Civil Society is Also in the UK Air

By coincidence we are in the UK during their general election.  There is lots of talk about the possibility of a 'hung' Parliament so all Canadians at the Skoll World Forum on Social Enterprise are being asked what it is like to have a minority government.  Aside from our instant 'expertise' on minority governments, the 'Brits' don't need advice from Canadians – at least as far as issues affecting the 'third' sector.  This is the popular expression for what is variously referred to as the social, civic, charitable, voluntary or that unfortunate term non profit sector.  I cringe even as I type that last phrase!  Imagine a nurse referring to himself as a non- doctor.  Or a painter referring to herself as a non- sculptor. Being defined by what we are not instead of what we are and what we stand for, puts us psychologically off balance.

Issues affecting the third sector are an integral part of the UK election campaign.  Each party, Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrats have released a manifesto which contains campaign promises to strengthen the sector.  The manifestos of all parties demonstrate an understanding of issues,
concerns and solutions affecting civil society.  How marvelous!

Labour under Prime Minister Gordon Brown declares its support for an independent voluntary and community sector, proposes to create a social investment bank, more social enterprise hubs in every community and to pioneer social impact bonds (the subject of my last post).  The
led by David Cameron, envisage a thriving third sector at the
heart of their plans for a 'big society'.  This includes a 'big society bank ' similar to Brown's social investment bank, to support investment in social enterprise. The Liberal Democrats under Nick Clegg, who would hold the balance of power in a 'hung' parliament, believe that cooperatives and social enterprises have a central role to play in creating a mixed economy and attracting innovative and imaginative ideas to meet local needs.

Civil sector issues are in the air in the UK and not just because of political leadership.  It also results from an active, intentional and long term strategy by the third sector to engage with politicians of all stripes, to enlist business and corporate leadership and to develop working partnerships across public, private and social sectors.  One of the leading civic groups is the Social Enterprise Coalition which has worked hard to educate all political parties.  At this early stage in the campaign one could imagine the sector's interests in the UK being addressed regardless of election outcome.

Granted the UK is in more desperate economic circumstances – their level of debt is higher than Greece and the per capita debt rose over a 1000 pounds during the past two years of the recession.  They have to do things differently.  To their credit our counterparts in the UK saw the writing on the wall and mobilized.  They began to coalesce, expand their capacity to innovate and explore new models and sources of funding. The results of their work are reflected in the current election. 

I can't think of a recent provincial and federal election campaign where strengthening our capacity to take care of each other has been central to the campaign
platforms of any party. The UK has provided an inspirational challenge to us.  The economic writing is on the wall in Canada too.  We must also rise to the occasion.

Otherwise we risk remaining a non entity, when the next election is called.  More important the resilience of Canadians to care for each other will weaken.  Come on Canada.  We can do more than win hockey games, another topic of discussion at Skoll.  We can make 'taking care' a key issue in the next election.

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