The third sector needs a 'revolution' to be fit for 21st century, activist warns

Written by Lauren Weymouth
13/03/19

There must be a revolution in the charity sector to ensure it is fit for the 21st Century, feminist activist Esuantsiwa Jane Goldsmith has said.

Speaking at ICSA: The Governance Institute’s annual Charity Governance Conference on Friday 8 March, Goldsmith, who is the director of Anona Development Consultancy, claimed “business as usual won’t do anymore”.

“We are doing our best; but is it fit for the 21st Century?” she told delegates, calling for boards to “be the change we want to see”.

Goldsmith urged boards to be diverse and more inclusive, as well as participatory and active. She said added value and shared leadership are also essential is the sector is to improve.

She added that in order to meet the challenges of the 21st Century, the sector must “respond with imagination and creativity, transformatory leadership, new structures and new ways of working”.

“We have inherited a very special space, very precious, essential to democracy and for citizen’s empowerment, and we should guard it with our lives. Expand it, share power and leadership, champion a new generation. Make it fit for the 21st Century. To do this, we have to be clear about our rootedness, our role, and what we stand for. We need a new narrative, new purposes, different language and fresh concepts.”

She suggested the sector needs to change in the following ways:

Ditch the notion of ‘charity’ dispensed by the great and the good – and the rich
Become part of an international solidarity movement, of equal partners, led by our values, and by people with lived experience of diversity, poverty and disadvantage.

Share power
Become powerful by making those around us feel empowered and respected. Seek power with others instead of power over others.

Diversity literacy
Representative, participatory board members reflecting the societies in which our organisations work.

Build new relationships
Tear down the distinction between donor and beneficiary; we are all beneficiaries of a better world.

Speak truth to power
Be bold. Reconnect with our roots. Big up our sector and the people who work within it, build on what we have, standing on the shoulders of giants and amazons.

She also claimed a different vision should be created for the board, which would include not calling it 'a board'.

"It should be more of a citizens advisory group of critical friends and activists, user-led, accountable, inclusive; a sounding-board if you like," she said.

She added that sounding-boards will be 'leaders of change', playing a strong leadership role in achieving social change by what they do, who they are, what they represent, and their relationship to their organisations.

Furthermore, Goldsmith said there should be new ways of working, such as emphasising teamwork, collaboration and activism. This would incorporate self-care, collective care and self-awareness about the impact we have on others.

Diverse board members is also essential to building better boards, she said, which should be "connected to activism in the local community, reflecting the societies in which we are living and working."

"Social justice organisations should pay board members an honorarium – otherwise how can ordinary people afford to serve?" she added.

Finally, she stressed boards must "lead by example", which means being less hierarchical and more responsive, with systems and structures that recognise, respect and work alongside the power of communities.



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