Event Details

22 March 2016
The Netherlands Institute for Social Research
The Hague, Netherlands

Event Description

On 22 March 2016, Wouter Mensink and Esther van den Berg (Netherlands Institute for Social Research) of the ITSSOIN project and TSI’s Ulla Pape and Taco Brandsen (Radboud University Nijmegen) jointly organised the meeting “The third sector in motion: Relevance, Impact, Current Trends”. At the meeting, over thirty representatives of third sector organizations and researchers critically assessed third sector development and social innovation in the Netherlands.

In the plenary sessions, the researchers presented the results of the research and their implications for the sector. Participants of the debate noted that the diversity and complexity of the third sector are increasing. The sector is facing increased pressure, both due to a reduction of financial resources (public subsidies, funds, donations) and new, more fluid types of volunteering. Simultaneously, many citizens’ initiatives and new organisations (mutuals, cooperatives, social enterprises) have emerged in response to social problems. A pressing question for the future is how established TSOs relate to these new initiatives, perhaps moving from an organizing role to a facilitating role. In addition to the plenary sessions, there were two workshops discussing more specific topics.

Social innovations for refugees and (refused) asylum seekers
The first workshop, convened by Esther van den Berg and Wouter Mensink, focused on a particular category of social innovation: self-organization and local community integration in the field of refugee support in the Netherlands. In the framework of the ITSSOIN project, the Netherlands Institute for Social Research studies innovative initiatives for refugees and by refugees themselves in two adjacent districts of the city of Utrecht. The research project is part of a comparative study which is also conducted in the cities of Milan (Italy), London (UK) and Brno (Czech Republic). The research team shared the research strategy and first results with experts and representatives of third sector organizations, including refugee organizations. Participants discussed recent developments and new civic initiatives in relation to the larger number of refugees arriving to the Netherlands and conducted a discussion on future priorities. These topics were linked to the broader debate about the meaning and value of social innovations compared with traditional activities of the third sector and impact creation.

The rise of new grassroots initiatives outside of traditional organizations for refugee-support is an important topic of discussion. The increase in recent arrivals suggest a hype. Important questions for the study would be to assess sustainability of new initiatives, taking into consideration those that fail or stop after a while, and to understand what the surge of attention for new arrivals means for initiatives that target refugees that have resided in the country for much longer already. A second topic is the importance of understanding local context. On the one hand, municipal governments differ strongly, and may operate at odds with national policy directions. On the other hand, we must not forget that dealing with refugees is not a local issue; it has strong national and international dimensions. A third outcome of the discussion is that new initiatives often involve refugees as co-producers, rather than as service recipients. Social media makes it much easier to establish direct contact with refugees, which helps to facilitate self-organizing. The latter is a relevant observation, given the project’s focus on self-organization and community development. A fourth and final topic is the relation between social innovation and the need to assure that ‘regular’ work that is so crucial for refugees be continued. Financing will often be available for innovative activities only.

Challenges and opportunities for third sector development in the Netherlands
The second workshop, convened by Ulla Pape and Taco Brandsen, focused on challenges and opportunities for third sector development in the Netherlands. The research team presented the results of the TSI research and discussed them with the participants. The discussion focused on four topics: (1) financing of the third sector, (2) legal and regulatory framework, (3) image and public support, and (4) identity and cooperation among third sector organizations. Participants were asked to identify strategies that organization can apply in order to deal with existing challenges and formulate policy recommendations that can help to improve the situation and social impact of the third sector in the Netherlands.

It became clear that third sector organisations are facing pressures on various counts. Financial sources (public subsidies, foundation grants and donations) have weakened. Furthermore, the participants mentioned the effect of scaling up as a barrier for third sector development. Often, municipal government prefer to deal with one umbrella organization instead of a multitude of smaller player which forms for third sector diversity. In addition, contracting and time-consuming project management techniques disadvantage smaller organizations.

