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SSIR – Time for the plural sector

When one sector of society becomes dominant—as the public sector did under communism and the private sector is now doing in the name of capitalism—societies go out of balance and people suffer. A healthy society requires a respected public sector, a responsible private sector, and a robust plural sector. Calling it “plural,” in place of inadequate labels like nonprofit or third, will help this sector take its rightful place alongside the other two and also help us to appreciate the unique role it has to play in restoring that balance.

What is frequently called the “third sector” turns out to be surprisingly obscure. No wonder, with vague labels like this one. What does third sector mean to most people? This sector deserves a better name, and it deserves greater recognition of the critical role it will have to play in restoring balance in this troubled world.

What might best be called the “plural sector” (more later on why) has been consistently excluded from the great debates of our time—over left versus right, public sector governments versus private sector markets, nationalization versus privatization (as if these two sectors are the only homes for our important institutions). People argue about the need for government control of health care services to insure equality, compared with leaving control to the marketplace for the sake of efficiency, without recognizing how many of these services are actually supplied by community institutions in the plural sector for the sake of quality. And then we use the term PPP as if partnerships exist only between organizations that are public and private.

The plural sector is not some middle position between left and right, but as different from the other two sectors as they are from each other. Its particular focus is on communities, whereas the other two sectors focus on governments and businesses. It is time, therefore, for the plural sector to take its rightful place alongside the ones called public and private.

Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR)
By Henry Mintzberg. 2015


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