The Road Ahead: a chink of light for the voluntary sector

15 Jan 2019 |Written by Anna Osbourne

Yesterday, NCVO published this year's version of the Road Ahead. The annual report reviews the environment all of us in the voluntary sector are operating in, and it makes for fascinating reading, especially for those of us who are nervous about the challenges the sector is facing over the coming years.

And although there are a number of concerns and uncertainties, the year ahead also presents a number of opportunities that we need to seize.

Brexit is - of course - a big factor, and the report acknowledges that it has taken an inordinate amount of energy and bandwidth already, as well as paralysing decision making across government. This contributes to the cautious outlook many of us share for the future, leading to the gloomy economic landscape identified by NCVO.

But I'm pleased to see that the opportunities of both digital and the community sector are recognised - and there has never been a more opportune time to build on these opportunities.

The power of community

The report says: "Charities are also at the heart of local communities, cutting across class, race and gender divides. So much of their work is about building relationships and social connections, reaching even those who are harder to reach." We see this all the time with the network of grassroots community organisations we work with - the Online Centres Network. They are on the frontline in communities, filling the gaps often left as other services have shrunk or disappeared altogether. They support people out of food poverty, help people to find work or to complete their claims for Universal Credit, and support people to improve their skills. They connect people who are feeling lonely or isolated, help them to improve their English language skills, and ensure people who haven't been heard before can find their voice.

The coming years provide a real opportunity for all of us working in the voluntary sector to come together to ensure those who are most excluded aren't left further behind by the uncertainty we're facing as a nation. Collectively, we have a unique reach into communities, supporting those who are often forgotten. We must work together to do this, extending the impact of our work, and ensuring it is recognised and supported by government and other partners.

Embracing the opportunities for digital

Digital is another huge opportunity, and one that the voluntary sector risks letting pass them by. The report acknowledges that "our sector has played a limited role in this [digital] revolution, whether as a user of technologies, a shaper or an influencer." Of course, this means that we're far less effective - and as a sector we are reaching fewer people and raising less money than we could if we were better at embracing digital. But it also means we are failing those we are here to support.

Digital has already revolutionised our lives, and the world today looks entirely different to even ten years ago. If we don't understand the impact digital can have in our organisations, how can we help support people to understand how it can change their lives? We need to see digital as more than just a way of revolutionising how we do business, and understand how it can help meet some of the big challenges we're facing as a nation. Sometimes the very simplest of technology can have a transformative effect on people's lives.

Today is a big day in politics, and the effects of today's Brexit vote are likely to have far reaching impacts. It's easy to feel gloomy about the future of the country. But as a sector we have to come together to seize the opportunities that are presented to us, and to use our unparalleled reach to help those who are most at risk of being left behind. And by doing that, we will really start to see the chink of light at the end of the tunnel.