20 April 2021

In this episode we talk to Andy Haldane FAcSS, Chief Economist of the Bank of England about his long-standing interest in civil society, why he thinks it is so important yet undervalued, and what sort of challenges and opportunities the coming years may bring. We also have some analysis and additional insight from CAF Chief Executive Neil Heslop OBE. Our discussions include:

The economy and charitable giving

  • If the UK economy is like a “coiled spring”, will the easing of lockdown herald a bounce-back and will that translate into a rise in charitable giving?
  • Has the pandemic cost some charities their capacity to fundraise and operate? Does this mean they might not be able to tap into any increase in giving?

The role of civil society

  • What differentiates the voluntary sector from either the state or the markets when it comes to the role that it plays in our society?
  • As the landscape for doing good appears to be expanding (with the emergence of mutual aid networks, digital social movements, purpose-led businesses, impact investing etc) do we need to make a renewed case for the unique value of charitable organisations? If so, what is that USP?


  • Many argue that a major challenge facing civil society is that most current systems of measurement do not capture the full value of what charities and other civil society organisations do. What should we be measuring instead?
  • Is this more about better measurement within civil society, or about changing the measures government uses (e.g. GDP) so that they capture a wider notion of value? Or is it both? What would this entail in practice?
  • Are there potential risks in putting more emphasis on measurement? E.g. that any measures become targets and thus skew activity (a la Goodhart’s Law); or that the decision about who gets to set measures introduces problematic power dynamics?

"When it comes to looking at what has caused economies to grow, societies to flourish.. civil society has been every bit as important as the markets and the State"

Andy Haldane

Civil society narratives and influence

  • Andy has previously argued that “despite its crucial role, the social sector goes largely unnoticed in many policy discussions”- is this primarily due to the current lack of appropriate measurement, or are there wider issues when it comes to our understanding and narratives around civil society?
  • How can we get better understanding and clearer narratives about civil society and its role in the minds of policymakers?
  • Are there any practical barriers that are currently limiting the ability of civil society to “have a seat at the table” when it comes to policy discussions? What could we do to overcome these?


  • The pandemic has highlighted more starkly than ever how vital it is to have strong infrastructure in civil society. Where are the greatest weaknesses or biggest gaps in existing infrastructure that we need to address?
  • How do we get government to think of social infrastructure alongside physical infrastructure?
  • What might civil society infrastructure that is fit for the future (rather than based on the structures of the past) look like?


  • Evidence suggest that the charity sector is currently lagging behind in its adaptation to digital technology. What are the key barriers preventing charities from harnessing digital? How can we address these?
  • What more could be done to match the existing supply of skills and capacity around technology in the private sector with the potential demand in civil society. How might this work? What role would the private sector, government and the charity sector need to play in making it happen?
  • Will the current period of enforced digitisation as a consequence of the COVID pandemic lead to more CSOs engaging with the opportunities and challenges of technology?

Civil society in the 4th Industrial Revolution

  • Civil society played a key role in previous periods of rapid social and technological change - by helping people and communities to navigate challenges and opportunities, and by speaking out against any unintended harms of progress. Is civil society in a position to play this vital role in the current Fourth Industrial Revolution? If not, why not? What do we need to do to strengthen civil society capacity in this regard?
  • What are some of the biggest opportunities that emerging technology could bring for civil society?
  • Could widespread automation lead to a blurring of the boundaries between our notions of work, volunteering and leisure? Will we need to adjust our understanding and narratives of civil society accordingly?
  • Should civil society organisations make a case for their value as sources of knowledge and insight about the potential impacts of technology on people and communities, which can help to inform wider policy debates about technological development?

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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