Rising to meet the storm that’s to come…
I suspect the current and future state of our economy has rarely been as central to charity sector conversations as it is at this moment, and for obvious reasons, none of which are good.
I’ll leave others to argue whether the double spiral of heating and eating means the average household will be two thousand or five thousand a year worse off, whether it will be a six-month or eighteen-month recession, exactly when it will start to bite for small businesses, when unemployment will begin tracking upwards, and whether throughout all of this, the government will do anything meaningful in response beyond banning strikes and protests.
Because in many ways, those details are irrelevant.
Whichever way they play out it won’t be pretty for a good chunk of the population, and it’s a nailed-on certainty that those at the fragile end of the economic spectrum will be the ones who get hit the hardest. They always do.
The good news is that all of this comes hot on the heels of the pandemic.
No, seriously, that is good news. Hear me out.
When the pandemic struck, we had virtually no warning, no precedent, and no time to plan. The influence of policy decisions like lockdown and furlough, was immense – almost unimaginable months before – and they often came with just a few days’ notice. Yet somehow, charities coped.
Conversely, right now, we can see all this coming, and as each week goes by, the picture becomes clearer. We might argue the details, and we might not like what we see, but we have a pretty good idea of broadly what to expect, and in comparison, that’s good news.
There’s more though: during the pandemic, the impact of that isolation, those closures, the collective and personal losses, that impact was enormous, but so was the response.
It drove an unprecedented pace of action and innovation across many parts of the economy, not least the charity sector; it demonstrated a power of spontaneous community and voluntary mobilisation not seen in my lifetime; and it seeded the beginning of cross-sector collaborations that are still just scratching the surface of their potential.
I understand the temptation to talk about how many charities are emotionally and financially drained, how public sector services are in an even weaker state than 2019. And all of that is true.
But organisationally, culturally, and structurally, we are far stronger than we were. We know far more than we did, and we’ve watched ourselves do far more than we ever thought we could.
The most open of us have learned there are things that others can do far better than we can, and conversely, there are some things that we do best, perhaps some that only we can do.
And because of that, many of us learned how to work better together, to put away old tensions and rivalries, to trust, partner and delegate, to accept very different ways of working and levels of risk.
Across the board we have, as a sector, come a hell of a long way since 2019, and it shows. Some might even say we’ve grown up.
Leading with pace and innovation, enabling and supporting community and voluntary action, trusting in empowerment and cross-sector collaboration, these are the strengths, forged in that first lockdown and galvanised through two years of pandemic response, that we must build on if we’re going to rise to meet the storm to come.
Only, this time around, we have many of the most important foundations in place, and as we look at what the future holds, that’s got to be good news.