Cultural Playing Field

Evolve 2013: the annual event for the voluntary sector by Robin Simpson
June 18, 2013, 6:50 pm
Filed under: meetings | Tags: , , , , ,

On Monday I was at The Brewery in London to attend ‘Evolve 2013: The annual event for the voluntary sector’. This was the first annual conference of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) since the organisation’s merger with Volunteering England. It was a bigger event than normal – with more than 1000 delegates – and had an obviously increased emphasis on volunteering issues.

Mayor of London Boris Johnson speaking at Evolve 2013

Mayor of London Boris Johnson speaking at Evolve 2013

The morning session included a speech by the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who said “volunteering is good for our society: it helps to bind communities together”. He thought it was “critical to raise volunteering up the political agenda”. It was fascinating to see Boris Johnson in action. He is very entertaining, genuinely funny and self-deprecating, though it was interesting that he said very little about the effects of austerity or public funding cuts.

I then attended a seminar on ‘Technology and Social Action’ in which three speakers looked at the effects of the digital revolution on civil society. Helen Goulden, Executive Director of the Innovation Lab at NESTA, spoke about technological trends in relation to giving, including the concept of ‘behavioural targeting’. Karl Wilding, Head of Policy & Research at NCVO, looked at what this means for the voluntary sector, including whether ‘membership’ is still relevant in the digital age. Finally Emma Jane Cross from The BB Group (Beat Bullying) spoke about how her organisation is scaling its support by using online social networks. A really thought-provoking set of presentations which generated an interesting discussion.

In the afternoon NCVO Chief Executive, Sir Stuart Etherington, gave his annual ‘state of the sector’ speech. He said “this isn’t an easy time for voluntary organisations and the voluntary sector: times are tough … The [London 2012] Games lifted the cloud of limitation from people’s lives … volunteering is central to my vision for the sector and this is an opportunity that is too good to miss”. Stuart suggested that the brand ‘Big Society’ has become like “an embarrassing uncle” and reminded politicians that “listening to our experience and involving us should be a necessity, not an afterthought”.  His rallying cry was that “now is the time for the voluntary sector to speak up. We have a good story to tell – let’s make sure we tell it … Helping Government solve problems is not acquiescence. Campaigning is something the public believe we should do”.

John Cruddas, Shadow Cabinet Minister and Head of the Labour Party Policy Review speaking at Evolve 2013

John Cruddas, Shadow Cabinet Minister and Head of the Labour Party Policy Review speaking at Evolve 2013

In the final session of the conference we heard from John Cruddas, Shadow Cabinet Minister and Head of the Labour Party Policy Review. Looking at how we rebuild social capital in the current climate he outlined ten points for consideration. He said “we need a politics that values relationships and wellbeing: we need to reduce social poverty”. He went on to ask “as the state withdraws, how can we reconfigure to create new minimum standards? How can we socialise delivery?” In response to a question from the audience, John Cruddas claimed “I’m probably the last person standing that still believes in the Big Society”. His responses to questions were considered and thoughtful and he was clearly keen to listen to the views of the voluntary sector in preparation for developing the Labour Party Manifesto for the next General Election.

Robin Simpson.

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