Delegates at a workshop

Time to rethink and rebuild

Covid, cuts, and continued uncertainty

By Seth Reynolds 24 September 2020 5 minute read

Covid is a systemic change that demands a systemic response. We need to plot a more resilient, more equitable, more progressive future for our sector. It's time to rethink and rebuild. Click To Tweet


Our unsteady state

It has become increasingly apparent that our current crisis is not an ordinary storm to be weathered, a dip in the cycle to ride out and recover from. It is a moment of systemic change that demands a systemic response.

The recent resurgence of Covid-19 and the resulting restrictions has brought home that ‘post-Covid’ is not a phrase we should use for a while. The best-case scenario may have been Covid then recession; the reality will be Covid and recession: a double dose of discontent this winter.

This week has confirmed that our foreseeable future is one of continuous change and uncertainty. The outlook for the charity sector is not just bleak, it’s blurry. What we do know is not good. The recession will spike demand just as shrinking staff capacity and cuts squeeze services. The Institute of Fundraising reported that charities are expecting to have lost a quarter of their income this year, with Pro Bono Economics predicting charity sector redundancies of up to 60,000.

But this is about more than money. Charity leaders are making major shifts in service delivery amidst continual changes in Covid restrictions and with a disrupted, in many cases stressed and strained, workforce. At the same time, freezing society in a near global lockdown has triggered system shifting movements, especially in civil society. From funding to health inequalities to racial justice, an array of structural dysfunctions, power imbalances and entrenched inequalities are being questioned in new ways.

‘Business as usual’ has not been an option since March. ‘Reverting to the norm’ is neither possible nor, many would say, desirable.

It may feel jarring to focus on big picture questions of system change when many are just struggling to survive. But the truth is that systems shift during crises, whereas times of relative comfort and predictability breed inertia. Now is the time for sustained, collective effort to embed recent shifts and ask these big questions, because when crises are over previous patterns tend to revert.

Seizing the opportunity to rethink and rebuild, whilst maintaining vital services in a period of intense mental and emotional strain for beneficiaries and staff, demands compassion, sensitivity and humility. To succeed, we will need to draw on deep wells of personal and organisational resilience. We need to develop our capacity to simultaneously hold seemingly contrasting needs: this is both a crisis and an opportunity.

Harnessing this opportunity means embracing uncertainty, which can be challenging for a sector built around linear predictability: activities proposed, outcomes projected, impacts proven.


Rethink, Rebuild

In response we are developing a new initiative: Rethink, Rebuild. We want to convene and collate diverse insights and expertise to:

  • Support the charity sector’s resilience and adaptation.
  • Seize this system-shifting moment.
  • Challenge long-held imbalances, inequalities and systemic dysfunctions in the sector.

Rethink, Rebuild is a different kind of programme for NPC. It will be both an umbrella for new pieces ­– labs, workshops, and innovations – but also an integral narrative and approach that will run through many aspects of our existing and upcoming work. It will spur our thinking and action as we work with our partners to co-create these new ways of working and being.

We have identified five lines of enquiry which we think important to pursue if we are to plot a more resilient, more equitable, more progressive future for our sector. We will be using a ‘labs’ approach in which we convene, understand, explore, experiment, and learn together.

These ‘Rethink Charity’ labs will include:

  • Rethink Strategy: Understanding, experimenting with and learning what it means to be resilient, agile and adaptive within and beyond the age of Covid.
  • Rethink Grantmaking: Convening funders and grantees to explore and rethink funding systems and cultures.
  • Rethink Data: Exploring innovation through open and shared approaches to digital, data and learning.
  • Rethink Collaboration: Experimenting with how we could work together through partnerships, cross-sector working, shared programmes.
  • Rethink Policy: Reimagining the relationship between the charity and the public sector, exploring new approaches to commissioning, lobbying and policy change.

Alongside our Rethink Charity labs, we will be developing ‘Rebuild Resources’ to help the charity sector navigate the profound challenges ahead. These will include practical workshops, tools and materials to help charities adjust to this new landscape and emerge intact, ready to serve their beneficiaries through an era of continued crisis.


Our invitation

Rethink, Rebuild will only work as part of an open and collaborative process with a diverse range of contributors.

  • We know we are not the only ones asking these questions. We’d like curious minds from across the sector – funders, charities, community groups – to be part of the journey. What are you doing that connects to this? Can you help us develop this work?
  • We’d like your feedback. Are there other topics we should be exploring?
  • We hope to build a committed group of partners who can provide resource, insight and participation. Can you support?

Uncertainty can only be navigated together. Please let us know how you’d like to participate.  


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