I’ve experienced blue-chip financial sector companies ‘painting the hostel’ when the charities involved really needed their financial expertise to develop a more commercial approach to fulfilling their charitable objectives. On some occasions, there is a need to adopt a more coherent approach, matching need to resources.
With the public sector in rapid retreat, the private sector unfamiliar with the complexity of social value and the third sector fearing the worst, the opportunity lies in tapping into skills and competencies within communities. The invitation is not to ruthlessly exploit these resources for a quick return but to nurture and support communities to find and reach their potential by combining “assets” to create more than the sum of the parts and benefit for all stakeholders.
We can only achieve this if we choose to establish more equitable relationships across the public, private and voluntary/community sectors. I’m generalising, but in the main, most stakeholder relationships are inherently control weighted in one direction.
So what’s new?
Recognising that we have a problem is a start, alongside action to establish a more level playing field to engage on or we’re going nowhere fast. It does mean that the empires, egos and politics need to be put to one side for productive relations to seed.
If communities are a bit like icebergs, with much of the action hidden from view, then we all need to get a little closer to make sense of the rich and challenging mix of relationships at play. The temptation might be to parachute in yet another top-down initiative destined to make a lot of noise but add little of lasting value.
At a time when resources and goodwill are fast ebbing away, exposing communities to increased risk of harm we have a great opportunity to recast roles and responsibility across the public, private and community sectors.
My experience of the last twenty years, with half of this time as a public-sector commissioner and the other half as a voluntary-sector professional and community activist, tells me that the public, private and voluntary sector is too far away from communities to maintain a meaningful and mutually beneficial relationship.
In taking a step outside my comfort zone (public-sector commissioning for the last 10 years) to establish this social enterprise, focused on asset-based community development I’m hoping to be a constructive part of the transition. We’re interested in supporting the ‘bottom up’ to meet the ‘top down’ and harness the strengths of all parties genuinely working to address complex social issues.
At a local level, the impact and targeting of volunteering would be better understood if companies (public, private and voluntary) pooled their offers through an online portal to match need with resources (people, buildings, the environment et al). We’ve been encouraging our public-sector colleagues to consider releasing each of their staff for just one day each quarter and offer this resource to their community through a smart online database. I’m also aware that many private sector companies remain frustrated in deploying their resources and expertise at the local level so we do have to address this weakness or accept missed opportunities for all.
Imagine the benefit of 10 local authority planners offering their expertise to communities to develop neighbourhood plans (as envisaged in the Localism Act). That’s 40 days’ work in a year with the potential to unlock a reciprocal response from communities and magnify the value. Extrapolate to the whole public/ private/ voluntary arena and without very much effort we have the potential to build stronger, more cohesive, trusting, confident and connected communities better able to meet their own needs.
Chief executives resistant to this option might do well to build a more sustainable relationship with their staff and wider public, perhaps embedding volunteering within annual appraisal objectives to reinforce the commitment. In these austere times, measures that give staff room for volunteering will be more than recouped with reduced sickness, improved motivation and a renewed vigour to go the extra mile.
I’m not sure where we’ll get to with this particular proposal, but as a community-based enterprise with ideas and experience to share, we’re intent on working collaboratively to break new ground and invent our way to a more prosperous future; mindful of people and communities more vulnerable to the fallout from policy change already moving at a rapid pace and with no brakes.