‘Partners for Good’

Tom presents a copy of Partners for Good to David Hough of the House of Commons Library

Tom presents a copy of Partners for Good to David Hough of the House of Commons Library


Tom Levitt’s book, ‘Partners for Good: Business, Government and the Third Sector‘ was published by Gower in June 2012. In the book Tom explores how cross-sector partnerships have changed over the last 15 years from the perspective of one who was at the heart of change. It moved from hesitant pragmatism in public/third sector relations to mission driven partnerships to the creation of third sector capacity which starts to make a strong business case for private sector engagement in communities through third sector partners.

Click here to visit the publisher’s web site to see reviews of Partners for Good and read more detail of its content

‘Partners for Good’ is also available from Amazon and for Kindle (also from Amazon)

Here’s John Tizard’s review for the Guardian.

On 9 July ‘Partners for Good’ was formally launched with a party at the Work Foundation in London. Over 40 people, key people in charities, third sector umbrella groups, business, academia, government and civil service attended. Here is Tom’s speech which introduced the book:

Jonathan Norman and Sue White of Gower publishers, Tom Levitt and his daughter Annie at the launch party for ‘Partners for Good’


Thank you for coming tonight representing, as you do, charities, umbrella groups, public sector and private. Some people here I have known 30 years some less than 30 weeks, one or two less than 30 minutes

I want to especially thank three groups of people and ask a couple of guests to say a very few words.

Thank you to those who have supported me in developing these ideas over many years (but perhaps especially in the last two)

Thank you to all who have read or will read my book; I’d love to know what you think!

Thank you to those who gave me the opportunity to have this launch party by publishing it

Pam Webb was one of the first to read the book – her kind words are on the back cover. Pam represents a foundation – the Zurich Community Trust – which is born of and wholly dependent on the private sector for its existence. Their work includes ‘A Call in Time’ desktop volunteering to support housebound people, the highly impressive Involve Swindon employee volunteering pool and charitable work in India.

ZCT were very helpful when I was starting my consultancy and writing career a couple of years ago and I’d like to ask Pam – also the chair of a CSR pioneer, the London Benchmarking Group – to say a few words.

[Pam Webb’s comments]

Zurich shows that the private sector can have a conscience and can make a positive difference as a corporate citizen.

And if you really want to understand the first principles of successful cross sector partnerships I recommend the 2010 report of Zurich Insurance on risk transfer, called ‘Tough Choices’

Next I want to thank Gower, who have published the book, it’s a book with a great feel – and there’s a lovely story here.

Professor Cary Cooper can’t be with us tonight but we couldn’t be here without him – he was very influential in Lancaster University’s rescue of the Work Foundation, our hosts tonight, 18 months ago and in recruiting me as a trustee here. Cary read my five-page synopsis and said ‘Don’t write another word! Get a publisher first and then write the book’.

And then he said ‘And try Jonathan Norman at Gower first.’

Meanwhile Tomorrow’s Company was giving me much moral support in my first year as an independent writer and consultant, especially Grahame Broadbelt, as is evident in Chapter 6 on international development. Grahame also gave me advice:

‘Try Jonathan Norman’ he said.

I’d never heard of Jonathan Norman! But I tracked him down and on a Thursday in January 2011 I sent him an email. The following Wednesday I was having lunch with Kay Allen, known to many in the corporate CSR world, and missed his call. The message said:

‘Jonathan here. I’d like to publish your book’.

Jonathan, is it always that easy?

[Jonathan Norman’s comments]

Now I’d like to say a few words on my own behalf.

I’ve spent a lifetime in public service, one way or another, inspired by a brilliant teacher: my mother. Joan died in March this year and never saw my book, but it is dedicated to her.

I come from a tradition, a family and a Party which believe that common endeavour is the best way to ensure common progress, equity, justice and liberation.

In UK for much of last 60 years that philosophy has been interpreted as a reliance on the state as the provider of common services. And during that 60 years the state has fought against poverty, exclusion and deprivation. And to some extent it has failed – in that, after 60 years, there is:

still an underclass outside the domain of the welfare state,

There are still dysfunctional communities,

still young people not in education, employment or training; and child poverty, pensioner poverty, fuel poverty are too high

At the same time our public sector is going through the once each generation spasm of giving priority to the question ‘how do we mitigate the cuts?’ over all of its more positive considerations.

Don’t get me wrong: I believe the state remains a force for good but it is not the only powerful and potential force for good in society.

For the first time ever in this country there are three main actors in the arena of public services, complementary in their operation, forces for good: the public, the private and the third sectors.

The third sector is bigger, bolder, more diverse and – crucially – more competent than it has ever been.

