Nesta is an innovation foundation. The organisation acts through a combination of programmes, investment, policy and research, and the formation of partnerships to promote innovation across a broad range of sectors.
Based in the UK, Nesta was originally funded by a £250 million endowment from the UK National Lottery. The endowment is managed through a trust, and Nesta uses the interest from the trust to meet its charitable objects and to fund and support its projects.
The old NESTA was set up in 1998 by an independent endowment in the United Kingdom established by an Act of Parliament.
On 14 October 2010 the Government announced that it would transfer NESTA’s previous status from an executive non-departmental public body to a new charitable body.
On 1 April 2012 the old NESTA transitioned from being an executive to a charitable body, shortening its name to “Nesta.”
Since being set up in the late 90s Nesta has interpreted its brief in many different ways. In an early phase Nesta backed promising individuals – many of whom went onto great success, from inventing new materials to reimagining theatre. It also backed promising technologies – like one of earliest driverless cars which went on to be used in Heathrow’s Terminal 5 and then in the UK’s first experiments.
But they quickly realized that they wanted to help new fields to emerge and backing them with a mix of research, events, advocacy, investments and grants over many years.
However, what they care about most are outcomes – more children thriving at school, more and better jobs or more older people living longer and healthier lives. But they also promote new tools and methods that can bring ideas to life more successfully.
They did this in promoting computer science and coding for children – because too many were leaving school and university unprepared for how jobs were changing. They then persuaded the government to add computer science into the curriculum, funded thousands of clubs for children to join, and worked with big companies and the BBC to make free tools and courses available online. There’s still a long way to go in ensuring compelling opportunities in schools, where teachers often lack the right digital skills. But huge progress has been made in preparing the next generation to be digital makers and not just passive users of social media.
They’re also contributing to a sea-change in how health services are run to address the needs of ageing populations with more long-term health conditions, promoting what they call ‘people powered health’ where patients are mobilised to support each other and use digital technology to manage their health and avoid unnecessary crises. Again they’ve done this through research, advocacy, funding dozens of organisations, and showing in practice how local health systems can be organised in radically different ways that improve outcomes and save money. Many of these ideas have now been absorbed into governments’ policy, and thousands of lives have been touched for the better.
They’ve also helped grow an alternative finance sector – backing ideas around peer to peer lending and crowdfunding that offer more agile alternatives to traditional bank lending for entrepreneurs with good ideas to get off the ground. Again they’ve acted partly as a funder and investor, partly as promoter, and partly analysing this new field through annual surveys which showed the sector doubling in size each year to well over £3bn by the mid 2010s. They did the same with impact investment – promoting new methods and showing how they can work in practice through their own funds; growing the field of social innovation that’s now gone mainstream all over the world; and showing how the sharing economy can be shaped to tackle social problems and create jobs.
Nesta’s FutureFest is one of Europe’s largest festivals of the future. Over four festivals, 11,000 people have engaged in conversations about what the future might look like and how people can become more active in shaping it.
For many, their relationship with the future is troubled. From hidden influences over the media and politics to growing threats of terrorism and environmental degradation, the forces shaping the world can appear threatening or remote. FutureFest brings together thousands of forward thinkers to discover how to put power back into the hands of citizens; tapping into new ways of thinking and solutions for some of this era’s biggest challenges.
They explore ways to make a better future through immersive installations, interactive debates and inspiring talks from the likes of Edward Snowden, Vivienne Westwood, Nicola Sturgeon, Annie Mac, Akala, Ruby Wax OBE, Brian Eno, Paul Mason and Imogen Heap.