Imagine! Belfast Expert Panel Dr Mike Aiken

Imagine! Belfast Expert Panel Dr Mike Aiken

27 February 2015

As part of the Imagine! Belfast Festival the Trust will be hosting a debate to discuss whether the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) sector should have any part to play in political lobbying. We spoke to Dr Mike Aiken who will sit on the expert panel.

How does your current work relate to this field?  

I am a freelance researcher and I work on issues to do with community, voluntary and co-operative organisations, social movements, reciprocal working, civil society and social policy.

What is your interest in this topic? 

I have worked in civil society organisations such as Community Matters, Save the Children and Development Trusts Association for over 20 years and I have also been an activist in urban regeneration projects, gender and race equality. Following my PhD at the Co-operatives Research Unit (Open University) I have undertaken research into co-operative and social movement initiatives at a UK and international level. This includes work with the Institute for Voluntary Action Research (IVAR).

Where can we find out more about your work?

My published work concerns community action, advocacy, social enterprise and co-operatives, and the encroachment of the neo-liberal project. I have written essays on resistance by indigenous groups and the challenges to civil society. As a member of the National Coalition for Independent Action (NCIA) I have researched the challenges outsourcing presents to community action. I co-edit the practice section of the Voluntary Sector Review and undertake community action in Brighton and activism on Latin American issues.

Do you think that charities should focus purely on delivering services and helping those in need? 

Charities all have different missions and different tasks so no-one should be saying what they ought to do. They aim to be working for philanthropic purposes to better society. Trustees hold the resources of the charity 'in trust' for the purposes the organisation was set up for. This sometimes means, as the Charity Commission in England and Wales clearly states, that they may wish to engage in political campaigning on the issue they are engaged in - to make the world a better place.

Do charities have a role to play in lobbying?

The distinctive aspect of charitable organisations is that they are formally independent of public sector and private sector so that they can advocate for the needs of the cause they are engaged in.

So they have the possibility to collect evidence and suggest what is the cause of the problem they are tackling, they also have the possibility to trigger debates by raising novel ideas or making proposals, to engage in deliberation.

This role is part of a fundamental historical tradition in western-style democracies that goes back to JS Mill and de Tocqueville in the 19th centuries.

What do you think the outcome of this debate will be?

It will raise awareness on these crucial issues. We are talking about some people living in desperate poverty, having meagre benefits cut and working contracts decreased. Charities working on these issues have the power to speak out in these dire times.

Who will this debate interest?

This will be of interest to people suffering under poverty, members of the public who are concerned about social injustice, activists in campaign groups, people who work or volunteer in the voluntary sector, policy makers and political parties. All those interested in maintaining and building a deliberative democratic society.

The debate will be held on March 10th from 7pm-9pm at the Oh Yeah Music Centre in Belfast and

You can get tickets here. For more information contact Paul Braithwaite on

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