How can we support third sector leaders to maximise the benefits of digital?
The pandemic has made clear how vital digital skills are for charities and social enterprises. But digital approaches can be a big challenge, for small voluntary organisations in particular. So what more can we do to help the Welsh third sector, asks Wales Co-operative Centre Chief Executive Derek Walker.
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Many charities and social enterprises across Wales are on a journey of transformation and are increasing their impact by intelligently using digital technology. But parts of the third sector are falling behind, because they lack the skills, resources and capacity to move forward with digital approaches. These organisations need assistance to accelerate their progress and better meet the needs of their service users.
Over the past year, the work of charities and social enterprises has been more important than ever. These organisations have really stepped up to support people in need. Many have done so by adapting successfully to use technology in order to stay connected with their communities and continue to provide vital services.
One example of an organisation that had to completely change the way it works is Vibe Youth. This Swansea-based social enterprise helps young people at risk of social isolation and disengagement. Before 2020 their work involved contact with young people on a face-to-face basis but overnight, with the closure of schools and other facilities, this approach was no longer an option. Vibe Youth considered accessing government support, like the furlough scheme, and shutting down for a few months. However, they decided they could not leave young people without help. So they reworked their services to move online. Through a lot of hard work, they have managed to stay open throughout the pandemic and have been able to continue to help young people through these difficult times.
Whilst there are a good number of inspiring examples like Vibe Youth, there are also plenty of other organisations who have struggled to adapt. The Charity Digital Skills Report 2020 outlines the impact that the pandemic has had on the use of digital within the third sector across the UK. 66% of respondents said they were delivering all work remotely, but a significant number (27%) have had to cancel services because they or their users do not have the necessary tech or skills to access them online.
It is clear many third sector organisations in Wales require more support with digital approaches. There is a need for programmes that help with digital skills and service transformation as well as for specific training for those at the top of organisations to foster a culture of digital leadership. There would also be value in facilitating peer to peer learning opportunities that can help charities to learn from one another.
There is also a continuing need to help people who are digitally excluded to be able to access information and services, which is an area where the third sector has a lot of expertise. Current figures show that there are still 10% of people who are not online or using the internet regularly. The proportion is much higher in those who are older, on lower incomes, have long-term health issues or are unskilled. Digital inclusion is not only a job for the government. The third sector needs to respond to community needs for basic digital skills and to continue to be helped to do so.
Now is the time for the Welsh third sector to realise the opportunity of digital. Together with the WCVA, the Wales Co-operative Centre is currently considering what we can do to provide more support around digital. We are interested in hearing what support your organisation needs to inform our next steps. Please email me at email@example.com with your thoughts and ideas.
Finally, a date for your diary. Last year, the Wales Co-operative Centre hosted the first Tech Fest for Social Good. We saw many great examples of technological developments in the third sector. We learnt how virtual reality headsets are allowing people with dementia to be transported back to their childhood memories, and how social enterprises in the arts and cultural sector have used digital technology to communicate with their audiences throughout the pandemic. Due to popular demand, #TechFest4SocialGood will return! It will take place during Digital Leaders Week 2021 from 14th-18th June. Please note down those dates and follow the Wales Co-operative Centre’s social media channels for further information.
Chief Executive, Wales Co-operative Centre