Moreover, the nature of volunteering is changing, which has led to a shortage of volunteers in coordinating positions. There is more pressure to be transparent and to quantify achievement. This has led a number of organisations to become more professionalised and develop commercial initiatives. At the same time, new citizens’ initiatives and social enterprises are emerging to deal with new social problems. The result is a third sector landscape that is ever more diverse and fragmented. The discussion about third sector identity showed that it is crucial for organizations to position themselves in the field and to clearly communicate their mission and activities to stakeholders.

The discussion in the workshop showed that the landscape of the third sector in the Netherlands is changing. Despite the difficulties many organizations are facing in their daily work, the discussion also highlighted the potential of the third sector to deal with current social challenges. The results of the workshop discussion will be included in a TSI policy brief that will be distributed for an online consultation to the workshop participants and other representatives of the third sector in the Netherlands.

Plenary debate
In the following plenary debate the results of the two workshops were brought together. After a brief recapitulation of the workshop discussions, the participants discussed a number of general developments in third sector development in the Netherlands. It turned out that the relevance, but also the complexity of the third sector have been increasing.

With regard to the level of private or civic initiatives, the participants of the debate painted a mixed picture. The recent years have not necessarily seen a rise in private initiative. However, the forms of these initiatives have been changing. Often, a lot of energy gets lost, when new initiatives are transformed into a more stable organizational form. This could open an opportunity for the ‘traditional’, stable third sector. It could move from an organizational role to a facilitating role, thereby enabling new civic initiatives to evolve.

Relating to social innovation, the plenary debate highlighted that the third sector has always been developing in an interaction between existing organizations and new initiatives. Social entrepreneurship was mentioned as a new trend that is based on the shared belief that citizens want to take up responsibility. However, innovation is not always seen as a positive development. Sometimes the adoption of social innovations means that regular activities or programmes are relegated to the fringe. Therfore it is discuss innovation and understand in which ways it can be a vaulable contribution to the development of the third sector.

The following third sector representatives and experts took part in the meeting: Anita Boele (Utrecht University), Taco Brandsen (Radboud University Nijmegen), Lise Broekaar (Lokale Fondsen), Hendrik-Jan Colijn (Helpende Handen), Heleen de Boer (Humanitas), Henk de Kort (Gilde Nederland), Arjen de Wit (Free University Amsterdam), Paul Dekker (Netherlands Institute for Social Research), Hans Goosen (Rotterdamse Sociale Alliantie), Froukje Hajer (Kind, spel en ruimte), Wilma Hartman (De Klup Apeldoorn), Mirjam Kaptein (Vrijwilligerscentrale Nijmegen), Annemiek Koremans (Platform Gehandicapten Westland), Margreet Kroesen (Dokters van de Wereld). Christine Kuiper (Movisie), Simone Langley (Greenpeace), Isabelle Leijser (Performatory), Lucas Meijs (Erasmus University Rotterdam), Freek Mekking (Oranje Fonds), Wouter Mensink (Netherlands Institute for Social Research), Michel Nivard (Fonds 1818), Ulla Pape (Radboud University Nijmegen), Peter Persoon (Villa Pardoes), Renée Sterk (Breda actief), Esther van den Berg (Netherlands Institute for Social Research), Cees van den Bos (Vrijwillige Inzet Arnhem), Mirte van der Graaf (Best Buddies), Sebastiaan van der Zwaan (Justice and Peace), Bob van Dillen (Cordaid), Riana Wassing (Onderwatersport), Roswitha Weiler (Vluchtelingenwerk), and Gabbi Wierenga (Stichting Vesta).

About the projects
Both EU-funded research projects started in 2014 and set out to study specific aspects of third sector development in the Netherlands in a comparative European perspective. The joint stakeholder meeting aimed at presenting first research results and discussing them with representatives of the third sector community in the Netherlands.

The ITSSOIN project investigates the third sector organizations may have a more important role to play in generating social innovations than governments or commercial firms.

The TSI project is a research project that aims to understand the scope and scale of the third sector in Europe, its current and potential impact, and the barriers hindering the third sector to fully contribute to the continent’s welfare.

Both projects receive funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) for research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreements no. 613034 (TSI) and 613177 (ITSSOIN).


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