Tom Levitt discusses his new book based on research into partnerships emerging between business, government and the third sector.
Fifteen years ago cross sector partnerships were small, intermittent and superficial – where they existed. Yet there was a desire, certainly amongst public and third sectors working in policy areas like disability or social care, to recognise that co-working had value and would benefit from ‘ground rules’. A memorandum of understanding, the ‘1998 Compact’, has evolved and spread over the years; Royal National Institute for the Deaf’s £95 million contract to roll out UK National Health Service digital hearing aids from 1999 helped the credibility of partnerships and the development of appropriate skills.
Back in those days business did not see third sector bodies as having the maturity, capacity or size to be meaningful partners – even if a purpose emerged. And yet, out in developing countries it was clear to some in industry that workforce life expectancy could be enhanced by canny investment in the civil fabric of the communities from which they came.
Business faced other problems too. Whilst global warming generated regulatory burdens, progressive entrepreneurs realised that money could be saved by taking on the changing climate; there was a business case for going green beyond the demands of legal compliance. The same could be true of community engagement, where compliance was not an issue. Another aspect was reputation: as the global financial crisis highlighted, the business case for being clean, transparent and engaged started to be discussed more widely.
Throughout the first decade of this century the influence of Britain’s charities grew through greater professionalism, capacity and reach. Plans for Serco and Turning Point to run a prison together emerged, Greenpeace discovered the power of making common cause with private sector bodies and Marks & Spencer brought a new meaning to the phrase ‘Oxfam shop’. As Coalition funding for local charities crashed even more rapidly than it had grown under Labour thousands of such bodies urgently began to seek reliable and diverse forms of funding elsewhere.
In the future, we are told, ‘we are all in this together’ and the UK Government initiative ‘Big Society’ will be built on social action, localism, volunteering and, yes, partnerships.
Partners for Good is an exploration of these interweaving trends, consideration of the issues and thoughts on future directions of cross sector collaboration, which is here to stay. It is written by someone who has lived and breathed the changes of the last 15 years from inside both Government and the third sector, and the book ‘should be at the top of the reading list for every decision maker in every sector’ according to a review on the Guardian’s website.
Partners for Good: Business, Government and the Third Sector by Tom Levitt is available now from Gower