Rosamund McCarthy: Charity leaders should move outside their comfort zones

They should try to see things from new perspectives by doing things they wouldn't normally do, says our columnist

Rosamund McCarthy
Rosamund McCarthy

Charity begins at home. I have been pondering what this means. Does it mean that we should love those in close proximity to us before embarking on a grand project, or that small and local is better than large and national?

For me, the most important word in the phrase is not 'charity' but 'home'. Home means not only bricks and mortar, but also a psychological and a philanthropic home.

We all have natural boundaries to our charitable impulses. These can change over time and are often multi-layered, but our primary charitable home may be local, national or international.

Sector leaders often fail to acknowledge that their championing of large, national charities or small, local ones arises not from objective public policy truths, but from their own psychological home. For example, Sir Stephen Bubb, chief executive of Acevo, promotes larger charities that provide services to the state, whereas Kevin Curley, the chief executive of Navca, and Debra Allcock Tyler, chief executive of the Directory of Social Change, are the passionate voices of the small and local. Sir Stuart Etherington of the NCVO seeks to encompass both, but nonetheless operates on a national platform.

I appreciate that there are genuine economic and political issues at stake and that sector leaders represent different interests. However, a part of me wants our leaders to acknowledge that the promotion of local or national concerns often happens not because they are objectively better or worse, but because for them this is where charity intuitively begins.

However, if charity begins at home, then it should also venture into foreign lands. It is always good to experiment, otherwise our home can become a comfort zone, rather than a place of curiosity and exploration.

This is why I'd like to send all the sector leaders off for six months. I'd send Bubb to run a community development project and Allcock Tyler to the Cabinet Office to oversee a payment-by-results contract process that is blind as to the providers. I'd then send Curley to oversee a centralised charity contract running a prison and Etherington back to being a social worker, with a scout group to run in his spare time. And while we are on the subject, it would do no harm for Nick Hurd, the Minister for Civil Society, to spend a week in a tent at St Paul's Cathedral.

Our sector leaders need to be challenged to see things upside down and inside out, and to be forced to confront different kinds of homes. Sometimes our charitable views are the equivalent of slouching on the couch.

It may be that after six months exploring an alien land, our sector leaders would be even more committed to their existing public policy positions. But it could be that a creative process of exploration would lead to subtle shifts and new insights. And unless we leave home, we will never have the joy of returning.

Rosamund McCarthy writes in a personal capacity.

Rosamund McCarthy is a partner in law firm Bates Wells & Braithwaite.

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