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  • 31 Jul 2018

How can we better use civil society’s power to create change?

Chloe Hardy, Director of Policy and Communications, Shelia McKechnie Foundation

The Sheila McKechnie Foundation’s Social Power report urges civil society to be bolder, braver and more united in pursuit of social change. As well as tools for individuals, such as the Twelve Habits of Successful Change-Makers, the report makes recommendations for decision-makers.

First and foremost are civil society leaders themselves. We urge them to be mission-led, inclusive and allies, to work to the highest ethical standards and to be bold in speaking up for what’s right. Not an easy set of standards to live by. For many, it means working out how to build social change into their organisational ‘bones’. Yet it’s never been more urgent to push for a transformation.

The UN Special Rapporteur expressed concern about closing civic spaces in the UK. Organisations are feeling the weight of the Lobbying Act and so-called ‘gagging clauses’ on government funding. Public support has kept civil society a strong player in our political debate for decades, but trust in all kinds of institutions is fraying and charities are no longer automatically the ‘good guys’. Of course we must make the case for a strong civil society to government, but it’s also crucial we build a more mature relationship with the public. We need to be valued for all we do, not just the universally popular stuff – for demanding better rights for asylum seekers as well as raising money for sick children.

We have a crucial role to play in a healthy democracy and it’s our duty to defend that role. By amplifying people’s voices and experiences, we try to make sure that policies, attitudes and services reflect the realities of their lives. Without civil society, there is a real danger that only the experiences of businesses, politicians and officials will inform the debate.

Civil society has been reflecting on its own position – our own Social Change Project and the Civil Society Futures inquiry examine different aspects. A new Secretary of State is overseeing the Office for Civil Society and a fresh strategy is imminent. Its consultation received over a thousand responses, yet at the moment it is hard to detect a strong shared story for our sector. We cannot wait for inquiries to report, strategies to be published or policies to be improved. The change needs to begin with us and it needs to be persuasive. So, please, take a look at our recommendations for sector leaders (Chapter 6) today and ask how your organisation can better use its social power.

For the latest on the Social Change Project, sign up for the Sheila McKechnie Foundation newsletter, or email Chloe Hardy.

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