Voluntary sector needs a revolution to be fit for the 21st century, governance expert warns

The world has changed since the post-colonial era in which many of the major charities were founded, says the consultant Esuantsiwa Jane Goldsmith

Esuantsiwa Jane Goldsmith
Esuantsiwa Jane Goldsmith

The idea of "charity" should be replaced with a more modern international solidarity movement and charity boards should be overhauled in favour of more inclusive models of governance, delegates at a governance conference have heard.

Esuantsiwa Jane Goldsmith, director of the Anona Development Consultancy, which works with voluntary organisations, told the ICSA governance institute’s charity governance conference on Friday that the charity sector required a revolution to be fit for the 21st century.

She said that the idea of "charity" should be ditched in favour of an international solidarity movement "of equal partners, led by our values and by people with lived experience of diversity, poverty and disadvantage".

This includes having more diverse leadership, sharing power with communities, removing "the distinction between donor and beneficiary" and speaking truth to power, according to Goldsmith.

"The world we live in now is very different from the post-colonial one in which many of the major charities were founded," she said.

"The old narratives are becoming harder to sustain. The third sector has to evolve, as it always has done, to take account of the new circumstances."

To achieve these goals, the old ideas of governance should be replaced with new, more inclusive ways of working, Goldsmith said.

This meant changing the idea of a board to a "sounding board", which would be an advisory group of critical friends of the charity, and which Goldsmith said would be more user-led, accountable and inclusive.

These sounding boards would play a strong leadership role in achieving social change, be more inclusive of the communities they represent, focus more on teamwork, collaboration and activism, and be less hierarchical than traditional boards.

Trustees should also be paid to allow ordinary people to be able to afford to serve in charities, Goldsmith said.

"Whatever sector we are in, our boards could look like this, adopt these goals and principles," she said.

"We can be the change we want to see: solidarity, equality and social justice, among equal partners, in the struggle to achieve a better world."

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