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Obituary: Pippa Coutts - sharp wit and good humour

This opinion piece is over 1 year old

Carnegie UK staff say farewell to a beloved colleague

At the end of 2022 the team at Carnegie UK said goodbye to their good friend and colleague Pippa Coutts.  

Pippa was known to many in Scotland’s third sector for her work at Carnegie UK and with NESTA’s Alliance for Useful Evidence. 

A graduate of sociology and politics from the University of Cambridge, she began her career in the 1990s when she worked extensively in Africa on food programmes. She ran Save the Children’s famine early warning system in Ethiopia for several years and was seconded to the World Food Programme to provide better information for food aid decision-making.  

She co-founded Food Economy Group that pioneered an innovative, capabilities-based livelihoods approach as a basis for aid decision-making. Seconded to the government of Kenya, she built local analytical and reporting capacity, including arranging and delivering training and mentoring for government and international staff.  

Her time in international development had a number of impacts on her approach when she returned to Scotland in the 2000s, not least that she enjoyed wearing bright colours and was always the person in a meeting bringing the conversation back to what difference we could make for the people who had the least in our society. 

With the Scottish Development Centre for Mental Health she developed programmes that contributed to the greater inclusion of people with long-term conditions and disabilities. With her commitment to inclusion, she also worked as a consultant with the Scottish Union of Supported Employment (SUSE), striving to overcome barriers to disabled people’s employment. She contributed to the development of self-directed support in Scotland through by piloting this approach in employment services and advocating across sectors for asset-based care plans to include employability opportunities. 

Pippa was a strong advocate for better use of evidence in decision making and her personal contribution to the development of thinking on public policy and evidence was significant. She believed strongly in widening our understanding of evidence to better hear the voices of people far from power.  

In 2016, she was recognised internationally as an expert on the practical implementation of wellbeing policy, speaking at the sixth OECD World Forum on Statistics, Knowledge and Policy in Incheon, Korea. Alongside her interests in mental health, user power and evidence, Pippa was also a key voice in the movement to improve Scotland’s places. She was chair of Scotland’s independent regeneration network SURF between 2015 and 2017 and while leading Carnegie UK’s Flourishing Towns programme, she campaigned for more attention to be paid to the importance of smaller places within the policy conversation and a belief that local places had the assets and creativity to improve their own economic and social wellbeing. 

Over the past month, many people have been sharing their memories of Pippa. People’s abiding recollection is of her sharp wit and good humour. With Pippa on a working group or project team you could be sure that difficult questions would be asked and answered in ways that strengthened the work and contributed to better outcomes for people far from power. 

Pippa died peacefully at Cornhill Macmillan Centre on Wednesday, 30 November. Her family have asked that any donations in her memory be sent to Woodlands Trust or Friends of the Earth Scotland. 

Jennifer Wallace is director of policy and evidence at Carnegie UK.