The charity sector must be more accountable, engage more people, and stop expecting the answers to all its problems to come from the state, according to the winner of Civil Society Media’s award for a lifetime of achievement in the sector.
Lynne Berry, chair of Breast Cancer Now and former chief executive of the RVS, won the Daniel Phelan Award for Outstanding Achievement at the Charity Awards on Thursday night.
Accepting the award, she spoke positively about the role of charities, and the high level of trust they still enjoyed, but levelled challenges at the sector to do some things better.
She said that charities are keen to hold others to account – to “speak truth to power” but that this came with responsibilities.
“The challenge I want to leave you with is we also need to speak truth to ourselves,” she said. “We can’t expect standards of others that we don’t meet ourselves. We need to be more accountable; we need to be more transparent. These standards really do apply as much to us as to those we find it easy to criticise.
“If social cohesion matters, we need to be sure that we are not guilty of excluding swathes of society from our organisations. If empowerment and social justice are fundamental to our world vision, that may mean we need to give up power, or at least share it. If we want others to be accountable for their actions, we too must be accountable for ours.”
‘Too often looked to the state’
Speaking to Civil Society News beforehand, Berry also criticised the sector for too often looking to the state for solutions.
“We should be trying to solve things ourselves,” she said. “We can do things government can’t do. We can tap into people’s knowledge and expertise and skill. We should stop complaining and try to sort it out ourselves.”
Need to engage more people
Berry also said the sector needed to engage more people. She said the sector needed to remember that it was a movement of ordinary people.
“We need a society in which people can contribute, in which they feel empowered and engaged, in which they feel they have a voice,” she said. “There are an awful lot of people who just feel ignored. If we’d succeeded in building a strong civil society, people in the UK wouldn’t feel so marginalised.
“I would like to see the sector do more about making sure that people have a voice. I would like charity to be less issue-based, and more about capacity-building.”