Cross Sector Working

In this month's blog Meg Wright, EDT Scotland Director and ACOSVO Chair discusses how reaching out to different sectors can help benefit your organisation and the sector as a whole.


Just over a year ago I moved job into an unfamiliar area of the voluntary sector. My comfort zone included bidding for public sector contracts, serving on committees made up of voluntary and public sector colleagues and applying to trusts and foundations for funding, but this new role’s priority was linking directly with industry and the private sector.  So where should I begin, the private sector seemed alien and only interested in profit and shareholder return. How on earth does a charity with our values and ethics work with industry when our motives are very different? Boy did I learn quickly. I had to first of all question myself and my own assumptions.  How wrong can one person be! So what have I learned?

Firstly, industry has challenges with significant skills gaps in their workforce, today and for the foreseeable future.  Secondly, they need to reach out into communities to try and fill those gaps. Thirdly, they often don’t have the time or the skills to do so. Enter stage left, the voluntary sector. What we can add is our expertise in reaching out to communities, developing programmes of activity that are engaging for young people while at the same time building skills and capacity so badly needed by industry. At the end of the day our economy depends on a thriving private sector, where innovation, creativity and manufacturing excel. Industry needs a talent pipeline; people with skills and knowledge to become effective employees.  Young people need to know about what is available to them as potential careers and need support gaining the skills required to become effective citizens. So in reality aligning charitable objectives to the needs of industry was not that difficult.

What has this got to do with leadership? It was not too difficult to reach out to industry, we are all human and at the end of the day it was about building new relationships. I learned the vital contribution industry makes to the economy and society; that industry reaches out to communities and have a huge role to play in building strong communities. 

Although funding is always a big issue, I learned it’s not always about money – it can be about borrowing a room for training, accessing HR expertise, borrowing a photographer for an event, some media advice – all very much needed. Industry often has resources the voluntary sector can only dream of and they are often willing to share their expertise.

Does it need a different approach? No not at all. It just takes time to build relationships based on mutual respect and understanding, something as voluntary sector leaders we do day in and day out.  Have a look around you – what companies are in the neighbourhood, make a call and ask the question – can you help please? Connecting industry to communities benefits the individuals, the communities and the sector as a whole - win, win, win.