August 19, 2012
There were two days this week of intensive concentration. Two days of learning new ways of expressing old ideas, two days of interpreting new inspirations for a new age.
There were two events: one was a national conference, and the other a brief breakfast session at Parliament hosted by Jacinda Adern MP, on behalf of ComVoices. Both covered common elements: community engagement and citizenship; the business of funding community projects and enterprise; and different models of operation.
Nothing is forever. We live in a world of constant change. There’s something new every day. Yes, I know all the clichés. But there is something more going on here.
The meanings of ordinary words are revitalised:
• Citizenship is you and me and the responsibilities we have to our community and to each other;
• Participation is being engaged in our communities and networks, and engaged in the process of change;
• Sustainability is creating something that is not just a one-off attempt, and it is also the big word in better management of our environment;
• Collaboration and Partnership will drive the operations of community groups in times of austerity; and are the key facilitators in developing a social enterprise.
Hackneyed terms and phrases are revisited and rephrased:
• The old catch-cry of Making a Difference morphs into Doing Real Good, implying there are tangible results in what you do. (And begging the question of defining what we mean by ‘Real Good’.) Well, we are learning fast about outcomes and results-based funding conditions.
• Community gets to be described and understood as a philosophy, a collective value, and not just a blanket neutral term for everyone out there, or the generalisation for why our organisation exists. There are many different forms of ‘community’.
When we turn these words and ideas into action there is a whole new vocabulary to learn, and new ways of doing business. The new vocabulary begins with Social Enterprise, and the new business model is based on collaboration and partnership between business, philanthropy, government agencies and communities and community organisations.
That’s the beauty of the new ways of thinking: we can escape from our silos of Public, Private and Third or Non-Profit Sectors (and eliminate perceptions of community as third-rate, or non-anything) to find the new view and new solutions. It’s happening now, somewhere close to you. Go find out more, and be a part of the change. Or read about the international trend for NGOs to embrace profit-making social enterprises.
Going on three hundred and fifty years ago there was an earlier Enlightenment, a period of awakening in Europe, of the beginnings of formal science, philosophy, economics and the rise of capitalism and industrialisation. It was also called the Age of Reason, because it was argued that rational thinking provided more answers to the mysteries of life than religious beliefs. One of the facilitators of this new age was the invention of the Coffee House, where you could enjoy the new stimulant brought by the merchant traders from Africa and South America. Here was the place where intellectuals met to discuss the issues of the day, to form political policies and to plot the French Revolution.
Next time you go to a business meeting at your favourite café give some thought to how your discussion might influence the new Enlightenment.
July 21, 2012
There’s an old word getting serious attention these days, giving me pause for some serious thinking.
Collaboration is a word that denotes ‘working together’, for a common goal. It is a word that connotes shared interests, which can lead to shared resources.
In my mind Collaboration is associated with Cooperation, Consideration of others, Collectives, and of course, Community. The idea of Collaboration invokes team-work, collective problem-solving, multi-party representation and partnerships. At the end of the day Collaboration has the potential to offer a gestalt, a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts.
Collaboration has been turning up in different contexts, so it is starting to look like a trend. Here’s the evidence:
- The practice of Public/Private Partnerships (PPPs) is not a new form of collaboration, though it is a hot topic in New Zealand at present.
- I am following the rise and rise of social enterprise, and the partnerships negotiated between business and community organisations, between government and community.
- I note one philanthropic funding source is encouraging joint ventures for community-based services.
- The influence of community organisations on government policy is limited by the diversity of organisations, and I hear a passionate plea for collaboration, at least at a national level. Dammit, we need to get our act together.
- Genuine partnerships between Not for Profits and Government, corporates and clients are “crucial to the achievement of positive social outcomes”, is the theme for a conference in Western Australia later this year.
- Volunteering New Zealand’s Management of Volunteers Project has certainly benefited from shared information and a collective approach to developing the programme. There is a great deal of collaboration from diverse interests to achieve an outcome that will be mutually beneficial. The Draft Competencies are now out for consultation. (Note how ‘consultation’ can also be interpreted as a relation of ‘collaboration’.)
