An agenda for the Future of the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise sector in Northern Ireland

May 2018

Background and context

What is the future of our society?

What are the positive differences that our voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) organisations working together and with others can make to people’s lives and places into the future?

What needs to be done to create the environment to enable this sector – our sector – make those differences?

We are in chaotic and uncertain times. Locally we have no executive, assembly or properly functioning government and the ramifications when the United Kingdom leaves the European Union remain unknown.  We are a more diverse yet still divided society. Locally and globally we have significant environmental challenges, conflicts, the acceleration in the use and impact of new technology in work and communications.

The world has changed hugely in the last 10 years and the coming decade will see more changes – how we and our children and grandchildren live, learn, work, communicate, travel, consume, are treated and cared for. 1 

In the midst of those changes, like the many changes that have gone before, the desire of people to come together in community of interest or place and work together for positive change will undoubtedly endure.

But enduring might mean just surviving and responding to change driven by others as opposed to having a role in shaping it and thriving. 

We are not keen on an only just surviving voluntary, community and social enterprise sector here in Northern Ireland.

An only just surviving sector won’t realise the best outcomes for people and places. 

In late 2016, with support from the Big Lottery Fund, we commenced our VCSE Futures project as a platform for the sector, its funders and policy makers to consider how to build an enabling environment that supports the sector to achieve the best outcomes for the people and places it works with.

This “Agenda for Change” is the culmination of that work. Work that has included

  • 16 regional and thematic consultation events with the sector, with funders and policy makers, 
  • desk research and consideration of other processes looking at the future issues facing the sector across the UK and in Great Britain including the NPC State of the Sector initiative2 and Civil Society Futures, the inquiry into the future of civil society in England, work by Big Lottery Fund3 and others
  • the commissioning of 8 opinion pieces from a number of authors looking at issues as diverse as the future of the arts sector and the decline of adult education here.4


In this “Agenda for Change” we have laid out the 7 key areas that we have identified 

Voluntary action; Civic Activism; Collaboration; Innovation; Making a difference; Resilience and renewal; Leadership and suggest some actions associated with them that in our opinion could contribute to the future development of our sector and more importantly the positive differences made to people and places. 

In our limited remaining time, before we close in December 2018, we will be working to highlight these issues and explore if and how they and the suggested actions might be endorsed and taken forward by the sector, funders and policy makers alike. 

Whilst our work is concluding we believe there is a lesson for the future in how the leadership and resources of funders can be used differently and in transformative ways.  We were a first for Northern Ireland, a life limited charitable Trust to focus on and support change. The need to focus on and support change remains for the future and we encourage others to consider carefully how that might best be done from here on.