Where have all the Disruptors and Innovators Gone?

As a part of our new Social Mission Leadership series, notdeadfish looked at the CEOs of the 50 biggest charities in UK to ask how they present themselves on their websites, what they portray their role as, and what experiences they deem most important. Were they custodians and managers? Innovators? System disruptors? We considered the challenges facing the third sector and what kind of leaders might be needed to face them. You can find the full report here but there’s an overview below.

Analysing the profiles of the top 50 charity CEOs may seem like a simplified measure for assessing the state of the sector but it illuminates the sometimes strained relationship between the public and big charity CEOs - and the sector they represent. This is the face of the sector that is projected from the media, from the keynotes of conferences, and in the sector’s interactions with government.

This paper is not one that offers answers, but one that aims to refine the questions we are asking about the sector and its development, and kick off a new conversation about the state of the sector.

Is the third sector operating so well that we can afford to leave it in a “safe pair of hands”? Or should we embrace the mission for change that defines the third sector, and put our trust in innovation?

We find ourselves at a time where the values of liberal democracy, tolerance, and openness find themselves under unprecedented attack, and where the choices that face us are choices that determine the very future of humanity as it faces down climate change, ecological and humanitarian crises, and the widening wealth gap at home and abroad. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Agency, due to global soil destruction there are only 60 years left of harvesting crops remaining. If a multiheaded crisis on a global scale is to be averted, then the scale of our vision in the social mission sector must be radically expanded. We cannot satisfy ourselves with growing the income streams of our organisations, but must urgently investigate how our organisations and our leadership can be used to create transformational system change on a truly global scale.

A hundred years ago, it was social radicals who built the schools, hospitals and housing estates that would become the basis for the social democratic transformations of the mid-century. The question that faces us today is as we confront the challenges of the 21st century, has that spirit of innovation and radicalism left the sector?

This paper is intended as the start a dialogue to which we hope many other voices will contribute - notdeadfish will be hosting that dialogue in the form of a series of events, and online, on the future of social mission leadership. We would love to hear from you on our social media or via email with your ideas for the future of innovation and diversity in the charity sector. Get in touch with euan@notdeadfish.co.uk.