Tuesday 24 November 2009

Civil society talks ,Marcus Garvey and hard times ahead...

I have discovered the timing thing here. Being English I turned up well in time for the Opening ceremonies - supposedly at 6 pm. In fact in my seat by 5.30. Mistake. Got started at 6.30. So Monday a late breakfast and I turned up for the opening session at 9.30 though it was supposed to begin at 9am. Spot on!!

And that gave me time to wash out shirts. I have some splendid Brookes Brothers non iron, Oxford cotton ones, which I recommend to any well travelled third sector CEO. Saves on those appalling laundry charges you get in hotels and keeps luggage weight down. So there you go; a handy tip for the CEO ! I should do a book!

The Chair of the CS committee, Phiroshaw Camay (who runs the co-Operative for Research and Education in South Africa) made a strong statement about the role of civil society but warned that we have to have good governance ourselves. No good us railing against corrupt Governments if we have dodgy governance ourselves. Right on. It is a message we need to understand better in our own sector in the UK.

I also liked the quote from Marcus Garvey, a local hero, who said , "If you have no self confidence, you are twice defeated in the battle of life! "

It was good to hear the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth using the term "third sector". He used the analogy of the three legged stool; the private and public sectors and the third sector. You need all three legs for the stool to work. And each leg has to be the same size! So the next time I hear David Cameron trotting out his trite remarks about how he doesn't like the term third sector because it implies we come third behind the other two I shall use this story!

I am helping facilitate the Assembly on the Financial and Economic crisis. The majority of Commonwealth countries are experiencing negative growth and bearing the brunt of the recession in ways which much more seriously affect people than in more developed countries. And these are also countries adversely affected by climate change.

I talked about the work of our Social Investment business and ideas behind establishing a Social Investment Bank and we had an interesting discussion on the scope for some form of Commonwealth Bank! It was interesting that there was a lot of interest in how to use loans to expand NGO work.

One of the delegates from Barbados was strongly supporting the idea. She said they have been trying to get loans from their banking sector to support youth work, but with no joy so they need a social investment bank!

The world is getting more difficult for NGOs. The UK has a proud history of NGO work. Big national charities working internationally. Efficient and with proven track records of success in tackling world poverty and sustainability.

Christian Aid, led by the towering figure of Daleep Mukarjee (ACEVO member), is one of the world's most important anti-poverty campaign body. It is a charity I have supported myself over 30 years. It is set to cut 20% of its UK workforce as part of urgent cost savings prompted by a sharp downturn in donations and the fall in the value of sterling. It will axe up to 90 staff, they employ 800 worldwide with 450 in the UK.

Christian Aid's core funding – from donations and corporate sponsorship, has fallen from a projected £63.8m to £57m. It has been hurt by the depreciation of sterling, which makes buying equipment overseas more expensive.

We know they are not alone in suffering from the recession. Oxfam and CAFOD are also looking at their cost bases. Most ACEVO members, whether in NGOs or working in the UK are bracing themselves for swingeing cuts in state funding whilst the recession continues. 2010 is going to be a tough year for us. although ever an optimist, I do not think we can relax. As I said at our conference, we face a biblical "7 years of famine".

But as Daleep said: "Like other charities, we are ... making every effort to adjust our budgets and prepare for the future. Christian Aid will emerge from the recession stronger ... and will continue to make a significant contribution to ending poverty and social injustice."

That's exactly the message we should be giving. And looking for the opportunities - for example from continuing Public Service reform and from innovation.

But the final point must be that we need reform of Gift Aid. In the light of evidence of problems on giving it is incumbent on Government to ensure that Gift Aid works fully and effectively. We lose millions as a result of unclaimed gift aid and unnecessary bureaucracy. We must demand that Alistair Darling announces changes in the PBR statement on December 9th. Angela, I'm relying on you!

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