Europa Calling: The Evolving Special Sector

By Jon Brewer

“The what sector…!?” I hear you ask. Well, it’s actually not too easy to say…

In the US, you might want to say nongovernmental organisation or NGO, or maybe nonprofit. In the UK, it could be not-for-profit, although, in either case, you need to qualify what you mean by profit. There is also the voluntary sector, or the charity sector if you want to get registered with the Charity Commission to have this clear mantle, and to be eligible for certain types of funding.

In recent years, we have increasingly talked about the ”third sector”, given that it’s neither the public nor the private sector – as well as simply being too broad or hard to pin down in any other way. Adding to the complexity, even more recently, we added the concept (and a wonderful one in my own mind) of social enterprise. almost cornered the term at one point, defining it as “a business enabled by social media.” But the pre-existing UK social enterprise sector fought back. Our social enterprise, here in the UK, could be described as a business that finds revenue streams and turns a profit, whilst focusing all of its mission and focus to addressing a social need.

So, clearly the sector is still evolving in terms of the shapes it takes and the roles that it plays. Then, whatever you call it, this (not)-for-profit-charity-NGO-third-social-voluntary sector is, in my mind, very special indeed. I will try to explain why I feel this was.

Let me first take you on a slight historical detour. Here in the UK, we recently wished Prince Charles a happy 70th birthday. In 1985, Charles took on the Presidency of the then three-year-old Business in the Community (BiTC). Whilst taking a marketing degree in 1991, I turned my thesis to the world of Corporate Social Responsibility and met BiTC for the first time. I was interested by Charles’ patronage and felt back then that BiTC’s mantra of “enlightened self-interest” (doing well by doing good, and looking after your staff, your community and your environment) would be increasingly important, approaching and into the new millennium.

The US was, in many ways, ten years ahead of the UK. From the Brooklyn Bridge, recently looking across to the Statue of Liberty, this reminded me of perhaps the first example of cause-related marketing, in 1984, when AMEX gave a pioneering donation to the Statue of Liberty Restoration Fund for every new card signed. The fund grew by more than $5M, while AMEX registered over 25 percent new card members than usual.

And so, back to today, this is where the evolving special sector (let’s say ESS for short) comes in. For me, it is special as it allows new, constructive, socially-useful models, like cause-related marketing, to come to life. Over the past couple of decades, the sector has been helping others evolve, and to look at the world and its problems in new ways.

We don’t just have to tax and spend (public sector) or make profit for shareholders (private sector) or shake a collection tin (as in the early days of the charity sector). The ESS is now able to help make good things happen by working in tandem with the public and private sectors and even bringing multiple parties together when mutual interests, common goals and practical steps for collaboration can be clearly identified.

The ESS plays a critical role in some examples here of new and evolving ways of working. Moving beyond the separate notions of corporate social responsibility, philanthropy, or sustainability, Harvard’s Michael Porter has espoused the concept of shared value. Larger organisations are realising the importance of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, and businesses are realising the need to develop a clearer sense of purpose to their existence, beyond simple survival, profits and growth. Within all of this, charities and nonprofits are acting as the glue and in many cases are the drivers of collaborative programmes.

The ESS is increasingly the one to identify an issue and be bold enough to say “something CAN be done.” ESS can bring the right parties together to make it possible.

The Global Cyber Alliance (GCA) is, for me, a great example and a powerful member of the ESS. I am delighted to be a part of this nonprofit/charity, which has been made possible by start-up funding from within the public sector and will be sustainable by the support of organisations and individuals across all sectors.

Online fraud and cybercrime are an epidemic – and they are only getting worse. However, at GCA we believe we cannot only turn the tide (we are working to significantly reduce cyber risk), but being a part of the ESS we are free to think big and bold. And we need to. The issues are large and global, but they are not insoluble.

There are ways we can inoculate ourselves, and the internet system as a whole, against the epidemic. We can each get our own proverbial flu jab at home and in the office by simply changing some basic behaviours and using tools that are freely available to all. GCA has proved it. We can take significant steps by using our position within the ESS – being an agile, trusted, global and independent catalyst for change – to help the right partners come together.

We are not bound by a national agenda or any imperative to maximise returns for shareholders. Instead, we can focus simply on fixing the problem. As with others in the ESS, I love our ambition and audacity, and our ability to look at the big picture, identifying and seeking to fill in the missing pieces of the picture puzzle.

So, let’s raise a glass to the world’s independent and agile ESS entities, focused on the public good. I hope more and more people will be willing and able to support, trust and work with them and us toward a better and safer world!

The author, Jon Brewer, is the Director of Development at the Global Cyber Alliance. You can connect with him on LinkedIn.