Coronavirus is not an ordinary storm to be weathered, a dip in the cycle to ride out and recover from. Whatever your unique experience of it, the pandemic represents a period of systemic change that demands a systemic response. It is both a crisis and an opportunity.
Many of the shifts that have happened, from more flexible funding to greater cross-sector collaboration, should be seized upon to rebuild the sector that we know we need. Indeed, if we do not seize this opportunity to build back better, we will be tacitly accepting a return to systemic failings that have needed to change for a long time.
Rethink, Rebuild is all about sharing ideas, innovations, programmes, models and learnings that will be vital for rethinking how the social sector works, and rebuilding together as we emerge from our shared Covid crisis.
This is a collaborative project, and we’ll be working in the open throughout, so head over to NPC Labs to join us in creating a better future for charity and philanthropy.
Rethinking our worldview
Building back better means rethinking the assumptions, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours that underpin what we do and how we operate. Let’s learn from the Black Lives Matter movement and the #MeToo movement: the issues were nothing new, but across the world, people, organisations and sectors asked deeper questions of themselves about an issue than they ever had before.
Similarly, Covid has shone fresh light on long-held, deeply embedded behaviours and beliefs that need rethinking. For example:
- Grant-making: Is a binary choice between ‘unrestricted’ vs ‘restricted’ really the best we can do? The sudden shift to flexible funding during the first lockdown suggests not. Perhaps some temporary shifts need to become permanent practice. There is a middle way, rooted in partnership and equity.
- Strategy: Many charities have had to rapidly learn to be agile and adaptive. These new ways of working are arguably better suited to the complex reality of the issues we face, pandemic or not. How do we incorporate these approaches in the long-term? What does an agile approach mean for the five-year strategy plan? How do we set clear directions whilst remaining fluid and responsive?
- Collaboration: The charity sector is largely built on a belief that a single organisation can be the primary deliverer of social value. This thinking has led us to assume that with bigger organisations we can solve bigger problems. We’ve unwittingly entrenched a culture of competition not collaboration. Working together is dismissed as an optional add-on when we know, instinctively and empirically, that the single organisation narrative is false. No single organisation can transform entrenched structures; systems change means building movements. By continuing to pursue single organisation strategies rather than system strategies, we are tacitly accepting that we are not really concerned with systems change, that the status quo will suffice.
Rebuilding as a whole system
It’s clear that many of these questions are connected; a charity’s grant conditions determine how agile or collaborative it can be. Similarly, whether it evaluates its impact based on notions of contribution not attribution (or indeed, on fact not fiction), is determined by sector-level cultures and practices. These questions can only be meaningfully explored as a whole system, and as interconnected issues.
Unpacking these questions may be uncomfortable. We may have to admit we were wrong, NPC included. But rethinking and rebuilding means being willing to question our original thinking and move on from what is no longer fit for purpose.
We don’t know what the ‘rethought and rebuilt’ systems will be. For this we need partners who can help design them together. Isolated pockets of innovation aren’t enough; we need to build movements.
Rethink, Rebuild is not a call to action; it is a call to question, and then to question further, to listen to each other, to listen harder, to break down our ‘egos, logos and silos’. Only then will we be able to rebuild. To change our system, we much first change how we think, or we will find that we have rebuilt the same system that we had before.
Event catch up
Here how others are thinking big about what lessons can be learnt from the crisis, how we build on the innovations we’ve seen, and how we address the inequalities the pandemic has revealed. Speakers include Edel Harris, Chief Executive, Mencap; Arvinda Gohil, Chief Executive, Central YMCA; Joe Fearn, Director, Baobab Foundation; and Ravi Gurumurthy, Chief Executive, Nesta.