This week, leaders from the charity sector and beyond gathered for our 6th annual conference NPC Ignites. The day was designed to help attendees take a step back from their day-to-day work, keep pace with change + plug into new ideas and thinking. Patrick Murray talks through some of the day’s insights.
‘Burning issues + bold action’—that was the billing for our 6th annual conference NPC Ignites. There, delegates gathered to discuss how to transform the charity sector and deliver ever greater impact in a changing world.
And what a changing world it is. Speakers from charities, funders, government, the private sector lined up to set out how organisations can face the future and deliver ever greater impact for the causes and beneficiaries we exist to serve.
Maintain a human touch in a digital world
Anni Rowland-Campbell of Intersticia set out the challenge—that technology is changing what it means to be human: the way we live and relate to one another. As she put it ‘we’re rushing to a future that nobody knows whether or not we want to get to. Charities and the wider philanthropy sector is the only sector that can represent the human because we are about values and humanity in an increasingly automated world.’
Continuing on the digital message the core message from Tom Loosemore—Founder of the Government Digital Service and now Director of Digital Services at the Co-operative Group—was this: we’re in the midst of a digital revolution, and it is dangerous to be passive in a revolution. We need to get excited and create something better. In a theme that was returned to throughout the day, he said that strategy is delivery—gone are the days of pilots and slow progress, now we need to prototype and iterate.
Stay focused on the mission, not just on survival
But the future roles of charities themselves is less clear. Several speakers called for the sector to focus on the mission rather than the organisation. That could mean setting up something new on a time-limited horizon, or coming together to pose collaborative solutions to complex social issues. It also included recognising the increasingly significant role of social enterprises and mission-led business. There was a challenge too about how charities can better operate as platforms for social action as people and communities self organise to design and deliver change.
Keep speaking truth to power
The sector is both stronger than it thinks and has a significant role to play in transforming the future. It must remember this, argued former head of the Civil Service Lord Bob Kerslake, when it deals with government. Lord Kerslake offered a much needed insider’s view of how the government views the charity sector, which took the form of a rallying cry: they may not know it, but the government need you more than you need them. ‘No other sector this size would cower before government’, he told the audience. So we need to stand our ground, and to speak out from a position of strength—for which we need evidence of our impact.
Be brave, be bold
Richard Hawkes, CEO of the British Asian Trust, closed the conference with a provocation to charities and funders. Comparing the UK charity sector with their thriving counterparts in India, he railed against just telling sad stories to bring the money in for a brand, against organisations that exist merely to keep existing, and those that have become part of the system rather than changing it. ‘I think we need to move away from the word “charity”. Change is what we’re about—being nice and helpful is not the same as changing the world.’
Ultimately, the message was clear: charities have a crucial role to play in achieving social change, and there is no time to waste. We need to work together to lift our sights, to develop and deliver innovative solutions, to build the evidence base for our work and learn from it—and above all else be bold in these times of change.