'Ditch your egos and embrace interdependence', Barnardo’s boss tells charity leaders

Traditional voluntary sector collaborations are “past their sell by date” and charity leaders need to ditch their “well-honed egos” to improve partnership working, according to the chief executive of Barnardo’s.

Barnardo’s CEO Javed Khan is urging charities to move away from traditional collaboration models, involving contracting and sub-contracting, KPI (key performance indicator) funding and using donors’ money to compete against each other.

Charities should instead focus on interdependence among each other and across sectors to improve support for beneficiaries, he said.

Khan was speaking at this week’s Charity Times Leadership Conference on how the Covid-19 health crisis had accelerated a need for charities to accept their dependence on each other in service delivery and funding.

“Interdependence is absolutely key both within the sector and across sectors. Traditional styles of partnerships and collaborations are passed their sell by date,” he said.

“We need to move to a new level of working together and we need to get there really quick.

“We need to ditch our well-honed egos and traditional song and dance about who is the biggest beast in the jungle and move to recognise each other’s complementarity as equals in purpose and values.

“Most importantly we need to reach the communities that desperately need our support.”

See, Hear, Respond

As an example of interdependent working, Khan explained how Barnardo’s formed the See Hear, Respond programme, at the start of the pandemic. This saw more than 80 charities and community groups share government funding, instead of competing against each other.

“We went to the DfE (Department for Education) with a radical idea”, he said.

“We offered to build a coalition of maybe ten or so partners to deliver support for hidden vulnerable children, who are suffering during the pandemic. We also committed to distributing at last 70% of the income we get to those partners.

“We got government support for this radical idea. Within three weeks that coalition, which was expected to be ten or so partners, had grown to 80 charities and community organisations, large and small, national and local in all communities across England.”

The See, Hear, Respond partnership closed at the end of March this year and supported more than 100,000 vulnerable children and young people. A total of 74% of income was distributed to partners, said Khan.

“In some cases that was the only income keeping them afloat,” added Khan.

He says that the case for interdependent working was “clear well before the pandemic” due to the large number of charities and overlap of work.

Post-Covid he calls on charities to “seize opportunities for interdependent working. That will help us reach more of the vulnerable people who need us, when they need us and deliver an even better service”.

This interdependence “benefits all partners, small, large, local and national charities and government too”.

Large charities can improve local their reach and small charities can improve their organisation, he added.

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