In which we learn that sharing our food baskets is a better way than tangling with the dangerous shopping trolley nipping at our heels.
Keynote by Garth Nowland-Foreman to Citizens Advice Bureaux New Zealand 2018 AGM, Wellington.
He Karakia Tīmatanga me te Whakakapi Kaupapa
Kia tau ngā manaakitanga a te mea ngaro ki runga ki tēnā,
ki tēnā o tātou Kia mahea te hua mākihikihi kia toi te kupu,
toi te mana,
toi te aroha,
toi te Reo (Māori) kia tūturu,
ka whakamaua kia tīna! Tīna! Hui e, Tāiki e!
Let the strength and life force of our (ancestors) forbears
Be with each and every one of us
Freeing our path from obstruction
So that our words, spiritual power, love, and language are upheld; Permanently fixed, established and understood! Forward together!
A dearly departed colleague and mentor of mine wrote about a very important difference in how organisations like ours are seen and understood. On one side the Non Profit Model (as Mark Lyons, 1996, called it) is a relatively modern way of looking at us. It was born in the USA and has only been around post 1960s – coming to prominence with the US Filer Commission on Private Philanthropy and Public Needs in 1972. It emerged from the disciplines of law and economics. It considers community organisations as a special case of ‘firm’, and much effort has been expended on trying to explain the (unfathomable to economists) phenomenon of why people would be motivated without profit. When looking at the significance of community organisations (in the economy) it focuses on measuring financial size and turn-over, employment, contribution to (or share of) GDP. At its most ambitious it also tries to count hours of, and give a dollar-value to volunteers. It is most concerned with increasing efficiency and effectiveness – the outputs we can achieve with any given inputs.
The community is essentially envisaged as a quarry from which we may extract donors, volunteers, or other supporters. It is based on a scarcity model of society, assuming resources - the important things in life – are by nature finite, so there is only so much to go around. If I gain you miss out, or vice versa. If resources, including volunteers or donations or funding are allocated to one purpose, another misses out. Society is a competition for scarce resources. The funder operates like the shopper, wheeling their trolley around the supermarket, picking the up whatever they choose to meet their needs; whatever takes their particular fancy – after all they are paying for it. And we are just the products on the shelf competing to catch the eye and be bought by a shopper/funder. And although the trolley is supposedly designed for a smooth ride, how you noticed how common it is for its wheels to stick and jam and nip at our unprotected heals?
Under this kind of analysis, we now know, for example, there are some 114,000 non-profit organisations in this country (as at 2013), and this is up 18 percent on when it was last measured almost a decade earlier (in 2004). It also tells us the sector provided paid work for 137,000 people (up 30%) and the equivalent of 1 in 10 of the working age population, when we add in volunteers – making us almost the same size as the manufacturing industry, almost three times the size of employment in the transport and communications industry, or in the construction industry. It also tells us we contribute (including a financial value for volunteers) $9.8 billion to GDP (up 38%) (Statistics NZ, 2016). We can be thankful for this data – which, incidentally, I have been involved in advising on its collection – for showing we are much bigger and have more economic muscle than most of us thought. We have no need to be shrinking violets or diffident in highlighting our contribution to the NZ economy.
But this is not the only way of understanding who we are, how we behave, and what we have to contribute. On the other side is the Civil Society Model. This is much older, deeply embedded in many indigenous cultures and centuries older European traditions. It is the focus when sociologist, anthropologists and political scientists look at us, and try and understand us. It understands community organisations as the locations, or ‘civic space’ for active citizenship and participation. It is most concerned how this enables the building of stronger communities and social cohesion. It would rather tell stories of ‘making a difference’ than measure things, but if it does it is more likely to describe levels of engagement, and growth or depletion of social capital. The synergy of the whole is always worth more than the sum of the visible parts.
It values the intrinsic worth of membership, engagement and the positive benefits of giving, assuming a ‘generosity’ model of society – where people naturally want to give and contribute, and where the most important things in life (like love, family, care, trust, relationships, support, and so on) are not ‘used up’, but actually multiply the more they are used. It’s almost as if this approach would describe community organisations as the places where ‘in the bonds of love we meet’ (me aroha noa). This is more like sharing the baskets of food we all have, so everyone has sufficient. It’s like we are in this together.
