ACEVO Annual Conference 2013 Keynote Speaker Interview: Matthew Taylor, CEO RSA

Matthew talks about his background, experiences and his ambitions for the future of the sector.Matthew Thomson

What professional achievement are you particularly proud of?

I enjoy turning organisations around. I have never joined an organisation in total crisis but four times in my career I have taken leadership roles (at health service policy monitor, the Labour Party policy department, the IPPR and the RSA) with a team or an organisation that felt it had lost its way to some extent. I hope I have helped those teams become bigger, stronger and more confident. Sometimes I wonder what I might have achieved if I had taken over something that was already massively successful. I think having a downside so much bigger than the upside would be very daunting – I don’t envy David Moyes!

What are the biggest challenges the sector currently faces?

There are many big challenges.

In the context of declining deference and ever greater transparency, big organisations in particular face growing issues about legitimacy – whether in terms of their effectiveness, the salary of the CEO, their relationship with Government or private sector. The temptation is to address this though PR when the proper answer is self-criticism and a willingness to align internal behaviours with reasonable external expectations.

But if I had to put the biggest challenge in a nutshell it would be: demonstrating impact while also being willing to ask challenging questions about what kind of impact matters. A more specific and significant challenge is governance, which is I think overall suboptimal, often problematic and sometimes catastrophic.

What are the biggest opportunities for the sector?

To be part of a redefinition of the norms and expectations we need to thrive in the 21st century. If we the people are ‘to be the people we need to be to create the future we say we want’ we need – in short – to be more engaged, more resourceful and more altruistic (at the RSA we call this 21st century enlightenment). The question is how do we instil the virtues and habits needed for 21st century citizenship?

What do you think the sector will look like in five years’ time?

Not radically different but overall more dynamic with more new entrants, a more diverse set of social business models, and more organisations either having to adapt painfully or dying because they haven’t.

What are your ambitions for the sector?

For it to be part of closing what we at the RSA call the ‘social aspiration gap’ – the gap between our shared ambitions for the kind of society in which most of us want to live and the trajectory upon which current behaviours and norms place us. Part of that is fostering a more intelligent debate, something to which the third sector only sometimes contributes. The sector needs to be more honest with itself and more honest with the public.

How can ACEVO help organisations achieve their ambitions?

By offering third sector leaders the right balance of support and challenge. And, given that ACEVO members probably prefer the former to the latter, this is perhaps ACEVO’s own biggest challenge.

Matthew Taylor will be speaking at the ACEVO Annual Conference on Thursday 21 November.
To book your place go to

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