Thirty years in the third sector – how the environment has changed

Jonny kinross doctorate

Jonny Kinross reflects on the changes he has seen in the sector

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17th August 2018 by TFN Guest 1 Comment

Being at your own honorary doctorate ceremony is a bit like how I imagine it would be like to attend your own funeral! Having professional and personal journey summarised was for me emotionally overwhelming.

I could almost feel the presence of the young people I supported leaving care, or offered a job to at MY Adventure, or shared the wilderness with at Venture Scotland, or the families I tried so desperately to keep together at Braendam Family House. 

I found myself reflecting on a career that went from working within a disability charity as a carer to the public sector as a social worker to the private sector and into the realm of social entrepreneurship. A journey not too dissimilar to the third sector itself in many ways in how it has developed rightly or wrongly over the last 30 years.

The third sector has proven its incredible capacity to be resilient, to adapt, to be innovative, and to fight the corner of the most vulnerable and disenfranchised

My paid and volunteering work has seen changes at every level of society – from gender and sexual orientation politics to how we distribute power to communities and how we organise services and deliver support. I saw power being devolved to the first Scottish Government in hundreds of years, Europe’s largest government outside of a state (Strathclyde Regional Council) being reorganised into smaller authorities, community care leading to the closure of large institutions, austerity measures and our poorest pay for the mistakes made by an unregulated financial sector, welfare being reorganised into more punitive benefits, a massive increase in foodbanks, in-work poverty and increased inequality.

I have also seen the third sector increase its presence in the delivery of services formerly the sole preserve of the public sector. Coupled with this was the increased involvement of the private sector in delivering public services, financing our school buildings and our hospitals.

I am not inclined to resist change or for that matter to descend into a Monty Python-esque – you don’t know how lucky (or unlucky) you are mentality. Rather I find myself proudly looking upon, and working deep within, less of an easily defined sector than ever before. I feel part of a movement which has withstood, responded to and tried to influence huge political, social, economic, environmental and technological changes. A movement which has sought equality and collaboration over trickle down, mutual support over competition, creativity and social capital over inefficiency and waste, and a cross-sector vision for creating better life chances. A movement, in my view, beautifully enshrined in the Social Enterprise Code that embraces commercially driven income generation as a means of engagement, delivery, empowerment and resourcing – yet provides trust, security and accountability to communities. 

We have all observed the impact of globalisation, environmental, political and social change on a scale and impact few of us could have predicted. When I consider how it has impacted on the vulnerable, homeless and isolated, with whom I work with at the Grassmarket Community Project, I observe in myself a sadness, anger and a frustration that as a society we are still continuing to fail people. Alongside this, I experience a profound sense of hope and optimism when I look at how my peers, my team and the third sector, as part of a wider movement, is engaging with the widest range of stakeholders, investors, customers and volunteers.

The third sector has proven its incredible capacity to be resilient, to adapt, to be innovative, and to fight the corner of the most vulnerable and disenfranchised. This is because so many of us within it are motivated by personal experience of injustice, inequality or adversity. Or, perhaps, we have simply listened to the voices of communities, families and individuals and journeyed alongside them in solidarity – believing a better world for them is achievable. More and more people recognise that we can create a better and safer world for all of us. 

Jonny Kinross is chief executive of the Grassmarket Community Project, Scottish Social Enterprise of the Year 2017. Jonny was recently awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Edinburgh.

16th March 2019 by David Jackson

An interesting article.The Third Sector has come a long way over the last 30 years and has indeed added to the quality of life for many within our communities. However, I note in your statement SE's "embrace commercially driven income generation as a means of engagement, delivery, empowerment and resourcing." However, the model has yet to prove itself as a self-funding entity.The word "profit" is often despised, many, preferring to use the term "surplus", which appeals to their political beliefs. Of those who trade, what proportion are actually making a "surplus" remaining happy to justify their reliance on tax-payers funding by the convenience of "that's not what we're about". Yes, the private sector to requires funding but it is mainly found through loans which are paid back with interest making the incentive for success and "sustainability" all the greater, bettering all of society, and indeed SE's.For 30 years the sector has been proclaiming an aim to become a "sustainable", which in anyone's definition (outside of the hard-core left), is one of self-reliance.We remain as far away from "sustainability" as we were a generation ago. Without the profits earned and taxes paid by society, there would be no trace that SE's have been here. Self-generated "surplus" is what keeps an entity of any description afloat.There are a great many within a growing system making an excellent living through collective envy known as "Social Justice". Realistically, how long do we have to suck this up before we proclaim it for what it is - an extension of publicly funded community care requiring a multitude of grants and government funding just to keep the lights on?