What is going on here? I know we can all be ground down in efforts to be heard, so “if you can’t beat ‘em, you join ‘em”. I know how funding pressures can push an organisation into new collaborative ventures with another party, outside the regular frame of reference – or out of existence altogether.
I also know about ‘patch protection’, how proposals for economies of scale like sharing back-room functions with other organisations never go anywhere, and how a ‘silo mentality’ can blinker many a community organisation to the potential benefits of shared interests and collaboration with others.
Because the way the world works is through competition, right? Evolution determines survival of the fittest. Supply and demand in the market place predicates which product, which business wins out. Business mergers are more about swallowing and destroying competitors than a re-invention of enterprise. Politics is all about winning over rivals, or the other party. Right now we are heading into the opening of the London Olympics and a few weeks of achieving individual glory and national rivalry to top the medal tally tables, no matter how much we talk up the spirit of internationalism. All of which is the antithesis of collaboration.
I daresay the business of competition will never go away. We will still want to cheer the All Blacks to another World Cup, and to climb a few pegs on international tables.
Yet, the signs of collaboration on the radar suggest there are some new dynamics entering the business of political, social and economic organisation. The opportunities for ‘doing good’, for achieving qualitative and positive social change are there if we go look. As Tom Levitt says in the preface to his book Partners for Good, “In today’s Big Society it is said that ‘we are all in this together’”.
Does anyone notice there is never a mention of volunteers and volunteering? Nor of managers of volunteers who have been practising collaboration for years, working with volunteers to get great outcomes wherever they are engaged.
April 29, 2012
Posted in A Bigger Picture tagged Charities Commission, Civil Society, community and voluntary sector, community-led development, Philanthrocapitalism, Qualitative outcomes, social capital, social entrepreneur, social innovation, Social Investment at 9:44 pm by Sue Hine
I’ve been to a few meetings lately, listened to presentations and viewed the power point slides. They were not meetings about volunteering or volunteer management, but the information and ideas sure made me sit up and take notice.
Here is my take on some of the straws in the wind that have come my way.
- Demographic trends indicate a shrinking working-age population
We’ve heard about the dramatic increase of older populations for decades. On the flip side is a decline in people of working age, which will give us the benefit of lower unemployment. We are going to get ZPG without even trying. The bad news is a big revenue problem for government and a rise in resource demands. All this, on top of a national economy struggling to recover from the impact of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC).
NGOs, already struggling to maintain their funding base, will be under pressure to do more with less. In rural areas where population change will be greater community organisations will face shrinking resources, of both funding and volunteers. There are serious implications for national organisations providing outreach services in provincial areas. On the other hand there could be opportunities to work more closely with local government, to develop partnerships with other organisations and subsequent economies of scale.
- Collaboration, Participation, Innovation
These words are the catch-cry for change in the community sector, the drivers for action. Proposed changes in both central and local government offer an opportunity for community organisations to articulate a new view, to occupy a new space and to develop new coalitions. Yes!
Can we do it?
- Collaboration is the buzzword of the month
There are plenty of models to follow: community development partnerships, through community engagement, the effective use of social capital and linked with social enterprise. None of these words are new, but they gain increased currency in a time of sector uncertainty. What is new is the trend towards alliances with the business sector and philanthropic trusts. But I worry about collaboration, and whether it is another word for the public and private sectors to take control while proffering the hand of partnership.
- “A new phase of capitalism, where new ways of creating wealth are identified”
In all the talk of Social Investment and Social Impact and Outcomes it is difficult to see who benefits. Governments can transfer risks to the community sector. Social investment from the private sector could lead to creaming off the best of NFPs and ignoring others, thus creating new forms of underclass. It also leads to the Marketisation of Charities. That sounds more like a death knell for the sector’s capacity for innovation. When organisations become risk-aversive it is too easy to curtail services in areas where outcomes and impacts are less impressive. The spectre of ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor is resurrected, specially when funding gets tagged to results.
- “The community sector is not considered a peer of Government”
Too true, I sigh, and has been so for decades, despite terminology like Third Sector and concepts of Civil Society. Volunteers and their organisations might enjoy praise and platitudes of appreciation, but never do they get to be equals at negotiating tables.
