The Mercy Spirituality Centre in Epsom organised an open event with David Haigh who spoke on the topic of Civil Society.


David is a lecturer in policy analysis at the University of Auckland and at Unitec, and is a consultant in social policy and research. He captured his audience and made everyone think and participate while he gave an historic overview and linked it today's society.


Civil Society, the Third Sector, is in contrast to the Private Sector and the State not part of enterprises or businesses. Individual volunteers, Churches, Religious Organisations and Community Organisations do valuable work and may therefore be supported through funding but stay independent from the State. In fact, Social Movements are part of Civil Society. They raise awareness on certain issues, e.g. environmental issues, Human Rights, Living Wage NZ, and question the State constantly asking if the State really cares for its citizens.


Women have played a key role in these Social Movements. In New Zealand Kate Shepherd led the campaign towards the suffrage in 1893 and made New Zealand known for being the first country where women were given the vote. It was again through the women that slavery was questioned while it was well accepted by Britain at that time as it made many wealthy. The “middle class“ women protested by not buying sugar anymore as they didn't agree with the working conditions in the sugar cane fields for slaves.


In his historical overview David explained the meaning of the medieval guilds. They must have existed out of a necessity to control and protect trained crafts workpeople who were self-employed because they existed in Europe, China, the Middle East and India at the same time.


The guilds controlled the apprenticeship system that was later taken over by the Unions but they also made sure that there was healthy competition on the market with people who had appropriate training in their trades. A membership system with regular fees kept the guilds alive and assured that they could support members who needed urgent help. 


The guilds were destroyed by laissez faire capitalism and the factory system which used less crafts people and employed women and children. France made the guilds illegal in 1791, (shortly after the French Revolution). The State was to take over the control and protection of the crafts people. With the start of the Industrial Revolution the workers were unprotected and exchangeable.


Today, there are similar systems to the guilds in place, e.g. cooperatives, credit and trade unions, professional associations and Church controlled companies like Cadbury.


Church based Charities or Social Enterprises are also still present to support people in need. The Statute of Charitable Causes 1601 itself is a historical work and emerged out of the poor law and the present definition of charity is still based on it. Many community organisations bring attention to injustices and find it a challenge to receive funding from the Government without sacrificing their mission.


David quoted Michael Edwards and recommended us to read his writings. According to him Civil Society has three key roles: it is about volunteers, the sort of society we want to live in and the public sphere.


However, David reminded the group of Winston Churchill's comment: “If you are going through hell, keep going!”

He was thanked by an enthusiastic audience.


Beate Matthies

Mercy Spirituality Centre


Te Ngakau Waiora Mercy Spirituality Centre is a work of Nga Whaea Atawhai Sisters of Mercy Aotearoa New Zealand.

Te Ngakau Waiora Mercy Spirituality Centre
104 The Drive, Epsom, Auckland, New Zealand
00 64 (0) 9 638 6238