Tis the season to be jolly, but here at NPC part of our job is to worry. We like to dig out the skeletons from the closet and shine a light on them—hoping, of course, that they’ll vanish once we start addressing them. For instance, as I have blogged earlier, we are concerned about the difficulties of scaling up social impact and on the seemingly silo-like separation of ‘green’ and ‘social’ charities. Last night at our debate at the House of Lords we focussed on another challenging question: ‘Are boundaries between the public, private and voluntary sector getting blurry, and is this harming the third sector?’

Our first speaker disagreed outright. Nick Hurd MP, Minister for Civil Society, said the charity sector has a number of reasons to be positive, and the increased collaboration that might be blurring boundaries is in fact one of them. He highlighted that charities have proven their ability to adapt, and are increasingly reaching out to each other to work together in new ways. And the voluntary sector is not alone in this: companies are paying more attention than ever to civil society. And, because of the recession, businesses are being forced to try other things—one of which is working with charities. Moreover, he continued, the sector is very much on top of things when it comes to social investment. Hurd thinks our sector is world class and he believes that the UK’s leadership in this area will see the voluntary sector constructing a new, firm pillar of funding. In concluding the minister noted that the British public is also giving more than ever to charity, both in time and money—as the new CAF World Giving Index revealed on Giving Tuesday.

Our next speaker also had a positive view of the situation. Dawn Austwick, recently appointed Chief Executive of Big Lottery Fund, said she thought the sector was starting to see that its destiny is not decided by others, but by the charities themselves. Although there might be more blurred lines between the public, private and voluntary sectors, charities bring something unique to the table: humanity. The voluntary sector is able to give people the tools, support and responsibility to change their lives—and the vision about how to efficiently achieve this impact is being delivered more professionally and confidently than ever before. And ‘charities with attitude’, as she called the agents of such visions, are able to take challenges they face and recalibrate them into opportunities.

So perhaps the smudging of boundaries between the public, private and voluntary sectors brings more pros than cons. And perhaps we can tick this item of our list of things to worry about. What do you think?

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