If we care about reviving our dented democracy, rebuilding our social fabric, talking about and confronting racism and enabling us to address the great challenges of climate change and environmental degradation, then Civil Society Futures is about providing the evidence base, the intellectual underpinning and foundations for how we all – as individual citizens who live, work and play in places and communities (and who are also participants in organisations and institutions) – need to behave.
Crucially Civil Society Futures was not, as it is sometimes described, an inquiry into the future for civil society. It was established as an inquiry into the future of civil society. It was about investigating, questioning, and understanding the major forces at play in driving changes in the ecosystem of which civil society is a part.
It was about listening and reflecting, about analysing and futuring, and doing so at a time when the tectonic plates of the ecosystem are moving at a pace and volatility as never before.
And it was about shining a light onto the depth, intensity, vitality and the cruciality of civil society to the wider ecosystem that it, along with the state and the markets, are part of.
The thoughtful, reflective and encouraging conversations, blogs and commentaries that have followed the publication/launch of Civil Society Futures fill me with optimism that we might be able to reach the critical mass of people committed to really make a power shift happen.
There can be no doubt that, amidst all the challenges facing us as a society, a movement for change is not only necessary but also timely. First the English Revolution (1640-1660), next the Industrial Revolution and now the Civil Society Revolution?
As Julia Unwin (the Chair of Civil Society Futures) wrote in this blog at the start of the inquiry:
“This is not a time to withdraw into nostalgia about the past, nor to simply do what we’ve always done, and get what we have always got. It is the time to examine our powers of connection and our capacity for association. To examine our accountabilities, and our relationship with others, and forge a new future, just as surely as our predecessors did before. We need to ask some fundamental questions about who we are, what we stand for and where we are going.”
Surely this is the time to be building a movement for change?
A movement that builds on and connects the networks, coalitions and collaborations (the social infrastructure) necessary to create a great power shift; enable an accountability revolution; build deeper closer connections; and re-establish meaningful and lasting trust.
A movement that connects public sector radicals grappling with these changes (highlighted so well in The Community Paradigm from NLGN) with the hundreds of change-makers from across the civil, enterprise, and business communities that gathered together under the flag of Losing Control 2019 a few weeks ago.
We know that across the country our communities want change, they know that the “system is broken”, they want to take back control and gain power and control over their futures.
We know that across the country, within our communities, there are entrepreneurial people who are stepping up to these challenges as Paul Taylor highlighted in his recent blog:
“The modern social entrepreneurs aren’t waiting for permission from regulators or consensus from their industry body. They aren’t bothered about awards or being seen at industry events. They never look at benchmarking. Many of them aren’t even paid or employed in the social sector.
They know that the way we have become organised is dysfunctional – and they are forging ahead with relationships first and services last. They are working with communities as equals rather than as professionals.
They might not know what works yet but they are clear about one thing: not returning down a path to paternalism and disempowerment.
If you’re reading this then (I suspect) you are already part of the movement of eco(system)-warriors making change happen in your community. So, wherever you are in this ecosystem– citizen, civil society, local, or national state, business – share your story of the change you’re making with us all using #civilsocietyfutures and connect with a growing movement of change-makers!
David Warner is a Social Change & Strategic Philanthropy advisor and the former director London Funders, and is supporting Civil Society Futures on this phase of its work.