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October 26, 2021

Too close for comfort?

An issue that regularly surfaces in this briefing is to what extent Scotland’s third sector thinks and acts independently of government. At a time when large swathes of the sector are wholly reliant on the Scottish Government for their funding, many might argue that it would be wholly irresponsible for them to speak out or even bite the hand that feeds them. But as Indy Johar of Dark Matter Labs pointed out recently, the flipside is that you become an internal service agency of the Government. Important, at the very least, to know where you stand on this.


 Stephen Delahunty, Third Sector Magazine

The charity sector is missing the bigger picture and becoming an “internal service agency for the government”, delegates at the think tank NPC’s annual conference have heard.

Indy Johar, founding director at Dark Matter Labs, an organisation that works to transition society in response to technological revolution and climate breakdown, made the remarks during the last day of NPC’s conference during a Question Time panel event. 

In response to an earlier question about the distribution of funding in the sector during the pandemic, Johar said: “I think it’s very easy for us to be squabbling about crumbs, when actually we’re looking at a vast, large scale transition to deal with climate change, which needs about about four and a half trillion globally a year to deal with.”

In highlighting the scale of social and ecological transition, Johar called on the sector to focus and get ahead of the argument on some of the big issues such as climate change, inequality and social care. 

He added: “I do sometimes worry that our sector gets locked into talking about a million pounds here and a couple of million there, when actually the scale of a transition is so much larger. I think philanthropy and also the charity sector need to get out of their little box and start thinking about the scale of what we’re about to be in the middle of.”

Johar was asked whether the sector has a problem of not seeing the bigger picture. 

“I think it’s a problem that we become an internal service agency for the government. To become a service agency for an extended arm of government, either directly or indirectly, the reality is, we’re here to look after the public good. That is our focus, on the public good, and that is greater than the government.

“We need to get our heads out of our own self-interest and short-term interest and look at that avalanche of issues over the next 10 years. I think it is the responsibility of philanthropy to look outside incumbent interests. That is the power of philanthropy.”

Johar was part of a panel that included Pavan Dhaliwal, chief executive of Revolving Doors, who agreed that the sector could be too reactive to the political cycle.

“I think that there is a risk that we are sort of inward looking as a sector, as a result of that we ended up being very reactive, in many instances, to the political situation and to political cycles,” said Dhaliwal. 

“To apply that long termism that Indy was talking about we need to think about what we want, let’s set the agenda for the next 10, 20, 30 and 40 years, as opposed to being so reactive.”

Dhaliwal said the sector also needs to try and avoid the traps being set around the culture wars.

“If people want to set those traps, that’s their business, but we need to make sure that we actually focus in on the issues that we know matter, and we need to work with people to come up with those solutions, and be so tight as a sector that we can’t be divided in the way that we have been over the last few years.”

In the previous day’s session NPC boss Dan Corry called on the government to stop “bearing down unnecessarily on campaigning” and making “woke attacks” on charities that are “politically useful in the short term”.