We live in interesting times.
On the one hand, we are grappling with the realities of rapid economic, social and political changes and the consequences of our resource-intensive lifestyles. On the other hand, the past two decades have offered humanity an opportunity to coordinate efforts to change the operating system to one that promotes an inclusive and just society.
In response to the crisis and opportunity, we have seen the growth of diverse initiatives and new concepts, tools, business models, partnerships, networks and financial mechanisms that share a common purpose to improve eco-social wellbeing of people and planet.
The boundaries between private, public and social sectors are blurring. Organizations from business, not-for-profits/civil society or governments are being reconfigured and designed differently. As new roles, responsibilities and structures emerge, we are starting to see blending of the best aspects of private, public and civil society into a distinct ecosystem for collective action.
The concept of the fourth sector has been used to describe this new operating environment and organizational form that has been emerging organically. The concept is short hand for diverse activities, hybridisation and collaboration that intersects the public, private and non-profit sectors. The core feature of the fourth sector is the intentional integration of social purpose and business methods.
Some examples included: the rise of benefit corporations, social enterprises, the the resurgence of cooperatives, and fairtrade. The growing interest in using private capital for social outcome and the experiments in social and development impact bonds to finance social projects and public services to reduce homelessness, build social housing for low-income households, reduce recidivism are other examples of shared values and blended missions.
The diagram below maps the new operating landscape and the kinds of organizations and processes that challenging old paradigm.
The fourth sector is the story about people who are reconfiguing relations of power. We know it will take time and enormous effort to realize its full potential. The way ahead has yet to become clear. But opportunities are here. The time is now. We can start by co-creating building a supportive and engabling ecosystem for that enables fourth sector type organizations to experiment with new process, grow their network, and strengthen their capabilities for delivering measureable and scalable positive social impact.
Robyn Lui, Ph.D.
Founder & Principal Strategist at
Social Change Collective & general mischief-maker.
Mission: championing good people to achieve
great things that benefit people and the planet.