The economic value of the third sector is big, but Tech4Good could help it be bigger!
Updated: Aug 22
The conversation on the recovery of public services in politics and in the mainstream media almost entirely focuses on this only being possible, following growth in the economy and GDP. The problem with this position is that this is something years in the making when the need for recovery is right now. Society cannot wait, our reality is that we the citizens need to find another way to make the changes needed, to meet the current challenges of health, care, and wellbeing development.
THE THIRD SECTOR IS VAST AND ALREADY ECONOMICALLY SIGNICANT
In 2019, eCulture Solutions founder was wrestling with a concern that the third sector (not-for-profits) was not very well understood, especially when it came to the contribution made in the social, economic, and ecological developments and servicing of individual, family, and community needs.
In the subsequent research undertaken, involving the review and summarisation of a wide range of third sector reports, an unexpected, and truly extraordinary perspective on the economics of the sector emerged. The headlines of which were summarised (see the article graphic) and aligned alongside data on the UK financial sector for comparison, on a principle that the financial sector is the one that tends to be a focus of measure for how well the UK standing is in the world.
The economic contribution of carers within our communities is significant enough in terms of the value, with this contributing savings to the public purse of £132bn annually (as of 2015). This assessment confirmed an additional annual economic of £60bn from the social enterprise sector, and voluntary services adding another £15bn per year in gross value add (GVA).
Altogether this makes the annual contribution to the UK economy more that £200bn, the greatest proportion of which relates to delivery of service target at supporting people and communities with needs. This value equates to more than 25% of the government expenditure on services (£796bn) in the same pre-pandemic assessment period (2019/20).
However, this is only part of the story, as a very much greater and presently unmeasured economic contribution is achieved by the delivery of;
reductions in demand on public sector services and social prescribing redirects people to community provided service offers and solutions,
improved social prescribing capability as increasing early intervention / prevention in support needs of individuals, families, and communities, helping to avert crisis before they require specialist interventions from the public sector,
rapid mobilisation of resources to meet social challenges, for example during the pandemic in the coordination of a volunteer force to support the vulnerable through to those stepping forward to help home and resettle refugees to others developing food bank resources to meet the rising demand from people now affected by the cost-of-living crisis.
Imagine the situation for the public sector if the activities of the registered carers and volunteers stopped. If the third sector just was not there doing what it does, or if the millions of people of this nation just did not care for themselves, and their neighbours as much as they all very much do!
“Charities have made a massive difference to people’s lives during the pandemic. They have saved lives; they have changed lives; they have supported the vulnerable, the poor, and the and dispossessed. Yet somehow this role is barely acknowledged either in the media, or by politicians. The gap between how critical charities think they are, and how important the wider world thinks charities are, is huge. The pandemic has highlighted this in sharp terms, but it is a gap that has existed for some time: Covid has just bought it into sharp relief.” (nfpSynergy)
TURNING THE TIDE ON RISING DEMAND
The activities of the third sector have been an integral part of society and the making of massive differences to people’s lives long before the arrival of the pandemic. The fact is though that today, the social and economic challenges continue to grow due to ongoing effects of austerity, increasing economic pressures arising from Brexit, the pandemic and growing cost-of-living crisis.
“Small organisations have found the pandemic tough. For some it has been a perfect storm of increased demand, decreased income, and fewer volunteer. nfpSynergy tracking research with the public has found that volunteering and giving amongst the older (over 45) age groups was down during the pandemic, and still hasn’t fully returned to pre-pandemic levels. If this situation doesn’t change, it will spell major changes for charities.” (nfpSynergy)
All of this comes at a time with the public sector is seeking to establish a new social contract for engagement with the third sector. Of a better collaboration in the servicing of individual, family and community health, care, and broader wellbeing development needs. The most notable of these public service engagements being the proposal for a new Integrated Care System (ICS), the linking of health, social care, and community service provision.
The ICS has a primary aim of reducing demand for public sector services, and in this regard any new integrated health and care service provision will need to be capable of understanding and responding to wide range of determinant that can affect an individual’s wellbeing i.e., state of education, employment, living circumstances, social inclusion, personal health practices, personal care, and support etc.
Ultimate success will be determined by how well data and systems integrate to enable better understanding of cause and effect, especially when these involve a range of wellbeing determinants, and in a way that enables the most appropriate response. Earliest interventional is key to demand reduction, the ability to anticipate events likely to create negative outcomes, and thus enable preventative interventions to take place.
But with these data and systems opportunities in mind, it has also to be noted that a great many third sector organisations struggle to make investment into tech solutions. When funding is obtained this is generally prioritised toward investment in people resources and the doing of more good stuff. Consequently, the utilisation of technology, beyond social media and facilitating public engagement can be found to be quite limited.
So going forward development of third sector capabilities for data capture, measurement of social value performance and implementation of collaboration / data sharing solutions at a community level should become imperatives and a focus for future investment and support, and this is where Tech4Good could have a vital role to play.
THE BIG CHALLENGE FOR TECH4GOOD?
Without question, technology has a pivotal role and contribution to make in development of early intervention and prevention capability. We are already seeing greater potential being created in the extraordinary levels of investment and innovation worldwide into wearables, Internet of Things (IOT) and mHealth. Research has also found there to be hundreds of thousands of health-related consumer apps, although on a cautionary note, most have been downloaded fewer than 5,000 times!
There are some important questions to address, given that the data to be managed by these tech solutions, and any integrated health, care and support systems is the most personalised and important data about our lives.
Do we need to be concerned that most of this investment is motivated by the exploitation of our data for shareholder profit? is this a bad thing? Even if you answer no to these questions, we surely must be concerned that commercial approaches tend to perpetuate the building of data silos, on the basis that data is power, and source of wealth!
If we are going to leverage the technology and in ways that can truly help us all, with our personal needs, then maybe we need a new ‘tech4good’ social enterprise approach to how this happens? One that is about partnership, sharing and cooperation, and established on principles of servicing social purpose before profit.
Building a non-silo’ d digital approach capable of service individual, family, and community wellbeing development, that is safe, secure, trustworthy and puts the needs of the user community above all else, is arguably the greatest modern-day challenge for our technologists to respond to. There is no greater motivation too, this personally affects us all, and the ones we love and care for.
THE NEED FOR A NEW SOICLA ENTEPRISE BUSINESS MODEL?
eCulture Solutions is exploring the development of a new sociocracy based business operating model and approach to support how social and wellbeing tech requirements can be responded to, in a way that support communities and organisations to have their needs not just listened too, but then qualified, quantified, resourced, and delivered.
This involves creations of an engagement model in which lived and living experience guides the development of requirements, to ensure best fit for solutions to meet the needs of the community, and decisions being made on a basis of consensus involving all, and with the best information available at the time.
An adoption in principle of the innovative agile delivery approach, but extended to include the complete delivery lifecycle, from requirements, business case / proposal developing, funding bid, delivery and subsequent lessons learned.
The key objective is to try and establish an organisational equivalent of the public sector IT department for the third sector, to represent the sectors requirements and help provide the assurance on the delivery of solutions to ensure this works effectively at the community level.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Paul White is a founder of eCulture Solutions (www.eculturesolutions.com), and a passionate exponent of social enterprise and the opportunity to leverage digital innovation and technology in the delivery of sustainable, social, economic, and ecological change to better addressing development of individual, family, and community wellbeing.
eCulture Solutions - Our Sociocracy Approach