Civil society's biggest role in coming years is to move power to people and communities, but too many charities are "part of the problem" and are preventing this happening, a report published today says.
The message comes in a progress report from the Civil Society Futures Inquiry, which is half way through a two-year project to study and strengthen civil society.
"Emerging from what we’ve heard, the big role for civil society in the coming years is to generate a radical and creative shift which puts power in the hands of people and communities," the report says.
It says the role of the sector is to create a "deep democracy" that excludes no one and engages people in their communities.
"But civil society is not yet fit for this purpose, and there are too many examples of charities and institutions being part of the problem," the report says.
"Many people inside and outside of civil society organisations are concerned that they have lost their connection with the people they are there to serve, become too focussed on protecting reputations and income streams.
"Too often things are done to and for people, when it could be about creating conditions for people to do things on their own terms. Too often it’s about perpetuating patriarchal command-and-control.
"And yet we can see, from countless examples, glimpses of the civil society of the future — capable of putting people first, listening to the voices of many, practising shared and generous, open-hearted leadership, building real citizen and community participation, and doing it with creativity and flair often in networked, fluid and informal ways.
"Now is the time for all of us who make up civil society to lead our own future."
Julia Unwin, chair of the Civil Society Futures Inquiry, has said the sector has divisions of its own.
She told Civil Society News she had been struck by the divisions between big and small charities, and the sector needs to “get really serious about where power sits” to tackle the deep divisions in society.
Unwin told Civil Society News that she was “impressed by the enthusiasm and interest there has been within the broader civil society to take part” and urged people to continue to get in touch.
‘Strength is in the ability to connect people’
Unwin also said that the sector’s big strength was in its “capability to make connections between people”.
She said that the world is “changing”, which presents “challenges and opportunities” and urged the sector to “building on the strength of our reputation” and warned that it can’t “can’t sit on its laurels”.
‘We want to hear from as many people as possible’
Unwin urged people to get in touch with the inquiry with their thoughts before the end of 2018.
So far, it has heard from 1,500 people and had 57 written submissions.
The progress highlights the number of structural changes shaping society.
The inquiry will continue to hold events and will also hold a festival highlighting examples of change in the autumn.
It plans to produce recommendations next year.