Charity sector requires a revolution to be fit for the 21st century

London, 12 March 2019 – Delegates at ICSA: The Governance Institute’s Charity Governance Conference on Friday 8 March were treated to a thought-provoking keynote speech by feminist activist Esuantsiwa Jane Goldsmith, Director of Anona Development Consultancy, who called for a revolution in the charity sector and said that business as usual won’t do any more.

Dressed in the suffragette colours of green, white and purple in honour of International Women’s Day, Esuantsiwa gave a philosophical consideration of “We are doing our best; but is it fit for the 21st Century?” Drawing from her vast experience of the Third Sector, Esuantsiwa concluded that the extraordinary challenges of today’s world require the charity sector “to respond with imagination and creativity, transformatory leadership, new structures and new ways of working.”

Issuing a call for boards to ‘Be the change we want to see’, she recalled her own experience of being on a board for the first time: one of only three women board members, the only black person and, aged 28, the youngest person in the room. Creating a good board experience by ensuring that boards are diverse and inclusive; participatory and active; with added value and shared leadership is essential if the sector is to improve Esuantsiwa feels.

A firm believer that the Third Sector is essential for a healthy democracy, by getting people involved and engaged in the world around us, Esuantsiwa feels that it is important for the charity sector to reconsider what is being measured, who is doing the measuring and whose voices get heard. “It’s not us and them. It’s just us. All of us.”

In the context of the globalisation backlash which has led to Brexit, Trump, everyday racism and sexism, and massive planetary issues like global warming, increasing inequality and the diminishing of the world’s resources, she questioned how the Third Sector could respond to political choices about the way we live and how things are run.

“We have inherited a very special space, very precious, essential to democracy and for citizen’s empowerment, and we should guard it with our lives. Expand it, share power and leadership, champion a new generation. Make it fit for the 21st century. To do this we have to be clear about our rootedness, our role, and what we stand for. We need a new narrative, new purposes, different language and fresh concepts.”

Esuantsiwa suggests that the sector needs to change in the following ways:

  • Ditch the notion of ‘charity’ dispensed by the great and the good – and the rich. Become part of an international solidarity movement, of equal partners, led by our values, and by people with lived experience of diversity, poverty and disadvantage
  • Share power. Become powerful by making those around us feel empowered and respected. Seek power with others instead of power over others
  • Diversity literacy. Representative, participatory board members reflecting the societies in which our organisations work
  • Build new relationships – tear down the distinction between donor and beneficiary; we are all beneficiaries of a better world
  • Speak truth to power. Be bold. Reconnect with our roots. Big up our sector and the people who work within it, build on what we have, standing on the shoulders of giants and amazons.

She also believes that a different vision should be created for the board in the following ways:

  • Let’s not call it a board – it should be more of a citizens advisory group of critical friends and activists, user-led, accountable, inclusive; a sounding-board if you like
  • Sounding-boards will be leaders of change playing a strong leadership role in achieving social change by what they do, who they are, what they represent, and their relationship to their organisations
  • New ways of working emphasising teamwork, collaboration, activism; different ways of communicating and documenting (oral, visual and experiential). Self-care, collective care, self-awareness about the impact we have on others
  • Diverse board members connected to activism in the local community, reflecting the societies in which we are living and working. And social justice organisations should pay board members an honorarium – otherwise how can ordinary people afford to serve?
  • ‘Be the change we want to see’ – lead by example, less hierarchical, more responsive; systems and structures that recognise, respect and work alongside the power of communities.

- Ends -

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Notes to Editors:

  1. ICSA: The Governance Institute is the professional body for governance. We have members in all sectors and are required by our Royal Charter to lead ‘effective governance and efficient administration of commerce, industry and public affairs’. With over 125 years’ experience, we work with regulators and policy makers to champion high standards of governance and provide qualifications, training and guidance. Website: 

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