Rebels with a cause: Our mission to make a long-lasting and wide-reaching impact

To truly drive change, sometimes you need to be a bit of a rebel. And as Susan Kay, Chief Executive of The Dunhill Medical Trust (DMT) puts it, we bring “more than a little dash of rebellion” to the funding world. We push boundaries to find innovative solutions, even if it means getting messy sometimes.

There are many ways The DMT pushes the boundaries as a funding body – and at our recent Annual Symposium we heard from a number of speakers on how they are doing things differently to make real change.

Funding with breadth and depth

Here at DMT, we know that ageing research is a “multi-disciplinary team sport,” says Susan Kay. We fund projects that go beyond the traditional medical field, taking a multidisciplinary approach, investing in a broad spectrum of research that encompasses the biomedical, social, and clinical aspects of ageing.

And our support goes beyond grants. We offer a spectrum of funding options for projects tackling both broad themes like housing and specific issues like age-related hearing loss. These are all areas that have been traditionally underfunded and under-addressed despite their huge impact on the long-term well-being and later-life health outcomes of many older people.

Making ageing a priority now

As a funding body dedicated solely to age-related research, it’s important to us to highlight the urgency of addressing the challenges faced by our ageing population. We believe, as Professor of Social Policy Vicky McCall from the University of Stirling expressed, that we need to make age-related issues  “today’s challenge” rather than “tomorrow’s problem”.

This urgency extends to practical solutions. We combine research with action to ensure a better future for older adults. For example, poor housing is a major concern, as Holly Holder, Deputy Director for Homes at the Centre for Ageing Better, highlights: “millions of older adults live in “cold, damp, poor quality homes, putting their health and safety at risk.”

Championing co-production

At the DMT we focus on “contribution rather than attribution,” as Susan Kay explained. We believe that creating value together with stakeholders is more impactful, and one standout practice to ensure this is co-production.

Co-production allows the voices and needs of older people to be heard and integrated into the solutions being developed. This ensures projects are not only effective but also more likely to be sustained in the long term.

Debra Edwards, a community champion involved in the Technology for an Ageing Population Panel for Innovation – or TAPPI – project, emphasises the importance of building trust as a key to success. Collaboration with residents ensured the technology was user-friendly and met their specific needs. The project’s lasting impact is evident in the continued use of the technology by residents and their desire to share their experiences with others.

 “One of the first things I feel you have to do is develop trust,” Debra explains. “You have to be open, you have to be transparent. Now we’ve got older people trying to show other people what they learnt and what they’re using and what they’re doing. And now you’re having other people asking if they can join.”

Unlocking the power of collaboration

The DMT recognises that change requires a collective effort. We are committed to fostering a “movement of connected people with the passion and ideas to drive positive systemic change,” Susan Kay explains.

Collaboration across sectors is particularly important. “It’s actually about getting the right people in the right room,” says Vicky McCall. “It’s about challenging the boundaries. Across the board, making sure people aren’t stuck in their silos, defending their corners.” By bringing together stakeholders from housing, social care, healthcare, and the community, we can develop solutions that address the multifaceted challenges faced by older adults.

Initiatives like the DMT Academy provide a platform for researchers and community members to connect, share ideas, and find collaborators. “Creating a place for researchers and community innovators of any discipline to be able to come together,” Sarah Allport, The DMT’s Head of Communities and Governance, explains. Through our Academy, we aim to foster an environment where interdisciplinary collaboration can thrive, leading to innovative solutions and impactful outcomes.

Investing together, funding better

While grants are a mainstay of how we fund research, we recognise the need for a more comprehensive approach. That’s where social investment comes in. While we understand that for many issues only grant funding is appropriate, there are other ways to address societal challenges which could also generate financial returns for investors. But these returns might be uncertain, or may be below market rates, so are unable to attract “traditional” investors. This is where trusts and foundations like the DMT can come in, because our focus extends beyond just financial returns, and prioritises social returns too.

As Katie Saunders, from Social Finance explains, “We’re really about bringing ambitious, and now I can say rebellious, organisations together to drive long lasting change. We work with the DMT, and other value-based partners, in areas where it just feels a bit too hard for others, or where it can feel insurmountable. Together we’ve created a safe space to really understand, not only what it takes to get things right, but what’s stopping us as well.”

Social investments allow us to partner with organisations like Social Finance to tackle complex challenges. Dr. Aarti Ravishankar, a practising GP who also works at Social Finance, highlights this saying “I see the impact of these ‘wicked problems’ in my clinic every day. So it’s been really nice to work in a place that brings people together in innovative ways to solve these issues.”

Social investments pave the way for groundbreaking projects that create lasting change. The DMT is committed to aligning all its investments with its mission for social systemic change around later life health outcomes over the long term. Dominic Jones, a DMT Trustee, explains this shift: “Typical grant-making foundations have an endowment invested in markets for a financial return. But increasingly, there’s a recognition that those investments can both support and detract from a foundation’s mission”. He adds, “The DMT is exploring how to make sure our endowment investments are aligned with – or at the very least, not acting against – our mission. We’ve a way to go but we’re recognising the opportunity for these investments to create real change.”

Lighting a fire under the funding body status quo

The DMT is more than just a funding body. We are a catalyst for positive change, determined to ensure lasting and wide-reaching impact through the projects we fund, the partners we work with and how we invest.

Ready to join us? Become a DMT Academy member to connect and partner with other rebels with a cause within the ageing-related research sector. And learn more about how to run an impactful project here.