OPINION: Give as well as take from the US third sector

Geraldine Peacock, chief executive of the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association

My mother has her own way of expressing things. To give you a flavour, a cowardly man is a "big girl's blouse" and when something predictable happens, "what goes around, comes around" is her favourite phrase. Staying with her recently, we were on one of her pet subjects, the Second World War and, in particular, the Americans stationed over here who had an eye for attractive British girls like her. Describing their attentions, she said: "They were all over you like a rash."

It's that last phrase that struck a chord with me. The Americans are beginning to be all over the UK voluntary sector "like a rash" or that's how it feels at the moment.

Is this a good thing?

I take as examples GuideStar moving intrepidly forward, a recent conference on the potential for US foundations to invest in well-targeted applications from UK organisations, Jerr Bosche's master class on social entrepreneurship, and the predomination of American examples in the evidence we considered when I sat on the social investment taskforce.

Now don't get me wrong (another of my mother's expressions), there is nothing wrong with this "special relationship". It is flourishing and productive - as long as we remember crucial cultural differences, particularly around attitudes to giving, tax breaks and religion.

But what about two-way traffic? My experience in working with Harvard Business School on the Guide Dogs case study indicated that there is growing interest in what goes on here and that we have a lot to offer. Our distinctive initiatives include our de-institutionalisation of disability services, our inclusive diversity strategies, the growing influence of the voluntary sector in shaping government policy, our increasing role in delivering services, mergers and strategic alliances between voluntary organisations.

And, of course, the Compact.

One final thing I would like to see, which we have not yet inherited from the US, is an organisation which gives focus to social enterprise.

We have nothing like the Initiative for Social Enterprise at Harvard Business School, but I know several plans are afoot and with American Laura Tyson now in pole position at the London Business School, it can only be a matter of time.

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