After “the Year of Reviews,” what might 2019 bring for London’s Civil Society?

  • Civil Society Strategy: Building a Future that Works for Everyone (Cabinet Office)
  • Civil Society Futures (independent commission, chaired by Julia Unwin)
  • Charity Commission - Statement of Strategic Intent, 2018-23
  • More, Better, Together: A Strategic Review of Giving in London (and related philanthropy strategic reviews)
  • Place based Giving Schemes – Funding, engaging and creating stronger communities (DCMS) 

Recipients of London Funders’ weekly “Funder Five on a Friday” during 2018, not to mention the invaluable monthly e-bulletins of news, events and publications may well have struggled to keep up with the number of reviews, strategies and various commissions’ findings on the future of civil society. Whilst the agonisingly-protracted divorce of Brexit put other policy implementation on hold, the ensuing vacuum was filled by a volume of research reports which seemed to prove that Parkinson’s Law (The Economist, 1955) is alive and well.  

Closer reading of many of these reviews, however, should allay any notion that they are merely the products of “work expanding to fill the time available”. Once we have some resolution on the issue of Brexit, there is a wealth of ideas, opportunities and challenges for funders to act upon.  If 2017/2018 was a period of intense self-reflection and analysis, 2019/20 may well see the beginnings of a new future for civil society; one underpinned by a social contract to update the settlement forged in the aftermath of the Second World War, in part to address Sir William Beveridge’s “5 Giant Evils” of squalor, ignorance, idleness, want, and disease.  Indeed, in its ongoing Review of Public Services and Communities, the RSA calls for the redefinition of Britain’s new Giants as inequality, disempowerment, isolation, intolerance and climate change. It notes also that, just as in 1948 Beveridge believed in the importance of voluntary action complementing social security, seventy years later a new Civil Society Strategy is arguing that “a strong partnership of government, business, finance, and communities will help society rise to the enormous opportunities of our times”.

The recent reviews broadly define c21st civil society not by organisational form, nor as a particular sector (more familiar to Beveridge), but in terms of objective (what it is for) and control (who is in charge). “Civil society refers to all individuals and organisations, when undertaking activities with the primary purpose of delivering social value, independent of state control.” (Civil Society Strategy, p19).  Moreover, the prominence given to business in these assessments of civil society’s future would not have been entertained even just a few years ago. Changed perceptions of the role and potential of the private sector – from both inside and outside companies - is indicative of how boundaries between the private, pubic and voluntary sectors have become increasingly porous, and how so many of today’s social evils demand not just partnership working, but cross-sector solutions.

It is a message echoed by the independent commission Civil Society Futures which argues that civil society is “the space where people come together to gain understanding, learn about difference and engage with systems of power. It is in these spaces where civil society as the good society meets new forms of politics, economics and public policy and ultimately translates into better forms of democracy.”  

Civil Society Futures’ underpinning research report, Civil Society in England: Its current state and future opportunity contains a compelling and daunting analysis of the trends shaping our future, ranging from the fracturing of society and irreversible environmental damage, to transformational political and economic restructuring; from growing personal precarity, to increasing geo-political uncertainty and rising nationalism.  However, the Commission remains sanguine in the belief, quoted by a contemporary of Beveridge, Winston Churchill, in the House of Commons in 1947 “that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time . . .” and that a healthy civil society is key to improving on democracy’s least worst status.


From: Civil Society Strategy – Building a Future that works for everyone

London Funders’ Big Network day on 14th February 2019 is an opportunity to create space for people across the capital to review these big issues facing our city; how a modern civil society can forge the kind of partnerships necessary to realise the city’s full potential by creating the social value which stems from the kinds of civic agency, participatory democracy, cooperative practices and forms of self-determination showcased in Civil Society Futures.


From: Civil Society in England – Its current state and future opportunity  

London Funders will be producing a digest of the recent civil society reviews, focusing primarily on the following “Big Five”:  

The purpose of the review of reviews is to:

  • Provide a distillation of the most important messages for London Funders’ membership and the unique role the organisation has to play as a convenor, connector, contributor and collaborator
  • Offer a digestible summary of the main reviews’ most relevant messages/thinking – highlighting consensus and priorities, but also any notable differences of emphasis/ interpretation
  • Focus on the growing confluences between the sectors and different resources for investing in a vibrant and sustainable civil society
  • Assess the relevance and resonance between the Review’s analyses and the current London Funders’ strategic focus and priorities – what might London Funders do more of and/or differently in response to the messages from the Big Five, and how do its members need to think about the future of their funding programmes? 

To register to attend the Big Network Day, 2019, please contact Geraldine Tovey