So I am disappointed the recent report on public services makes never a mention of relations with NGOs, NFPs or the community sector. It is like these organisations do not exist.
Well, it is proclaimed, the Government and the community sector need to get to know each other better. They need to build mutual trust and understanding, not stand-off bargaining. They need to reduce the power imbalance, get a pay-off for both funders and recipients (not to mention the beneficiaries). I wish.
Yes, I know the NFP sector is complex. We struggle to establish a common definition and language, and to determine the essence of the sector. Yet the diversity of communities and organisations means a single voice and a unifying philosophy is unrealistic.
Yes, there is room for collaboration where there are shared interests. Yes, we need to break down the silos and patch protection. And Yes, we have been in the business of change for generations. Except this time it seems like the change is being done to us, and not in the spirit of community development.
To gain a stake in the future it we need to stake a claim, on our terms, for the territory of our communities and their missions.
April 1, 2012
Posted in A Bigger Picture, Valuing Volunteers tagged community leadership, community-led development, Kia Tutahi, social capital, social entrepreneur, social innovation, Third Sector, volunteer awards at 4:33 am by Sue Hine
Last week’s review of national awards honouring volunteers pointed up the extent of voluntary activity outside the mainstream not-for-profit institutions, and generally beyond a formal volunteer programme. I was reminded of my long ago introduction to sociology, and early studies of New Zealand society.
Forty years ago I was reading about New Zealanders as ‘a nation of joiners’. Research in 1970 in a country town of 14,000 people found there were 200 organisations, and 60% of the population belonged to one or more of them. You could find similar patterns all over the country, and I was part of them.
Forty years ago academic research and writing never mentioned ‘volunteers’ or ‘volunteering’, despite the existence of health and social service organisations that had been active for many years, largely supported by volunteers. Organisations were lumped together as “voluntary associations”, regardless of purpose or function. Or they were pressure groups, sometimes regarded with suspicion by dismissive politicians. Our open political system, said one writer, “has what amounts to an unrecognised fourth estate” [after legislature, judiciary and administration]. Voluntary participation in communities was surely taken for granted.
At last count (2004) there were 97,000 non-profit organisations in New Zealand. More recent studies (2008) estimate that 67% of the non-profit workforce are volunteers, and that more than one third of the population aged 10 and over volunteer each year. It seems we are still a nation of joiners, though under changed circumstances.
Over the past twenty-five years Government has devolved responsibility for delivering many services to community-based organisations, and volunteers can play a large part in these. Government organisations like Sport NZ (formerly SPARC) and the Department of Conservation are directly engaged with volunteers and supporting volunteering. A formal relationship accord between government and communities of Aotearoa NewZealand was signed in 2010.
Terminology shifted too. We absorbed new labels and acronyms: non-governmental organisation (NGO); non-profit institution (NPI); and not-for-profit (NFP). Collectively, community-based organisations are tagged the Third Sector.
The focus on service delivery and ‘consumers’ and on accountability brought an attendant raft of regulations, eroding the real virtues of volunteer-involving organisations. Their capacity for developing creative solutions and experimenting with new practice methodologies was hard to fit into the new environment, even though volunteering and volunteers remained an essential part of an organisation’s operations. Neither did the new model enhance belonging and social connectedness in local communities.
“Voluntary associations” never really went away, but somehow dropped under the radar. We are still joiners, because we are hard-wired to the idea of community, to social connectedness. The philosophy of community is as old as – well – communities, and history is chequered with examples of community-led development and change on social, political and economic fronts.
So I should not be surprised to observe some winds of change over the past decade. Concepts of Civil Society and social capital are re-surfacing in mainstream discussion and actions. Social entrepreneurs are showing us the way to create sustainable change in our communities. We can even put a positive spin on NGOs by re-naming them Social Profit Organisations. And wouldn’t you know it: the theme for this year’s Volunteer Awareness Week is Building Communities through Volunteering.
There is much to encourage us in the present state of volunteering. National and local awards for volunteers are evidence of a depth of experience and commitment to communities of all kinds. “Voluntary Associations” deserve more air-time because their activities can build flourishing communities.
No doubt the next forty years will record more social and political change. I am in no doubt that “voluntary associations” will participate in that change, if not leading the charge.