Hot air ballonns

Giving the voluntary sector some space to think

As I said recently, ‘There are a lot of very good people in the charity and social enterprise sector, but they have no bloody time to think.’

In many ways our annual conference next week, NPC Ignites, is all about getting that head space.

In the fray of the day-to-day, every charity CEO is worrying about their finances, about staff turnover, about fundraising and winning contracts. Yet we all know that we are facing exciting and challenging times. And we know that getting our heads into all of it will make us better able to help the people we care about.

We are all struggling to understand exactly what the Brexit vote—and the subsequent arguments about it—mean and how attitudes have changed as a result. So we have pollster supreme Deborah Mattinson from Britain Thinks giving her insight on this.

We know the digital, artificial intelligence and machine learning revolution is coming at us from all directions, so we have Dr Will Cavendish, formerly of DeepMind, to help us explore it all.

And we’re not quite sure where social investment—and its offshoots social impact bonds and cousins impact investing—are taking us. But the mighty David Floyd and ClearySo’s top man Rod Schwartz will be there to debate that.

Attempting to meet all these challenges in real time are great charity sector leaders. From the coal face we will hear from Mark Atkinson—who is taking disability charity Scope through major and profound change—and the dynamic Polly Neate—who has recently moved to head up housing charity Shelter after doing a remarkable job at Women’s Aid.

From the funder side we have a rare appearance from Lord David Sainsbury. As he reflects on his philanthropy over 50 years, he’ll raise many issues about how funders can create the most impact in these changing times.

All this is vital. Each charity and funder has its own agenda and these all matter, but we also need to raise our sights higher as a sector. In a recent essay for us, innovative thinker Charles Leadbeater wrote:

The social sector should be society’s escape party, imagining a different future. The capitalists cannot re-imagine capitalism. It’s going to have to come from somewhere else … The social sector is about conserving a space in which it is possible to be fully human, to be treated with dignity, regardless of who you are. What we should be against is authoritarianism, sectarianism, technological systems, inequality, anything that creates a culture of indifference to humanity.’

You don’t have to agree with every word of this to get a sense of excitement about our sector, about the role it can and must play. We hope that everything we do contributes to that in different ways.

There are still a few last minute places left for NPC Ignites. Sign up here.