A third sector for future generations

Wales Council for Voluntary Action (WCVA) and the CVCs (County Voluntary Councils) have been working through a futures exercise. This will inform a revised strategy for WCVA which will be taken to the AGM in November. It will also feed into discussions amongst WCVA and the CVCs on our priorities for third sector support services across Wales in coming years.

It has been a lively process, ably facilitated by Meirion Thomas and Eva Trier of Penbryn Consulting and Martin Rhisiart, Professor of Strategy and Innovation at South Wales Business School, and involving a wide range of stakeholders including an important perspective from outside of Wales. It has particularly highlighted the value of the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act (WFG Act) in helping to rally people around a common vision so we’re not collaborating for the sake of it of it, but because we have shared goals that we all want to achieve and a set of operating principles as to how we work.

Indeed discussions have highlighted that the concept of clearly defined sectors is itself becoming less relevant with a blurring of the edges. The distinctions between social and private enterprise or public service and services provided by third sector are increasingly less distinct.

We should encourage this more integrated approach based on common values and purpose but recognise that much, and perhaps most, of the activity that will determine if Wales achieves the goals will happen outside government and public bodies.

Voluntary and community led activity - the thousands of local and neighbourhood activities, many informal - has a huge impact on wellbeing. It’s a space where people can develop relationships, have fun, discuss what matters, support each other and get on and do things. It is not to say the public sector isn’t crucial, but more that their role is as an ‘enabling state’, with public policy and practice enabling citizen, third sector and business activity that contributes to wellbeing.

This is of course where the WFG Act comes into play in providing the framework of common goals, measures and operating principles. We need to ensure that the third sector plays a leadership role in translating this legislative model into common practice which simply reflects how we do business in Wales. WCVA must take a lead in our own process for planning and reporting as well as in how we apply the operating principles in all we do.

Supporting the ‘boots on the ground’ in community and citizen led action, must be at the heart of the strategy. In broader terms it is about more control at the local level in designing local solutions. The Public Service Boards have a key role as a new bit of the jigsaw under the WFG Act that can provide for innovative connected solutions, but we also need to look at even more local place based models maximising the role of Town and Community Councils in leading community development.

This sense of re-localising to rebalance against the globalisation trend is important. It must recognise that globalisation will continue and indeed can be a force for good, but needs to be balanced against the need to have stronger, connected communities that can build local resilience in the economy. It will be important to recognise that our work impacts across all the goals of the WFG Act, particularly in enabling the economic transformation that is needed to ensure long term resilience.

Building active, resilient communities for the long term will need us to focus on working with children and young people in a number of different ways. Ensuring that there are opportunities for youth social action, supported by the education system; that we focus on giving children the best possible start in life through collaboration on early years; and that we engage young people in decision making of our organisations.

Young people may also be central to ensuring that the full value of digital transformation is realised. Just as an example, the Size of Wales (www.sizeofwales.org.uk) was recognised nationally for an online campaign and web site which was designed and managed by a volunteer, who was then still in school, from his bedroom in North Wales!

In all this the ‘third sector’ needs to represent citizens and communities as opposed to itself, as too often sustainability is simply viewed as keeping the organisation afloat. Sector organisations can be as remote, unrepresentative and as unaccountable as any private or public body.

There needs to be a strong independent, evidence based challenge to Government when appropriate, not influenced or diluted by any funding relationship.

We do need to build trust with partners and with public bodies if we are to translate the vision we discussed into action. I am sure support for governance will be central to building this trust, with programmes designed to recruit and assist chairs and trustees in their critical role.

Given my previous role as Commissioner for Sustainable Futures it is hugely encouraging that there is a strong consensus that the WFG Act provides a common purpose and ways of operating. Even more encouraging the message that it is important that civil society needs to provide collective leadership in setting the agenda, identifying priorities and reporting impact.

The WCVA Board will meeting on August 23 to review the lessons from the process and help shape the next stage leading to the AGM on November 23. I hope that WCVA members and the wider sector will continue to play an active role in shaping the future vision and role.

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