I attended the Pro Bono Economics lecture by Andy Haldane, its co-founder and chief economist at the Bank of England. He issued a rallying cry to the third sector to be prepared for the "fourth industrial revolution" over the next decade and beyond, a technological wave that will bring much change to our society, with artificial intelligence likely to lead to a significant shift in the job market and provide opportunities and inequalities.
His statistics suggest that the value of the sector is grossly underrepresented by existing metrics, particularly the focus on economic value without an overall measurement of social value or volunteering. In his words, "what cannot be easily measured risks being invisible" when policy-makers, funders and the public are increasingly looking for statistics to support their decisions.
He said measurement should also allow the sector to be more productive, and this focus on productivity should naturally lead the sector towards technology – to improve fundraising through platforms and digital payments; to improve services using data analytics, digital tools or social media; and to improve access to volunteers. This technology could bring considerable benefits to the sector at a time when social upheaval is likely to be significant.
But technological change also has side-effects. Haldane spoke of the falls in poverty and inequality between countries, in stark contrast to rising inequality within countries and a corresponding reduction in social cohesion. This might be only the start as artificial intelligence places more jobs and incomes at risk.
Haldane outlined his vision for this "new world of work", in which people work fewer hours a week on average and have longer working lives, with "human" skills such as social and interpersonal the most valued. This new world brings opportunities for the third sector to access a larger pool of volunteers, keen to develop their social skills and to engage in activity with purpose. His estimate of this "resource endowment" was that it would lead to a doubling of volunteering hours by 2050. He added that the policy-makers should be encouraging this shift towards volunteering through programmes in schools or initiatives such as the Young Scots Card or Time Credits.
What should the sector do in response? Haldane finished with a mini-manifesto for the third sector; a call to arms to build a new framework for measurement, a new partnership with technology and a new framework for civil service.
It’s clear that we are going through a period of significant disruption, and it struck me that in such times it is up to the sector to work together, to collaborate and hold the interests of the beneficiaries at the heart of all we do.