Empowering communities
Empowering communities

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2 Third Sector involvement

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Figure 4 Supporting communities

On a very simple level, society can be seen to be made up of three main sectors: public, private and voluntary. While this breakdown might seem simplistic, it can help provide an initial starting point when thinking about the role that each plays.

  1. The term ‘public sector’ typically refers to organisations linked to the government and state that provide many of the core public services needed by society. These include such basic public services such as health, education, roads, and policing, and which are funded through general taxation.
  2. The ‘private sector’ refers to businesses, companies and other commercial organisations which provide goods and services in the economy and aim to make a profit.
  3. The ‘voluntary sector’ or third sector is neither government controlled nor is it focused on profit. Rather, it occupies a space between the public and private sectors and seeks to meet the unmet needs of society. These needs might be unmet because of a lack of potential profit (so discouraging interest from the private sector) or perhaps because the public sector has not had the resources to address them or has otherwise neglected to address them.

The UK Government has defined third sector as: ‘non-governmental organisations that are value driven and which principally reinvest their surpluses to further social, environmental or cultural objectives. It includes voluntary and community organisations, charities, social enterprises, cooperatives and mutuals. We also include housing associations within the third sector.’ (Department of Communities and Local Government, no date.)

Broadly speaking, organisations classed as being part of the third sector might include:

  • charities
  • community organisations including sporting bodies
  • non-governmental bodies
  • non-profit and not-for-profit organisations
  • voluntary action groups
  • churches and religious groups.

While the above definitions might seem to suggest a clear distinction between the public, private and third/voluntary sectors, the reality is – and always has been – quite different. In practice this can mean that organisations within each sector often operate beyond what might be regarded as their own sector’s boundaries.

Just as importantly, the development of effective solutions to community issues to requires collaboration between each of these sectors. No one sector or organisation can do it by themselves – rather resources, expertise and perspectives must be shared for the best result to be achieved for all community stakeholders.

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