I’m really honoured to have been asked to speak to you this evening, and delighted to be able to congratulate you all on this new and important venture.
I had wanted to take as my theme a comparison between my current profession, a politician, and my former profession as someone who worked and volunteered in yours: the third sector.
Even though your sector is regarded in much higher esteem than mine, what you do can often be a thankless and exposed task.
Treatment that was largely reserved for the likes of me, national politicians, is increasingly being metered out to Councillors, Trustees and volunteers- basically anyone who decides to stick their head above the parapet and attempt to do something.
The pace and immediacy of social media and social commentary and the “swipe right” mentality it brings have resulted in complex challenges and issues being unexplained and unexamined.
A balanced opinion is hard to arrive at, even if you work hard to read widely, as bots and programmes feed you an ever narrower diet on news and views, tailored to your existing preferences.
The requirement that we must have all the answers, and deliver the solutions with immediate effect, leads to disappointment, a lack of trust, a paucity of hope, and sometimes abuse.
A charity’s and its trustees reputation is critical, to everything it does, just as a politicians is to their aims, and in recent years the sector and key people within it have faced greater criticism, much often undeserving or ill informed.
It is one reason why this initiative is so important and so timely, and I hope Charity Futures will help us to ensure that we always treasure these organisations as the fundamental fabric of our communities and our national identity.
And I am sure that many who work within this sector have, on occasion, while remaining steadfast in your determination to carry on for those we serve, have reflected on their motivation for sticking their head above that parapet, for investing so much, emotionally as well as physically in what we do,
Not doing something easier, or more appreciated, or less challenging.
In I have in my 7 years in this role, I have sometime felt that way too. I have thought about why I do it. I have thought about why I was an aid worker, and a charity worker, and a volunteer. Why I serve in our armed forces. And after much thought I have concluded that I have done it all for one thing: for love.
Love: a duty I feel towards other people and humanity. And I think that many who work in this sector would not think that statement so strange, they would recognise it.
I recognising in you. In the people I meet who work in, with and for this sector. And the people I associate with it.
Leonard Cheshire- born 100 years ago, was a recipient of both the order of merit and the Victoria Cross. To him, whether he was fighting in battle or whether he was providing care and shelter, it was part of the same mission, in his words, “to build a better world, to build a better peace”.
I recognised it in the, largely, British aid workers I worked with in the former Eastern bloc. In their care for those discarded by a society distorted by Ceausescu’s inhumane regime: beacons of our common humanity where freedoms light did not shine.
And I see it in so many people who you and I work with in this sector.
They all believed in the worth and potential of every human being
And they all believed in the capacity of every individual to make a difference.
The value and the power of freedom.
You, all of you, are here tonight because you believe both those things.
You feel responsible, you feel empowered, you feel motivated
At the heart of this sector is the importance and the capacity of the individual. And that, in the future, will be amplified.
The world is changing. Technology affords us the opportunity to do more as individuals and in collaboration with others. Let me tell you about a young man I met recently. He taught coding to children with autism and turrets, here in the UK and overseas. He’d been doing it for a number of years. And he was 11 years old. 11 years old.
I think of him and others like him why I making decisions which will shape the world he inhabits as an adult. What opportunities could he have? How can I insure he does?
Technology gives us the power to include, the power to reach, to inspire, to communicate, to educate, to change. And this sector, perhaps more importantly than another in our national fabric must prepare to seize those opportunities.
Despite the distortion of how we get our information and news the world is getting healthier and wealthier and, believe or not, more secure.
We should not let pessimism and cynicism distract us from aiming for things that have long been considered too difficult to achieve: eradicating poverty, slavery or diseases, or the protection of our environment and species.
We should be optimistic for the future and unleash the creative potential of humanity. But to do that we must be able to adapt, to keep pace with those opportunities if we are to meet the ambition and the grasp them. That goes for charities, for politics and for every organisation in our community.
Charity Futures is part of the transformation for this sector. Its mission on governance, on collaboration, is timely. And as the Minister charged with delivering for some of the most vulnerable, most discriminated against and least well supported people in our society we cannot start this reform too soon.
It is the only way we will manage the reach and personalisation of support we know is both the smart thing and right thing to do. It is the only way we will be able to cover the additional costs a disabled person faces. It is the only way we will achieve equality of access, opportunity and experience, by greater collaboration. And by that I do not mean the state ceases to pay, and the sector picks up the pieces.
Currently the public sector commissions, and we have made some progress to ensure the charity and social sector can be in the running, but we need to be more radical still. We need to start investing in ventures that will deliver the support and interventions on the scale to meet the actual need in our communities.
While preserving and enhancing the empowering and quality assurance that personal payments to an individual guarantees, we need to find a way to enable the combined purchasing power of the purple pound to drive down the costs of technology, of wheelchairs and equipment, and other high expense items, just as collaboration between third sector and state did with digital hearing aids. And we need to make this sustainable though true social enterprise.
To achieve that we must be explicit about the actual need. LEPs, Local Authorities and city leaders must focus on that: how many young people with a learning disability is coming out of education this year? Who needs a workplace, or a job carving?
As well as that focus on what it is we are trying to do, we must train and support local civil servants, business, social entrepreneurs, community organisations and charities to enable the setting up and scaling of such ventures. We need to do this concurrently, double running with existing programmes. We need consistent impact measurements and to invest in sharing good practice. And we need to enable communities to build services from the bottom up, as opposed to the top down imposition of a one size fits all approach.
And we need to get on with it, to learn from our mistakes, but in the community where there is continuity, where learning can take place, not in central, ever in flux, ever changing central government.
As opposed to centralised, limited and tokenistic provision. Community grown, sustainable, able to meet the actual need, and impact focussed. The defining attributes for what you folks do. You are the key to that, and in short order you will see more opportunities to do that. Not least in the areas I am responsible for.
In setting out your mission to make your sector fit for the task ahead, the public and private sectors must do likewise. That journey will not be a “a five-minute wham-bam event” to use Jonathan Smiths expression. But small-scale, incremental, continuous, meaningful. It may therefore escape a trendy label : of adjective plus the word “society” and I hope it does.
Leonard Cheshire in his last interview said it was individuals who change the world. The individual is becoming more powerful, and by default, your sector ever more relevant. That great man also said that “tomorrow needs will be met in tomorrows ways”. They must. They will. Because of you.