An independent inquiry into the future of civil society, which is being chaired by Julia Unwin, and aims to give the sector the tools it needs to address and find solutions to challenges facing society, was launched today.
Unwin launched the Civil Society Futures inquiry at NCVO’s annual conference this morning. Over two years the inquiry will explore how the sector can adapt to the changing political and economic landscape, as well as how it can shape the future.
"I am massively ambitious for the inquiry," Unwin said, adding that she wants people from all parts of civil society to be involved with the project.
She said the world is "increasingly uncertain" and that civil society has to "adapt to thrive" to "make sure that we play our part in shaping the years to come".
"We have never been a sector that has let others determine our future," she said.
Unwin told delegates that civil society has historically adapted to meet changing times.
"Now we face another time of massive, uncertain change," she said, and highlighted the rise of the sharing economy and digital technology as elements that are influencing the landscape.
But, with political and economic uncertainty, she said that civil society had "never been more needed" though it has also "never been more challenged".
'We must be bold'
Unwin echoed Sir Stuart Etherington's call for the sector to be bold and speak up.
She said the "regulatory context is more and more difficult" citing restrictions imposed by the Lobbying Act, which affected parts of the voluntary sector during the 2015 election.
"If we allow ourselves to be silenced we are betraying our beneficiaries," she said, adding that throughout history governments have tried to stop charities from campaigning, but charities have "torn off every gag they have bound us with".
Trust is 'collapsing'
Unwin also warned that trust in charities "is collapsing" in a similar way to how it has collapsed for politics and the media.
She said this was not just because of high-profile cases and one-off scandals.
"Trust and confidence are not eroded because of one - or even more than one - mistake. They come as the world changes, and trust has to be earned again and again," she said.
A website for Civil Society Futures launched this week with a call for people to get involved, identifying 50 trends, covering issues such as the environment, demographic changes, breakdowns in society and Brexit.
The inquiry has been funded by a group of foundations led by the Baring Foundation, Barrow Cadbury Trust, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (UK Branch), Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, Lankelly Chase, Lloyds Bank Foundation and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation.
The secretariat for the inquiry is being provided by Forum for the Future, openDemocracy, Goldsmiths University, and Citizens UK.