Julia Unwin: The next decade of change? Here’s a plan, here’s a PACT

Julia Unwin, Chair of Civil Society Futures, introduces the PACT for the future.

“The world feels a difficult and dangerous place… it is difficult not to feel ground down by an increasing number of seemingly intractable problems. We need to find another way.”
— Alison Inman, former President of the Chartered Institute of Housing

Truthfully, how do you feel about the next decade our country is facing?  The quote above sums up some of the great fears many of us share.  But it also points us to some seeds of hope.

We have just concluded Civil Society Futures – a two-year independent inquiry spanning England, where we’ve been in conversation with people from Sunderland to Central London, Peckham to Penzance.  We’ve heard from many different people at all levels in charities, housing organisations, funders and voluntary groups large and small.

Our aim was to try to understand the future of ‘civil society’ – that big tapestry of all the things we do together, for good.  It’s been an incredible journey that’s taken many of us outside of our comfort zones, and I’m so glad for that.

Engaging with change

In our conversation with more than 3,000 people, we heard that our world is changing fast but there is a bravery and optimism to renew ourselves and shape the future.  We have to engage with those changes and what they mean for us, even if it’s uncomfortable, even if it means we need to “find another way” as Alison says.

In our digital age, people expect power at the tap of a finger – but feel increasingly frustrated by local and national government and corporations, which seem remote and not to hear their concerns.

In an age of division — remainers and leavers, old and young, white and black, poor and rich, country and town and city — many people have an increasing sense of disconnection from each other.

In an age of distrust of institutions, people are increasingly questioning the motives and authenticity of organisations in their lives, which appear more concerned about their brand and their bottom line than standing up for values that matter. And networks and movements are everywhere, in every sector, challenging the incumbents and the institutions.

Shaping the solutions

Civil society is affected by all these challenges too — and civil society can shape the solutions.  We heard time and again that change in wider society begins in fact with our own attitudes, behaviours and practices.  We need to rediscover our enduring purpose.

Responding to this, and bringing together the collective wisdom of thousands of people from around the country we have proposed a new PACT for all our shared futures (see table below).

This is about deep, widespread, lasting culture shifts within civil society – in order to respond to our fast changing world, stay relevant in the years ahead, and deliver on our social purpose each and every day of the coming decade.

A PACT for the future

  • Power: Let’s shift power and share more decision-making and control, being a model of inclusive participation, upending our hierarchical organisations when needed, openly tackling problems of power and gender, race and class that have persisted too long.
  • Accountability: Being primarily accountable to the people we serve instead of putting funders and government first; being collectively accountable, never standing by when we see wrongdoing elsewhere.
  • Connection: Broadening and deepening connections with people and communities; bridging divides and collaborating better through a new ‘people-power grid’ social infrastructure.
  • Trust: Trusting communities to make the decisions that affect them, as they are the best experts on their own lives; and earning trust by speaking up to the powerful when it’s the right thing to do.

This article also appears in CT Brief – 40