Hear from the leaders of Sony Music UK’s Social Justice Fund
One year on from the launch of Sony Music’s Global Social Justice Fund, co-chairs of the UK arm – Damaris Rex Taylor, Director of Marketing at RCA UK, Dorothy Hui, SVP of Digital & Audience Development at 4th Floor Creative, and Charlotte Edgeworth, Director of Diversity, Inclusion & Social Impact – explain more about its development and progress so far.
What is the Global Social Justice Fund all about and why was it created?
DRT: Sony Music helped launch the global $100 million fund last summer in response to the social injustices that were happening and have been happening around the world for years. It was such a pivotal moment for so many people – and at Sony Music UK, the injustices affected all of us, our employees, our fans and our artists – and it became a catalyst for us to further contribute to long term and meaningful change.
DH: We are the UK arm of this incredible global fund. There is a common goal to address injustice and racism around the world, however we must also adapt to the needs that are distinct to our local challenges. Broadly the supported charities align to key areas of focus: (1) education and skills (2) criminal rehabilitation opportunities, and (3) holistic and mental health support for Black communities.
How, if at all, has that vision changed as the fund has matured?
CE: Like any new entity, we are learning and developing as we go along. We look for charities doing great work in our key areas and work with them to identify how we can make the most impact. To help with that, we consult existing research and plan in the future to commission some of our own, to delve even deeper into social justice topics to help identify root causes.
DRT: We also examine how we work best with partners. This has been an unexpected year in the way we have all had to work through the pandemic. Charities have had to be innovative and flexible in a way that nobody expected, so we recognise that and help where we can.
CE: For example, due to lockdown, our partner Young Urban Arts Foundation could not go out into communities and reach all the young people they would normally interact with using their special studio bus. They cleverly adapted their offering to an online model, which helped them reach even more people! We’ve been able to support that through staff helping with education events and getting artists involved in the regular open mic nights, and we’re really looking forward to doing more in person in the summer.
What kind of work goes into establishing a fund like this?
CE: First and foremost, our global parent company Sony Corp understood how important it was to set up the fund and gave us the significant financial support necessary to play a bigger role in building meaningful and long-term change.
DH: We needed to understand the landscape – Sony Music had supported organisations before of course, but not through a specific fund, so we thought through our goals and what parts of social justice we most wanted to address, because its scope is wide.
CE: Structure is hugely important when it comes to establishing a fund like this. Our core team spent a lot of time establishing clear parameters around what we wanted to fund and guidelines and governance measures. We considered where we felt we could have the greatest impact and use not only our funds effectively, but also our skills as an organisation.
DRT: We also listened to our employees. Staff input into our longlist of organisations which became our starting point for research. Our advisory board comprises 12 representatives from across the business – from label presidents to our diversity and inclusion employee group – who then meet quarterly to decide who we want to fund in each round. It was really important to us to have a range of voices and skills on the board, so we are two thirds Black or people of colour, 50% female, and we have input from senior executives across the business, including A&R, marketing, sync, digital and comms.
What happens once you have selected the grantees?
CE: Well for us selection is very much the beginning not the end of the relationship! It’s about securing and supporting long term partnerships for positive change. We strive to add value to all our partnerships that goes beyond just the financial transaction, so we discuss during the application process what other support might be helpful from Sony Music UK for the organisation.
DRT: If they are approved, we then match a Sony ambassador to them, who might be the employee who nominated them or someone who has a particular affinity for that cause. Their ambassador is committed to helping them access other Sony resources, which could include securing volunteers, mentors, technical support or other specialist knowledge – and even artist involvement!
DH: Of course, we also use our reach and channels to spread the word about our amazing partners too so more people can find out about the work they are doing.
What do you hope will be the impact of the Global Social Justice Fund on communities?
CE: It is early days in terms of gathering data on our impact, however, we can already see the incredible work our partners are doing and things they’re able to expand on with our support. Our funded programmes give opportunities to those who might not otherwise have had them – be that giving young black musicians access to a scholarship at The Royal Academy of Music, or a safe space for young black women and girls to overcome trauma and connect with inspirational mentors.
DRT: We also hope to challenge the ongoing perceptions of people of colour across the UK. An example of this is a unique initiative called Flock Together, which focuses on bringing POC together and tackling mental health through bird watching. In such a stereotypically white space they are, and I quote, ‘changing the colour of the outdoors’. This reimagining of the black experience has been echoed throughout music – we’ve dropped the use of the word ‘urban’ in the UK – and we will continue to research and reappraise the language and terminology we use.
Broader access to programmes like this will help us, over time, breakthrough stereotypes and clichés that have been placed on black communities. Another initiative, the Sony Blue Plaque scheme, will highlight remarkable figures of colour in the UK who haven’t had the recognition they deserve.
DH: Globally, Sony Music has also invested a significant amount in rehabilitation programmes, which have been hugely successful in bringing down reoffending rates and providing job opportunities for ex-offenders. We have seen tangible results from the criminal justice work we’ve been doing in the UK too, through partners like Key4Life.
In total, the overall fund has contributed to more than 300 worldwide organisations to the tune of around $25 million, and this continues apace as we match need with the right organisations that fit the parameters of this fund. It will continue long into the future, too.
What’s the next step for the UK fund?
CE: We do not currently accept unsolicited applications because we’ve had so many nominations from employees. We want to ensure we are capturing all the right data to measure and track our impact so we can share our results after Year One of being operational and look at how we take those learnings into Year Two.
You can see examples here of projects the UK Social Justice Fund has supported so far.