3 September 2019

In episode 55, we talk to Julia Unwin CBE, Chair of the Independent Inquiry into Civil Society Futures, former CEO of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust and prolific thinker and writer on issues affecting civil society. As part of a wide-ranging conversation, we discuss:

  • What is the Civil Society Futures Inquiry & how did it come about?
  • What is the PACT framework and how is it intended to guide civil society orgs in the future?
  • There is a lot of interest at present in ‘place-based’ approaches. Why is this, and what is the power of place?
  • We are seeing the emergence of new organisational models within civil society, including many that look less like traditional hierarchies and more like networks. What opportunities and challenges might this bring?
  • We are also seeing new approaches such as participatory grantmaking, which seek to shift power as well as money towards recipients, gain traction? Will this be a big trend in coming years?
  • Do charities and funders need to be more transparent? If so, why and about what? Who does it benefit?
  • Is declining trust is an issue for civil society? If so, is this merely part of a wider decline in trust in traditional institutions, or do charities and CSOs face particular challenges? How can we reverse this trend?
  • What is the core role of philanthropy within society which differentiates it from either state or market provision?
  • What role can philanthropy and voluntary action play in building bridging social capital, bringing diverse communities together or fostering wider civic engagement? Does this value of charitable giving and volunteering as an activity rather than simply the outcomes it produces need to be a more prominent part of the narrative about its importance to society?
  • What do you make of criticisms that since philanthropy is to some extent a product of structural inequality, it can never truly be part of the solution? Do you think some donors and funders recognise the challenges and are genuinely pursuing structural change?
  • A challenge like the global climate crisis raises difficult questions about whether a pragmatic approach of working with existing systems can ever be enough; or whether we need to embrace more radical, transformative change efforts. Do you think philanthropy is well-suited to the latter?
  • The freedom that philanthropy and civil society have to run counter to the status quo or the policies and public opinion of a particular time has been a key part of driving historic social change. How do we preserve this freedom, whilst also answering concerns that unchecked philanthropic power could end up being anti-democratic?
  • Has the policy focus in the UK over the last 20 years on the idea of charities as delivery agents for public services resulted in the importance of the sector’s campaigning role being downplayed? Has this contributed to some of the challenges we now see such as the Lobbying Act and the use of advocacy clauses in grant contracts? How do we rebalance things, and ensure that civil society is able to play its role in speaking necessary truth to power?

About the Giving Thought podcast

The Giving Thought podcast is an exploration of trends in global philanthropy and civil society. Launched in 2017 it is recognised as an insightful and influential source of philanthropic debate.  Rhodri Davies director of our Giving Thought Think Tank hosts the podcast, discussing contemporary issues and interviewing sector experts. Episodes are also available free on iTunes and Libsyn.

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Rhodri Davies

Rhodri Davies

Head of Policy

Rhodri leads Giving Thought, our in-house think tank focusing on current and future issues affecting philanthropy and civil society. Rhodri has spent nearly a decade specialising in public policy around philanthropy and the work of charities, and has researched, written and presented on a wide range of topics. He has a first-class degree in Mathematics and Philosophy from the University of Oxford.   Read more about Rhodri



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