From 11th century Alms houses, the 1601 Charities Act and George Frederick Handel raising money for the Coram Children’s Charity we know that there is nothing new in the so-called Big Society.

We know that the role of local government is changing too. From being the major provider of local services it will in future be not just a provider but the commissioner and coordinator of public services, and it must also be the regulator and arbiter of quality, equity and geography – an increasingly important role which the Cooperative Council Network in particular is already taking on board.

In 1999 the Labour government asked the RNID – where I was then a trustee – to roll out a £95 million digital hearing aid scheme through the NHS – the biggest commissioned single contract from the public sector to the third sector at that time.

They were opening a sluice gate which enabled our biggest charities to be really significant players in public service delivery.

Thanks to the Compact, which I had helped launch in 1998, smaller local charities could increasingly provide local services, too.

Nowhere is cross sector partnership seen better than in international development where NGOs are so often the agents of governments in delivering ‘good’. Yet when we look at the world today we see that of the 100 largest economies most, yes, most are not countries at all: but corporations.

The private sector is the most silent and most under-used as a force for good; and is largely still unaware of its own potential.

In 2008 I witnessed, in South Africa, a big private sector company investing in the community where its workforce lived,

not because they were Cadbury-style philanthropists,

not because it was expected or demanded of them – but –

because they acknowledged the business case for doing so.

The investment that I saw Nestlé make in NGOs in the town of Harrisburg was bringing hope, confidence, health and sustainability to a whole community and its economy, saving lives and enhancing lives because, I repeat, there was a business case for doing so.

The business case was that the investment was reducing the disruption and cost to the company of an unacceptably high level of deaths amongst new recruits from AIDS and from tuberculosis.

Just as there is a business case –

  • for Boots to to share its store space with the Macmillan cancer charity;
  • for Marks & Spencer to partner so many charities, but especially Oxfam;
  • for Serco to partner Turning Point in running Belmarsh 2, a new prison dedicated to reducing reoffending;

So there is also a business case for those charities to engage with the private sector.

And there is a business case for many companies to engage with one of my consultancy clients, the charity Pilotlight, in increasing the capacity of their own high-flying employees through asking them to volunteer to work to help increase the capacity of local charities and social enterprises.

What my book says is not that business has the answer to everything, nor that partnerships with business are the answer to everything. But they are tools that we don’t use often enough.

What it does say – in the Introduction – is that we are today in a unique situation. We can identify a number of trends:

  1. Cuts in public spending highlight the urgency for charities to diversify their income streams whilst the public is demanding greater scrutiny of corporate behaviour in the private sector.
  2. The business case for tackling climate change has been won but the same arguments in favour of community engagement by business are not yet universally accepted.
  3. Charities and third sector bodies have become more professional, which makes them more attractive as partners for business
  4. The voluntary sector can bring personalisation, local flexibility and cost efficiency to service delivery, something which is starting to be recognised by companies now running public services, just as local authorities recognised it 10-15 years ago
  5. The growth of social enterprise has been significant but unless new forms of investment emerge it will be unable to grasp the opportunities that government policy claims to present to it.
  6. In Britain, giving and volunteering are seen as part of our national character yet the economic climate is likely to cause a fall in donations to charity though major personal and corporate philanthropy.
  7. Employer-based volunteering is not as well developed in this country as in the USA but employers increasingly want to see the business case for volunteering.
  8. Finally, in today’s ‘Big Society’ it is said that ‘we are all in this together’.

Put all these ingredients together and what you have is a cookbook, a handbook, a history book – ‘an essential read for decision makers in all sectors’, says John Tizard in his Guardian web site review – not so much an explanation as an exploration of how we have got to where we are and, in Chapter 7, where we might go in the future.

When I first held this book in my hand I felt as though I had just given birth – something which my female friends and colleagues were very quick to disabuse me of – but this was certainly a book I felt I had a mission to write.

Without fifteen years of working in-and-with the voluntary sector at the highest level I could not have written it.

Without being on the inside of government policy on charities and the third sector for a dozen years I could not have written it.

Without some insight into the potential for good that the private sector’s body of skills, resources, investment and yes, even conscience, that many in that sector do actually have – not least those who are showing their support by being here tonight – I could not have written it;

And without the patience, understanding and tolerance of close members of my family not just over the last two years but especially over the last two years, as I have been creating a new career for myself…

I could not have written it.

Thank you to all of them and again to you for coming tonight.

And now, I am pleased to say, we have been joined by the Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Hilary Benn, my former boss when I was a PPS at DfID. I’m delighted you’re here Hilary and I’d like to ask you to say a few words.

[Hilary Benn’s comments]

Thank you. And my final thought is this: I don’t want to be carrying any left over bottles of wine home tonight.

Thanks again for coming.