I love New Year. A chance to make lots of new promises to be a better and improved person. I have been told that, apparently, resolving to buy myself one new handbag a month is not an appropriate resolution so have settled instead for another gym membership (this time one that I intend to use because I have also been told that buying a gym membership in January and only going once in September is, apparently, a very expensive way to do one step class).
More importantly two resolutions that might actually matter.
1) To blog weekly and not require my team to beat me over head to write something
2) To champion the third sector as a significant force for change in children’s lives
In my defence 1 has sometimes not happened because I have been busy doing 2.
Some of you have commented on the recent Third Sector debate that I took part in which looked at whether, given the recession, the sector should be more professional (implicit in this that we should be more like corporate institutions like, say, banks).
This reminded me of a recent ceremony I attended at a top rated London business school where the Dean expressed his pleasure that the students who were studying for their Masters in Voluntary Sector management had so many opportunities to learn about ‘real life’ (seriously that is what he said) from fellow post graduates undertaking study in banking, finance and corporate administration who, after all, have the expertise and business skills that charities so desperately need (seriously he said that too!).
It is also true that some charities could do with say, more support with commercial skills or with finance and legal matters. But, hey, is that not true of some corporate and public sector bodies too (or did I misunderstand the stories that dominated the press in 2009?).
The third sector is professional. We are complicit sometimes in defining professional in terms that private, and sometimes public sector, bodies value e.g. slick branding; reducing costs; increasing profit; efficiencies, market domination, staff with letters after their name etc. Not that these things do not matter to charities (indeed as anyone who has run a successful charity on a shoe string and no cash flow knows points 2 and 3 are core skills for any successful charity CEO). But when we define professionalism it should be in terms of our outcomes for our beneficiaries. It should be about our effectiveness and our values.
The Communication Trust's membership is full of organisations bursting with clever, able professionals delivering excellent services to some of the most vulnerable children and young people in society. Trust members employ some of the most qualified and experienced speech and language therapists and specialist teachers in the country (putting to rest another common misconception that the third sector has limited expertise – a regular challenge from public sector unions in recent months).
Trust members drove the campaigning that led to the Bercow Review and the Better Communication Action Plan. The third sector can lobby for improved public sector services and for more resources to flow to local provision in a way that front line public sector staff will always be challenged to (as one PCT employed SLT told me recently – “we know that the provision is not good enough post-11 but if we say so we criticise our employer but if you say it they might not cut posts”).
Trust members run outstanding (OFSTED says so) non maintained special schools. Thousands of parents get their first, and sometimes only, advice, information and support from voluntary organisations.
And, for so many children with the most severe and complex speech, language and communication needs it is often Trust members who provide the vital lifeline when working through the maze of public sector provision. This often draws on the experiences and expertise of, often voluntary and ‘unqualified’, parents who have been there themselves (which makes a lie of the common myth that professional only means paid staff and that expert can only mean a degree).
Are the third sector better than corporate providers? Yes sometimes. Are we better than public sector provision? Yes sometimes. Could we learn from both the corporate and public sector? Yes and we should strive to do so.
Celebrating the strengths, expertise and professionalism of the third sector should not be seen as putting down corporate and public sector colleagues. No sector, private, public or third, has the monopoly on good work or effective outcomes and it will take collaboration to get the best possible results for children and their families.
I believe that the third sector has something special to give so for 2010 I resolve to be the sector’s biggest cheerleader.
Something slightly easier to do than a weekly trip to the gym.