Stepping on third sector toes

I do quite a lot of work with third sector organisations which are exploring what they might call “becoming a social enterprise”.

That tends to mean developing a new service, or selling an existing service to a new customer group.

One phrase I hear a lot is “We don’t want to step on anyone’s toes”.

A generous interpretation of what people mean is that they want to ensure that scarce resources are not wasted by duplicating an existing service.

A less generous interpretation is that it suits many third sector organisations to carve up the marketplace into small fiefdoms where one provider enjoys a monopoly.

I’m in the less generous camp on this one. Mainly because I want to stick up for customers. We all know that monopolies are no good for customers.

They stifle innovation and take away the right to choose what’s right for you.

But I see too many people in the third sector making choices as if they know best what’s right for the people they’re there to serve.

I think this is going to become an increasingly important issue in the years ahead. With the focus on commissioning, many public sector contracts which have traditionally been given (usually as grants) to the incumbent supplier will now be opened up to competition.

In some cases the current supplier is totally fit for purpose. In many other cases they’re not. How will third sector organisations respond?

Will they hold the line and refuse to bid for work, because the people who’ve been doing it for twenty years somehow deserve to do it for another twenty?

Or might they decide to compete, inspired by a desire to deliver a better service?


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