Pro Bono Economics has today announced a diverse team of Commissioners to head the Law Family Commission on Civil Society, which will be chaired by former Cabinet Secretary Lord Gus O’Donnell. Among the 17 Commissioners, drawn from all three sectors of the economy – private, public and social, are former politicians, philanthropists and leaders of charities, universities, businesses and community groups. Over the next two years, the Commission will steer an ambitious programme of ground-breaking research into how best to unleash the full potential of the UK’s civil society.

Gus O’Donnell, Chair of the Law Family Commission on Civil Society, said:

“Civil society has long been undervalued and overlooked. Yet charities employ almost as many people as financial services and generate around £200 billion of social value, equivalent to 10% of GDP. The coronavirus crisis has highlighted the critical role of civil society in all our lives. After years of policy neglect, now is the time to examine properly the changes that are needed to allow civil society to do still more to improve our country.

“Leading businesses are putting purpose and profit on a par. Government wants to level up the country. Charities themselves know they’re going to have to do more with less as the recession bites. None of the three sectors can fulfil their aims without the others.

“It is essential all parts of society are involved in the conversation and working as one if the UK is to build back better from the Covid crisis. If we leave even one sector out, attempts to create inclusive growth will fail. That is why the Law Family Commission on Civil Society has brought all sectors – public, private and social – together to unlock civil society’s potential.”

Launching in December, the two-year Commission, which has been made possible through the support of the Law Family Charitable Foundation, will be run by the charity Pro Bono Economics. It will examine all aspects of civil society, from volunteering and philanthropy to communities and the relationship between civil society and government. It comes at a time when civil society is facing unprecedented challenges, with charities now facing a £10billion funding gap expected to lose 60,000 jobs as a result of coronavirus.

The Commissioners, announced today, include James Timpson, Chief Executive of the shoe repair chain that does pioneering work with ex-offenders, and Michele (Mitch) Oliver from Mars’ senior team. Their private-sector expertise will complement the academic knowledge of Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell from the University of Manchester and the social insight of YouGov CEO Stephan Shakespeare. Former Secretary of State and UN Under-Secretary-General Baroness Valerie Amos will join Gus O’Donnell in providing extensive experience of government policymaking, while Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson will bring her wide-ranging expertise as a Paralympian, charity trustee and University Chancellor.

Straddling the private sector and civil society are philanthropists and funders Mary Rose Gunn of The Fore, Vidhya Alakeson of Power to Change and Sir Harvey McGrath of Big Society Capital, who have also all agreed to become Commissioners.

Leaders of charities involved in the Commission range from Ruth Ibegbuna the Director of small, community action group The Roots Programme, which provides social exchanges at a local level, to Dr Javed Khan the Chief Executive of Barnardo’s, which runs over 1,000 services. Other Commissioners from the charity sector include: Joel Davis, Chief Executive of Tutors United; Shaks Ghosh, Chief Executive of Clore Social Leadership; Theresa Shearer, CEO of ENABLE Scotland; Karl Wilding, CEO of sector body NCVO, and Matt Whittaker, CEO of Pro Bono Economics.

Ruth Ibegbuna, CEO Founder of RECLAIM and Director of The Roots Programme said:

“2020 is such a powerful year for us to embark on this work on the Law Family Commission on Civil Society. The challenges facing our country are so multifaceted and dangerously divisive that we now need to bring evidence, expertise and lived experience into the same spaces. I'm looking forward to working collaboratively to provide robust challenges to the status quo and to spark new thinking that simply works better, for all.”

Michele (Mitch) Oliver, Global VP Brand & Purpose at Mars and Stonewall Trustee said:

“Businesses have a critical role to play in civil society, with responsibilities to our customers, our employees, our neighbours and our families. Having worked for Mars, a family owned business, for over 25 years I’ve seen first-hand how purpose can be placed at the heart of everything a company does. We believe that the world we want tomorrow starts with how we do business today.  We are building this approach into every aspect of business including operations, marketing, sourcing and our people strategies.  This new Commission has the potential to break through traditional siloed thinking to help create a society where everyone can thrive, and the private sector can contribute hugely to that.”

Notes to editors

  • The Law Family Commission on Civil Society is launching in December. To register interest in attending an exclusive media briefing from a panel of Commissioners ahead of the Commission’s formal launch, please contact [email protected]
  • Gus O’Donnell is available for further comment.
  • Biographies for all Commissioners are available upon request
  • Pro Bono Economics’ estimate of the £10 billion funding gap faced by charities can be found here, and its estimate of the 60,000 jobs at risk can be found here
  • NCVO estimates the charity sector employed 910,000 people in 2017/18 while the ONS estimates that financial and insurance services employed 1 million in 2018.
  • Andy Haldane’s estimate of the £200 billion value of the charity sector can be found here

The full list of Commissioners

Lord Gus O’Donnell

Former Cabinet Secretary, Chairman of Frontier Economics

Vidhya Alakeson

Chief Executive, Power to Change

Baroness Valerie Amos, CH, PC

Former UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator and Secretary of State for International Development

Joel Davis

Chief Executive, Tutors United

Shaks Ghosh CBE

Chief Executive, Clore Social Leadership

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson DBE

Crossbench peer, Paralympian and Chancellor of Northumbria University

Mary Rose Gunn

Chief Executive, The Fore

Ruth Ibegbuna

CEO Founder, RECLAIM and Director of The Roots Programme

Dr Javed Khan

Chief Executive, Barnardo's

Sir Harvey McGrath

Chair, Big Society Capital

Michele (Mitch) Oliver

Global VP Brand & Purpose at Mars, Trustee Stonewall

Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell

President and Vice-Chancellor, Professor of Physiology, University of Manchester

Stephan Shakespeare

CEO, YouGov

Theresa Shearer

CEO, ENABLE Scotland

James Timpson OBE DL

Chief Executive, Timpson Ltd

Matt Whittaker

CEO, Pro Bono Economics

Karl Wilding

CEO, NCVO

About Pro Bono Economics:

PBE uses economics to support the social sector and to increase wellbeing across the UK. The charity combines project work for individual not-for-profits and social enterprises with policy research that can drive systemic change.

About the Law Family Commission on Civil Society:

The Law Family Commission on Civil Society will launch in December. It will bring together experts from across politics, business and government to answer the question “how can civil society’s potential be unleased in the 2020s?” It will run for two years with a full programme of events and undertake a range of topical research – starting with how to put civil society at the heart of the levelling up agenda to deliver truly inclusive growth.


For further information, please contact:

SENSO Communications, Penny Lukats, 07775992350, [email protected]

Follow Pro Bono Economics at (@ProBonoEcon) and Matt Whittaker (@MattWhittakerPB) on Twitter.