Every year I am surprised at how quickly this evening comes round and every year I take the opportunity to say a few words about the sector and about CFG’s fortunes. But 2016 has been a very different year and I want to take a few moments of your time to look beyond CFG and the UK charity sector.
I don’t think I have lived through a year that has troubled me more than 2016. I am not referring, of course, to the loss of musical greats like Bowie or Cohen. You no doubt share the sense of growing disquiet and unease that has been thrown into sharp relief by events at home and overseas - most recently by the election of a man with no political experience who is seen by his supporters as a refreshing break from the establishment elite; someone to say it like it is but who is seen by many as a racist, misogynistic, bigot.
I have been alarmed by the ease with which fear and hardship has been capitalised upon and exploited to supposedly give a voice to the voiceless, the forgotten and the disenfranchised. I have wondered in my darker moments at what point in the run up to past humanitarian atrocities did the members of those communities notice what was happening and ponder what they could or should do about it. How many of us involved in politics or social change who are driven by values of tolerance and compassion, suddenly feel silenced and disempowered in the face of sneering bullies telling us that we are disconnected from the ‘ordinary’ people. That we are ‘the liberal elite which has fuelled the intolerance and hate’? Why am I saying this now and here in this lavish setting as we are about to eat a wonderful meal? Well it is certainly not to depress you or to give you indigestion!
It is because I hope, like me, you revolt against the accusation that you are disconnected or seated in an ivory tower. That you acutely understand the plight of real people and that you are not ‘self –serving’ or in denial because you are not willing to accept what appears to have been successfully sold to the ‘masses’. The people who voted Brexit and for Trump do not have a monopoly on wanting change. I share the fears and concerns, the awareness of inequality I just don’t share their view on the causes or what the right solution is.
So my departure from a more light hearted tone than usual is to hope that I can use my limited platform to render a heartfelt plea. Do not give way to hate, intolerance and blame and dress it up as pragmatism. Call people out for their extreme views and never allow discrimination and prejudice to be permitted because those who perpetrate it hold greater power.
Deploy all your skills in persuading people that there are other solutions. 2016 has kicked me firmly up the bum. It has reminded me that we share a common purpose in this room tonight - we want the world to be a better, more equitable and just place when we leave it than when we entered it. We want to make a difference not just for ourselves but for future generations Our sector is needed now more than ever.
People are crying out for social change and we must step forward to offer them a solution that is rooted in compassion and humanity not in blame, separation, intolerance and hate. We must not lose our self-confidence or begin to doubt whether we are fit to carry out our mission. We must fight to preserve our right to speak, to campaign and to act in the interests of those we serve. I look out at a sea of faces of people who care; people who have chosen to use their skills and talents to serve and improve the lives of others. T
he rhetoric is increasingly negative. Fear is extinguishing generosity. The darkness threatens to overwhelm. But you cannot fight darkness with darkness: only with light. So when we see cracks appearing in the communities that we serve we should remember what Leonard Cohen once wrote “There is a crack, a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in” Let’s see those cracks and divisions as an opportunity to do our best work ever and to shine a light into the darkest places.
I am proud to work with you and for you all.
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