In the early 1980s, a small group involved in developing voluntary sector management met occasionally. This original Management Development Network fizzled out in 1985, but its bank account remained. A few years later NCVO’s Management Development Unit ran seminars for freelance consultants, and when these stopped in 1991, a few of us who had attended decided to get together to organise our own events.
In November 1991 this new Management Trainers and Consultants Network held its very first event, focussing on how management competencies and NVQs affect voluntary sector management trainers. By the time of the next event in May 1992, the MDN bank account was resurrected, and to avoid changing the account name, the name was also resurrected. And so MDN was (re)born, with 23 founding members, a whopping £19.36 in the bank, draft membership criteria and a statement of purpose.
Fast forward 30 years and discover that since those inaugural events approximately 300 trainers and consultants have been members, with several remaining from the beginning or very early days. MDN now has a new name, Consultants for Good, but its fundamental purposes and membership criteria remain the same: a UK-wide supportive network of sole traders and micro-businesses, dedicated people who provide high quality, tailored consultancy and training for voluntary sector organisations.
For most members, the main value of MDN/CforG lies in its seminars and workshops, with their networking and the invaluable handouts distributed to all members. Since 1991 there have been nearly 200 events for members, including events in Scotland (which started operating semi-autonomously in 2001), MDN South West (2009-2012) and a small group in Leicester (1993-96).
Most of our events have drawn on the expertise of members, but speakers/facilitators have also included academics, voluntary sector CEOs and others with specialist expertise. We’ve also invited speakers from the public and commercial sectors. Early highlights were a “speakeasy” – a small informal event – in 1993 with Charles Handy, and a weekend residential in Rugby in 1995. Over the years, particularly in Scotland, events have also been held jointly with other organisations.
Members have produced briefings for fellow members on topical issues, and to help members collaborate with one another and to enable organisations to find consultants and trainers, a directory of members has been published since 1993, and work opportunities have been publicised to members for over 20 years.
MDN/CforG has also been actively involved in supporting the voluntary sector, through involvement since 2001 in charity law reform and development in Scotland, and involvement during 2005-06 in the working group on national occupational standards (NOS) for trustees and management committee members.
Our 15-year review in 2006 said, “The last 15 years of MDN provide living proof that those of us who work on a self-employed basis may be mavericks, but we are hungry for new knowledge and take pleasure in self-development. We are open to different ideas, and enthralled by how to make sense of changing assumptions and behaviour. Just as importantly we are willing to share our ideas, practices and fears – it is almost as if the inevitable competitiveness of the freelance world disappears when members are involved in MDN events.”
Apart from the name of the organisation and the fact that more members work in a partnership or have their own company, nothing has changed in the 15 years since that was written. We’re still mavericks, and we’re still mavericks who support and champion each other.