The Illawarra Forum’s CEO, Nicky Sloan, stated in her opening speech, that she has chosen the title 3rd Sector because she wanted to highlight that this sector was not a bronze medallist or third in ranking, but rather important and a 1st Choice. So if a sector refers to itself to what it is not then the question arises what is it? And how can it be seen as a 1st choice?
It is a well-known fact that language plays an important part in how people see themselves, in creating perceptions, in developing relationships, and in culture. If language defines who you are then perception of those not involved defines how they see you. And changing this perception through language may be one of the solutions to tackle the many challenges in the future: the challenge of recruiting a larger and well skilled workforce, the challenge to do more with less due to increasing disadvantage and reduced funding, and the challenge in promoting the sector rather than promoting the work in the sector.
Let’s have a look at the language and what a change could look like. Sectors can define themselves by a governance model: government, for-profit or not-for-profit. But there are other definitions: Government use the term public sector and the for-profits the term private sector. Therefore there is an opportunity for the not-for-profit sector to actually state what it is about and highlight its work for the common good. A potential name might be the society sector.
The thesaurus describes the term organisation as government, groups of various types or an arrangement. ‘Organisation’ is ambiguous and has a one and all approach. Business includes terms such as professional, occupational and industry. While professionalism already exists, in fact has to exist in the society sector, the question arises ‘is it clearly visible? The distinction between a provider with paid staff and a volunteer organisation may become more important, with the former being called a business and the latter an organisation.
Defining the many industries within the society sector will highlight how widespread this sector is and how it makes valuable contributions at many levels. The Australian Bureau of Statistics already uses the term Health Services and Social Assistance Industry to describe an important aspect of the ‘society sector’. Yet this term seems rarely used in describing the business of providing social services.
The new language applied in every day work and expression has the potential to change how government and politicians view the importance of the sector, changes the perception of citizens and has the potential to attract recruits to the Industry in a more meaningful way. The change has the ability to differentiate between the sectors. It may open doors for more private-society sector relationships and collaborations for the benefit of the people. After all, the private sector wants to be seen to do Good in society too, and the language says it all.