Lord Gus O’Donnell to lead project on the future of civil society 

09 Oct 2020 News

Lord Gus O'Donnell

Lord Gus O’Donnell will lead 17 commissioners in an “ambitious” research programme to identify ways to expand the role of charities and social enterprises. 

The Law Family Commission has been convened by the think tank Pro Bono Economics (PBE) with funding from the Law Family Charitable Foundation. It will formally launch in December and run for two years, seeking to identify what changes are needed so that civil society organisations can play a bigger role in society. 

O’Donnell, a former cabinet secretary, will be joined on the commission by experts from the private, public and social sectors, as well as former politicians, philanthropists, charity leaders and community groups. 

Commissioners include: Karl Wilding, chief executive of NCVO; Ruth Ibegbuna, CEO founder of RECLAIM and director of the Roots Programme; Shaks Ghosh, chief executive of Clore Social Leadership; James Timpson, chief executive of Timpson; and Theresa Shearer, CEO of ENABLE Scotland. 

O’Donnell said: “The coronavirus crisis has highlighted the critical role of civil society in all our lives. After years of policy neglect, now is the time to examine properly the changes that are needed to allow civil society to do still more to improve our country.” 

‘Level up the country’

The commission comes at a time when the charity sector is facing a £10bn funding gap, according to PBE analysis, and is projecting significant job losses. It will cover a wide range of issues including volunteering, philanthropy, and the relationship between civil society and government. 

“Government wants to level up the country,” O’Donnell said. “Charities themselves know they’re going to have to do more with less as the recession bites. None of the three sectors can fulfil their aims without the others. 

“It is essential all parts of society are involved in the conversation and working as one if the UK is to build back better from the Covid crisis. If we leave even one sector out, attempts to create inclusive growth will fail. That is why the Law Family Commission on Civil Society has brought all sectors – public, private and social – together to unlock civil society’s potential.”

Ruth Ibegbuna, CEO founder of RECLAIM and director of The Roots Programme, added: “2020 is such a powerful year for us to embark on this work on the Law Family Commission on Civil Society. The challenges facing our country are so multifaceted and dangerously divisive that we now need to bring evidence, expertise and lived experience into the same spaces.

“I'm looking forward to working collaboratively to provide robust challenges to the status quo and to spark new thinking that simply works better, for all.”

The full list of commissioners

  • Lord Gus O’Donnell, former cabinet secretary and chair of Frontier Economics.
  • Vidhya Alakeson, chief executive of Power to Change.
  • Baroness Valerie Amos, former UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, and secretary of state for international development.
  • Joel Davis, chief executive of Tutors United.
  • Shaks Ghosh, chief executive of Clore Social Leadership.
  • Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, crossbench peer, Paralympian and chancellor of Northumbria University.
  • Mary Rose Gunn, chief executive of The Fore.
  • Ruth Ibegbuna, CEO founder of RECLAIM and director of the Roots Programme.
  • Dr Javed Khan, chief executive of Barnardo's.
  • Sir Harvey McGrath, chair of Big Society Capital.
  • Michele (Mitch) Oliver, global VP brand & purpose at Mars and trustee of Stonewall.
  • Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell,  president and vice-chancellor, professor of physiology, University of Manchester.
  • Stephan Shakespeare, CEO of YouGov.
  • Theresa Shearer, CEO of ENABLE Scotland.
  • James Timpson, chief executive of Timpson Ltd.
  • Matt Whittaker, CEO of Pro Bono Economics.
  • Karl Wilding, CEO of NCVO.
Charity Finance Week 2020 will take place online from 23 to 27 November. The theme of “turning crisis into opportunity” will explore the role of finance and IT leaders in guiding their charities through the pandemic and rebuilding for the future. Incorporating the Charity Finance Summit, the Charity Fraud Conference and the Charity Technology Conference, this is not an event to miss. Find out more here.


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