History

The Young Foundation was established in 2005 and has been instrumental in driving thinking, action and change in social innovation in the UK and abroad.

Michael Young, founder of The Young Foundation

We were forged from a merger between the Institute of Community Studies and the Mutual Aid Centre, both creations of our namesake, the late Michael Young, leading social entrepreneur.

The Institute for Community Studies had been set up in 1954 as an urban studies think tank, with an emphasis on bringing academic research and practical social innovation together. It helped to create over 60 organisations, including the Open University and the Consumers’ Association. Other innovations included Language line, International Alert, the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the School for Social Entrepreneurs.

Michael Young (9 August 1915 – 14 January 2002)

During the second half of the 20th century Michael Young – sociologist, activist and politician – was one of the world’s most creative and influential social innovators. He has been described as “the world’s most successful entrepreneur of social enterprises” by Harvard’s Professor Daniel Bell. As the author of Labour’s manifesto, which helped to bring Clement Attlee’s government to power in 1945, he played a key role in shaping the post-war welfare state.

In the early 1950s, Young set up the Institute of Community Studies. This was to become his main vehicle for social innovation. Collaborating with many others, he helped to change attitudes to a range of social issues, including urban planning, education and poverty.

With Peter Willmott, Young undertook one of the most influential sociological studies of the 20th century: Family and Kinship in East London. Published in 1957, the study of urban working class community examined the effects of post-war housing policy, which saw many East Londoners moved out into the new estates of Essex.

The study exemplifies the work of The Young Foundation today, investigating people’s attitudes, beliefs and feelings. Young pioneered public and consumer empowerment in both private markets and public services; the creation of NHS Direct, the spread of after-school clubs and neighbourhood councils can all be linked to his work. He both coined the phrase meritocracy and criticised the way in which this was adopted by successive governments.

In 1978 he was made a life peer, as Baron Young of Dartington in the County of Devon, was a fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge, from 1961 to 1966, and President of Birkbeck, University of London, from 1989 to 1992.

In his later life, Young continued to pioneer social innovation, this time focused on family issues and in particular the experiences of older people, and was instrumental in creating the University of the Third Age and Grandparents Plus.