Sara Llewellin, Chief Executive of the Barrow Cadbury Trust and a Non-Executive Director of Charity Bank, looks at the role charities play in creating the conditions for change.
Much of what the charity sector does is responsive to need. It is a loving, human response, driven by faith or compassion in the face of adversity confronted by others. In itself, that is an awesome thing, shared by people throughout history and across cultures and faiths. This is the aspect of charity around which we can all easily agree.
But that is not the whole story and nor should it be. Charity is also about empowerment, about creating the conditions for change and about tackling root causes, not just the symptoms of injustice. In the modern era we have come to call this an ‘asset’ rather than a ‘deficit’ based approach.
"Strengthening the hands of people on the ground will have more lasting impact than just meeting their immediate needs."Sara Llewellin
The Quakers were very early proponents of sustainable community development. During the Irish famine, they bought back the Galway fisherfolks’ nets – sold to feed their families – so as to ensure a lasting solution to food shortage. Feed someone today, yes, but find a longer term bottom-up solution as well. What this little story tells us is that strengthening the hands of people on the ground will have more lasting impact than just meeting their immediate needs.
And another thing. Charities and the rest of civil society have a proud and long tradition of speaking out. It’s not just a right, it’s a responsibility. We don’t just walk by on the other side of the road, not even to set up food banks, useful though they are.
In a modern democracy, charities have every right, within the law, to pursue their charitable purposes by sometimes making a fuss. Attempts to curb this right will backfire by shutting down debate and stopping the ‘bubbling up’ of new solutions to our major social problems.