Third sector organisations ‘have got a different way into communities and a different way into talking to people’, one council chief executive reported recently. There is no doubt the third sector is the voice of the people but by investing in local communities third sector organisations also do far more. The third sector is an integral part of the Scottish economy and it is time to focus a lot more on the role of the sector as an economic partner.

The 2018 Scottish Leadership Survey has limited findings regarding the value of the third sector. It suggests that many leaders very much see the role of the sector as engaging with local communities, however little is said about its impact on the local economy.

Some leaders note the impact of third sector organisations in delivering key services, in health and social care or employability. Others explain how financial challenges faced by local authorities may result in an increased demand on third sector services. But despite providing essential support to vulnerable people the economic role of third sector organisations per se is barely mentioned. Is this because investing in people is still not seen as a ‘real’ investment?

Even though I read and hear more and more about the need for an inclusive and sustainable economy, the reality is that the ‘social economy’ is not seen as very profitable and thus perhaps not ‘real’ enough. Investing in people is essential and its impact on local communities is invaluable. More third sector organisations are looking at new ways of demonstrating their impact focusing on social return on investment for example. But do we need to find other ways to talk about the economy to reach wider audiences?

Another interesting point from the survey is about the diversity of the third sector. A couple of leaders are confused by the number of third sector organisations, from national bodies like SCVO to local organisations such as a ‘community group who are trying to get a new swing park’ as one leader puts it. Diversity is an asset to engage with the most vulnerable in our society, but to what extent is diversity preventing the sector from being seen as an economic force?  

SCVO is starting a conversation about the value of the third sector. This may be an opportunity to further discuss the impact of the sector as an economic power. If this is of interest to you, please take a look at this event on 25h March.

SCVO is also looking at strengthening partnerships with local authorities. There is a wiki page where you can read more about the project and add to it too.