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‘Time for the social sector to think big’: 16 essays on transformation

‘This has to be the time for the social sector not just to tick the boxes but to think big.’ So says Charles Leadbeater in the opening essay of New Philanthropy Capital’s new series from the sector’s boldest voices.

The charity commissioned 16 essays from innovative leaders in the social sector as part of its State of the Sector programme.

Called Flipping the Narrative: essays on transformation from the sector’s boldest voices, the series covers new ideas on strategy and governance, relationships with the public and the state, and new networks and resources.

Leadbeater, an innovation consultant, introduces the series of essays by setting out four ways in which the social sector can help guide communities through times of upheaval. ‘We have to show people there is a way out of the mess we find ourselves in’, he writes.

Pat McArdle, chief executive of the Mayday Trust makes the case for person-led – rather than system-led approaches. She began the transformation of the trust’s work with homeless people by simply talking to them.

‘We have to show people there is a

way out of the mess we find ourselves in’

The trust collated over 100 accounts from homeless people, asking them what they thought about homeless services and the impact they had had on them. They printed them in a booklet called Wisdom from the Street, which went on to shape the future direction of the charity, towards a much more personalized approach.

‘Changes will come from listening to people, getting to know people’s context and always knowing that we are all different,’ she writes.

The issue of trust was a key theme running through the essays. Peter Kelner, chair of NCVO, says that charities behave too often like ‘sausage manufacturers,’ keeping hidden how they work for fear that public exposure would repel their customers.

He argues that a ‘trust’ strategy is no longer enough; charities need to move towards ‘trust-plus’. This means greater openness that goes beyond the formal tick-boxing of transparency, and a ‘new narrative, that demonstrates that the sector has big brains as well as big hearts.’

In the section on relationships with the state Alex Fox, chief executive of Shared Lives Plus argues that rather than modeling themselves on businesses, charities must look to their own unique strengths and assets by involving users in service design, building social value and thinking more creatively about complex social issues.

Neil McInroy, chief executive of CLES, calls for a new local social contract which balances the strengths of the private, public and social sectors and calls on businesses to do their bit.

Clare Thomas, a consultant at London’s Giving takes up this theme, arguing that divisions in our society can be healed at the local level and that funders can lead the way.

She cites the collaborative work of Islington Giving under the leadership of the Cripplegate Foundation. The programme brings large, medium and micro businesses together to tackle poverty and inequality in the borough, from donations from big business to local cafes offering space and hospitality to local charities.

The Lewisham Local initiative, likewise, unites local business and universities and funders to encourage and support ‘community contributors’.

Thomas ends her essay with a call for an asset-based approach: ‘Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.’

  • Read all 16 essays here

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