After extensive research and consultation over the last two years, Civil Society Futures has concluded that civil society must reinvent itself and break from the status quo in order to tackle urgent social, political and environmental challenges. If it doesn’t do so, then our sector risks becoming irrelevant.
On the face of it this paints a fairly bleak picture, but not so when considered alongside the inspirational vision of a civil society that builds democracy, heals social division and resists environmental degradation through a “national people-power grid energising and universalising social action”.
Some leaders may be wondering how far away we are from this vision. Civil society is not short of examples of projects, campaigns, and services focused on improving society. But this project, and in particular the PACT which lays out a set of shared aspirations for civil society to commit to, offers an important opportunity for leaders to stop and reflect on whether we could be doing things differently; to ask if we could be better.
Doing things ‘better’ is not the same as growing income or doing more with the same resource; it doesn’t mean working ourselves until burn-out sets in. It means taking an honest, open and critical look at the way we operate now and thinking if there is a way to do things differently that will distribute power, increase accountability, build deeper connections and invest in trust.
This will be hard. As the report says “Change in society begins by changing ourselves”. But changing ourselves is one of hardest things we can do. It is uncomfortable, not least because by critically considering our actions and words we may realise that at times, our actions do not reflect our principles and beliefs.
Following the launch of the PACT I hope ACEVO is able to work with partners to support civil society leaders to put the PACT into practice. PACT provides good and bad indicators of power, accountability, connections and trust. Most civil society leaders, myself included will fall somewhere between best practice and worst practice. What training, development and support needs to be put in place to radically shift the dial?
The report envisions “a new culture and generation of leadership which understands power, prepared to share it and shift it”. If you are one of the leaders looking at PACT and thinking that this already sounds like you, then I encourage you to stop and ask some hard questions of yourself.
The Civil Society Futures report also contains a specific challenge for infrastructure bodies like ACEVO which are described as: “…outdated, under-resourced and falling apart and there are too few connective networks to join up civil society locally or nationally”. Ouch: that’s uncomfortable reading.
I believe that ACEVO’s biggest strength is its network but I recognise that we have to be fit for purpose in the age of connectivity. We have to think of better ways of supporting our leaders to connect with each other so that they can collectively meet social, environmental and political challenges.
As the report says “change won’t come from outside – it is in our hands. It requires all of us to re-examine and renew our behaviours, attitudes and practices.” It is time to get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable.