Change at Nominet as trust goes free

Nominet Trust, the UK’s leading tech for good investor, is to operate as an independent trust, following a decision to separate from its parent Nominet. The Trust – backed by £44m from Nominet over the last decade – has assured its partners that funding already committed will be unaffected.

Nominet Trust logoAfter 10 years as a corporate foundation, Nominet Trust has agreed with its parent and lead funder Nominet that it will establish its independence.

The news was announced in a statement on the Nominet Trust site last week. “Nominet and the Trust have agreed that the most effective way to scale our social impact is by establishing our independence from Nominet,” it said.

Nominet Trust has been the UK’s leading funder of social tech across its 10 years, investing more than £30m in socially motivated tech. It is a founding partner of early-stage tech-for-good investor and accelerator Bethnal Green Ventures, as well as a funder of over 300 individual startups and social businesses. Most recently the Trust announced £1m in backing for a new Fair By Design venture fund created to tackle the poverty premium through digital innovation.

Nominet Trust is also the headline sponsor of DigitalAgenda’s Impact Awards.

The announcement of the separation from Nominet confirmed that chair Natalie Campbell and trustees Nora Nanayakkara and Jemima Rellie would be stepping down from their roles. Social entrepreneur and investor Bill Liao, who joined the Trust board in 2014, takes over as chair. Trustees Sebastien Lahtinen, Beth Murray and Hannah Keartland remain on the board.

The Trust’s parent, Nominet, manages the infrastructure that supports over 10 million .uk domain names. It was set up as a company delivering public benefit, demonstrated by its support for the Trust, including initiatives promoting digital inclusion.

In their joint website statement, director Vicki Hearn and chair Bill Liao said: “We want to reassure everyone we’re currently working with that support already committed will be unaffected. We’re communicating our news at the earliest possible opportunity as these developments aim to boost the availability of grants and growth investment for social tech to transform lives.”

The Trust recently marked the fifth anniversary of its influential NT100 social tech programme with the publication of fresh research providing insights into how socially transformative tech ventures are scaling an achieving impact around the world, highlighting case studies including innovators Aid:Tech, Fairphone, Open Bionics and What3Words. At the NT100is5 launch in November, UK government digital chief Matthew Gould said the work of the Trust was vital, not least in helping to maintain public trust in technology.

“Nominet Trust’s work over the last five years is incredibly important,” he said. “It shows the positive value of tech by bringing together industry, government, civil society and the private sector to help society overcome its problems.”

The publication of their NT100 insights came alongside the Trust’s unveiling of a new corporate identity and website, following work on a new strategy to take it to 2021. In the statement, Hearn and Liao stress that “to deliver our strategy, we need the freedom to expand our grant making and investment activity by attracting more varied sources of funding.”

“Nominet has supported us with funding of £44m over the last 10 years. They will continue their public benefit programme focusing on security, connectivity and inclusivity, as we build on our own reserves, strengthening our commitment to social tech.”

Hearn emphasised that the Trust was excited and positive about the opportunities the change would bring. “We’re looking forward to developing our renamed, independent charity under the strong leadership of our new chair,” she said.