social Dilemna and I May Destroy You all of which seemed to me ‘impact first’ projects.
Amelia Bradley, Head of External Relations
I loved the Netflix documentary Breaking Boundaries as it is a stark account of the climate crisis and the urgency we face; I came away thinking this really is humanity’s last chance to avoid multiple tipping points. I do however think watching this documentary should be paired with listening to Professor Johan Rockström’s episode on our newly launched Philanthropy Bites podcast which gave me great hope by highlighting that we have a lot of the solutions right now to conserve, protect and restore our planet.
Sir Julian Le Grand, Professor of Social Policy
One of the highlights of my year was reading the biography of Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow that formed the basis for the musical Hamilton. This was a man with impact indeed, of illegitimate birth (at a time when that really mattered ), fighting bravely in the Revolutionary War, then devising the monetary, fiscal and political instruments that underlay the economy and the constitution of the new United States. All the while leading an extraordinary personal life that ended in his death in a duel with the Vice President. I also read two books on the astonishing tale of triumph and disaster associated with the impact investor, Arif Naqvi. One, The Key Man, is a savage critique by two journalists, Simon Clark and Will Louch; the other, Icarus, is a more balanced account by an academic, Brian Brivati. Interesting to compare the styles as well as the content of the two books; on both, the academic wins hands down. I also listened with pleasure to the series of podcasts by one of our founders Sir Thomas Hughes-Hallett, The Changemakers, and to the podcast series by Andrew Laird, Radical Reformers (full disclosure: in which I figure).
Anna Townsend, Programme Manager, Executive MSc Social Business and Entrepreneurship
Marcus Rashford: Feeding Britain’s Children – This documentary follows philanthropist, activist and footballer Marcus Rashford, as he uses his platform to tirelessly push the UK government to extend its free school meals programme to children during lockdown, ultimately successfully. He talks movingly about his own childhood hunger and the sacrifices his mum made to feed her children, how important free school meals were to his own development, and meets families in similar situations now. It’s a good watch and an example of how someone in the public eye can positively influence society by drawing on their own personal experiences and unique understanding to make meaningful change.
Julia Karolkiewicz, Insitute Administrator
We are constantly facing various social challenges and looking for answers on how to address these. With this in mind, I reached out for a very informative and eye-opening book What We Owe Each Other: A New Social Contract by Minouche Shafik, who explores the reasons behind the failure of society and brings a broader perspective to the importance of re-examining our prevailing social contracts. I also need to mention a wonderful book Free by Lea Ypi, a memoir about growing up in a communist country and about struggling to make sense of the new world, when the contemporary political order fails. This story made me realise how real people can be caught up in history and it brought light to the story of my parents, who also grew up in a communist country.
Keri Rowsell, Marshall Impact Accelerator Manager
It’s from 2014, but I recently watched Virunga and have since been recommending it to all of my family and friends. The film documents the conflicts between different groups operating in the Congo at that time, highlighting their different values around conservation, oil interests, and the future of the country. The extremes of human nature are presented, and it makes you consider the impact that our current lifestyles have on the rest of the world.
Chelsea Phipps, Practitioner in Residence
My favourite new podcast discovery this year is Maintenance Phase, a podcast focused on debunking junk science particularly related to wellness and nutrition. An episode I found particularly eye-opening was The Great Protein Fiasco, which focused on some of the racist underpinnings of some of our assumptions about nutrition in the global health context. I also enjoyed Bad Science by Ben Goldacre. It was an entertaining and hilarious read, but full of disturbing revelations about how science is often abused by those who do it, report on it and sell it.
If you have any recommendations you think should be on the list, please leave them in the comment section below.