The sustainability of Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise organisations in austere times

From l-r: Jack O'Connor, Head of Voluntary Sector Engagement Team, DSD; Nora Smith, CollaborationNI; Mervyn Storey, Minister for Social Development; Nigel McKinney, Building Change Trust; Úna McKernan, CollaborationNI

CollaborationNI hosted a one day conference to examine how partnership working may help to address the question of sustainability for voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) organisations.

In the face of government cutbacks, the conference provided an opportunity to hear from a number of experts on the benefits of collaboration.   

A keynote address was provided by the newly appointed Social Development Minister, Mervyn Storey who spoke candidly about the cutbacks and on the importance of creating opportunities for creating stronger partnerships:

Minister Storey said: “The importance of collaboration, not only within the voluntary and community sector, but also within Government departments is crucial to the challenges that lie ahead.

“My Department is about people and the communities of which they are part; it’s about opportunities to encourage social responsibility and self reliance. The importance and challenges of collaboration within the voluntary and community sector cannot be understated.”

Minister Storey added: “In these times of austerity it is increasingly important that voluntary and community sector organisations work together to deliver more effective and efficient services and to achieve better outcomes.

“I know that as participants in the CollaborationNI programme you have become enablers for change within the sector. I would encourage you to continue on this journey and to inspire others about the benefits of this work.”

A number of VCSE leaders also offered their insight into the current challenges and the benefits of working together.

Nora Smith, from CollaborationNI, said:

“In every part of our society voluntary organisations, community groups and social enterprises are making people’s lives better, they are fighting inequality and are creating a better environment for us to live in.  However, the changing funding environment has raised questions about the sustainability of these organisations, which in turn has wider implications for society.  Building collaborative partnerships and networks presents a significant opportunity to continue to deliver key services and to mitigate against the reduction in financial support available”. 

Funded by Building Change Trust, CollaborationNI is a partnership programme among CO3, NICVA and Stellar Leadership. CollaborationNI provides practical support and resources across the whole spectrum of collaborative working to voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations.

Nigel McKinney, Operations Director with Building Change Trust commented:

“We believe more and better collaboration amongst Northern Ireland’s voluntary, community and social enterprise  organisations, and with others in other sectors, is essential if the needs of individuals and communities are to be better met now and into the future. 

Building Change Trust will by 2016 have invested almost £2 million in supporting collaboration amongst VCSE organisations. We believe the appetite and demand for collaboration support highlights how serious organisations are about working collaboratively to achieve greater impact. It is important that policy makers and funders grasp how important collaboration and support for it is and take action to ensure collaboration is encouraged and supported appropriately”.

Please contact Nora Smith for further information relating to the conference on 07803209590.