Leading or driven? Transforming the third sector…from the top

The signs are increasingly clear. Key (and especially national) players are positioning themselves to secure a transformative role in the third sector, focusing on the large structural changes that are needed in order to ‘marketise’ the sector.

Third Sector, for example, has just carried a fascinating piece about the Adventure Capital Fund’s bid to manage the government’s proposed ‘wholesale’ social investment bank. ACF (see earlier post) has launched a new company, Social Investment Business, as the brand for all ACF and Futurebuilders funds. ACF already administers over £400m and says it plans to be a billion-pound plus voluntary sector investor. Charity Bank and Triodos have claimed that ACF’s sustainability is threatened by this rapid growth.

We are now also beginning to see the growth of genuinely large-scale third sector partnersips as a means of achieving scale and securing contracts. The same Third Sector article notes that a newly established third sector consortium — Third Sector Consortia Management — is bidding for almost £32m of work from the DWP Future Jobs Fund.

The consortia — a social enterprise set up only this month — is the brain-child of Ian Wrigglesworth, enterprise director at Futurebuilders England. It already has 225 members and is inviting more (prospective members are invited to email Ian Charlesworth <ian dot charlesworth at futurebuilders hyphen england dot org dot uk> or ring 020 7842 7704).

Perhaps the Cabinet Office/OTS had this in mind when it published Working in a consortium: A guide for third sector organisations involved in public service delivery (Dec 2008)

These trends confirm what has been evident for a long time: that in future ‘investment’ will be the dominant funding model, and contracting/commissionning the dominant service model.

Is this a marketplace you are ready for? Is the sector leading or being driven by transformation? One thing we do know: demand for business advice/support is spiralling — especially from voluntary organisations trying to modify their business models or restructure operations to make them more ‘market ready’.

While having long argued that social enterprises need to operate as effectively in the marketplace as they can, is anyone else beginning to wonder whether the market is or should be the dominant economic and service model for the whole of the third sector?

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