Third sector still innovating despite hard times

26 October 2009

Despite the recession, charities, social enterprises and voluntary organisations (the third sector) are still innovating, according to a publication out today from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

The report, entitled "The third sector - discussions around key public policy issues", is the result of presentations and debates at a series of public policy seminars organised by the ESRC in collaboration with the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) and with support from the Scottish Government. The report will be launched at the Scottish Third Sector Research Conference, organised by SCVO and the University of Edinburgh on the 26 of October.

With the UK in recession the third sector is facing increasingly tough economic times. Charities and voluntary organisations are seeing their income drop and demand rise, whilst competition between organisations to deliver high quality public services is growing. In such an environment, continuing to innovate is becoming more of a challenge.

Ruchir Shah, Head of Policy and Research at SCVO welcomed the report's findings, especially in the current climate; "It's encouraging to see that despite these turbulent economic times, the third sector is still an innovative force, particularly in public service delivery. This report, the result of collaboration between academics, practitioners and third sector policymakers, demonstrates the resilience of our sector, even in the toughest of circumstances."

John Swinney, Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth, said: "This report underlines the real strengths of Scotland's enterprising Third Sector and its ability to help position Scotland's economy for recovery. The Scottish Government fully recognises the Third Sector's potential, which is why we have put in place initiatives like the Scottish Investment Fund and Third Sector Enterprise Fund. More recently, we launched the Third Sector Resilience Fund to help organisations withstand the pressures of recession. Through an enterprising approach, Scotland's Third Sector can continue to help create the wealthier and fairer Scotland we all seek."

Professor Ian Diamond, Chief Executive of the ESRC says: "The third sector is seen as having an increasing significant role in the delivery of services and providing a voice for under represented groups. A lot of faith is placed in the ability of the third sector to innovate, particularly when it comes to delivering services to hard-to-reach groups. This booklet demonstrates ESRC's strategic commitment to maximising the impact of its research through engaging and developing partnerships with users of research. We see this as an opportunity to establish further dialogue with the third sector."

For further information

  • Download "The third sector - discussions around key public policy issues" (PDF, 1Mb)

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Notes to editors

  1. "The third sector - discussions around key public policy issues", published by the ESRC, is based on presentations and open discussions at a series of three seminars held in Edinburgh between December, 2008 and March, 2009, in collaboration with the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations and with support from the Scottish Government. The events were part of the Public Policy Seminar series, which directly addresses key issues faced by ESRC's key stakeholders in government, politics, the media, and the private and voluntary sectors. If you would like to receive a free copy of the publication please email
  2. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is the national body representing the voluntary sector in Scotland. There are 45,000 voluntary organisations in Scotland involving around 130,000 paid staff and approximately 1.3 million volunteers. The sector manages an income of £4.1 billion.
  3. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent, high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC's planned total expenditure in 2009/10 is £204 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes.
  4. Seven academics were involved in putting together the report. They are:
    • Professor Stephen Osborne, of International Public Management, University of Edinburgh Business School
    • Dr Eleanor Shaw, investigator for CGAP at the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship, Strathclyde Business School
    • Jenny Harrow, of the Centre for Charitable Giving and Philanthropy (CGAP), at the Cass Business School in London
    • Philomena de Lima, Director of the University of the Highlands and Islands Centre for Remote and Rural Studies
    • Dr Susan Baines, Reader in Social Policy, Manchester Metropolitan University
    • Geoff Whittam, Reader in Entrepreneurship at the University of the West of Scotland Business School
    • Stephen Sinclair, of the Scottish Poverty Information Unit, Glasgow Caledonian University