Statistics NZ did try and start to measure social capital in Aotearoa New Zealand (in 1997), but the project was largely abandoned – though is coming back again with the Adhern Coalition Government giving a much higher priority to measuring ‘well being’ along side economic growth. The NZ Council for Christian Social Services published some interesting research a couple of years ago, that identified the non-profit ‘value-added’ to contracted service-delivery outcomes. This research describes eight types of ‘organisation-specific capital’ generated by community organisations that add ‘social value’, and how these contributed to building social and cultural capital, building social inclusion and cohesion, empowering communities and enabling community development (Neilson et al, 2015).
But first. let me go back a few years; you can’t know where you are going, if you don’t know where you came from. After the slow-burning fuse of a massive increase in government funding of non-profits in the 1960s and especially the 70s & early 80s, the government woke up (in what might be described as a bit of a ‘morning after’ syndrome) - and said to itself, OMG what did we do last night? Can we sneak out with our decency in tact before anybody notices? Can a slip the morning-after pill in her wake-up coffee? Thus was born the arms-length relationship purchase-of-service contracting (POSC) approach ("lets keep this professional and keep all communication through our lawyers").
But the introduction of POSC was also part of a wider neoliberal takeover of public policy around the globe, initiated by the fourth Labour government (1984–1990) in Aotearoa New Zealand, as it ferociously implemented tenets of New Public Management - which involved an increased reliance on market-oriented strategies such as deregulation, privitisation, outsourcing, the structural separation of purchasers and providers, a greater emphasis on performance measurement, a shift from input- to output-based funding, and increased contracting out. While commenced under Labour in many policy areas, it was largely left to the subsequent National governments (1990–1999) to apply this approach to its dealings with the voluntary sector – where it meant that:
· Services and programmes were more planned and coordinated (top-down) by government (like just another customer procuring another product);
· Non-profits would learn to be more accountable and compliant to government (customer-friendly); and
· Greater diversity would be encouraged in providers (for improved competition, which would in turn lead to increased efficiency). (Though bizarrely in the name of the same purpose of increased efficiency, small community-based organisations could also be replaced my national contracts with single, sometimes international, providers.)
This was a time when markets and the community sector collided – and no prizes for guessing who came off second-best.
Skipping forward, the 2000s were a time when good intentions were not good enough. The Clarke Labour government (1999-2008) came to power with a commitment to replace the contract culture with a new ‘partnership’ with the sector, but had difficulty in three terms in office moving much beyond a few significant (though largely ceremonial) machinery-of-government changes, and blunting some of the worst excesses of POSC.
Whatever the reasons, the pernicious contract culture persisted, and under the Key (and brief English) National governments (2008-2017) through much of the 2010s its dangerous embrace quietly, but increasingly, tightened. While a few policy or funding crumbs were thrown to the sector, adjustments were stealthily made in small increments to entrench even deeper, more sophisticated versions of POSC, experimenting with Social Impact Bonds and use of Big Data to strengthen their hand as a monopsony purchaser in a weak and run-down supermarket.
For reasons that we don’t have time to explore today, the ‘purchasing’ metaphor, proved surprisingly powerful, not only in shaping how governments dealt with voluntary organisations, but also in how it conceived of them, and ultimately threatened to remake voluntary organisations in someone else’s image. At its most pernicious, it changed how we began to see and talk about ourselves. Elsewhere I have referred to the resulting ‘big squeeze’: the bankruptcy of success, with the sector’s total income going up by 65%, but their expenditure going up by 68% over the decade – resulting in 7 out of the 12 SNZ ‘activity areas’ ‘dissaving’ (meaning organisations in these activity areas overall were cannibalizing their accumulated savings or going into debt); increasingly narrow, increasingly detailed top—down specifications working to straight-jacket what funded community organisations could (and could not) do; crucial overheads and infrastructure costs squeezed; increased paperwork and reporting burden; and, a drop in hours volunteered through community organisations (42 per cent over the decade). It is no surprise that generosity itself was being squeezed out of the system.
What makes voluntary organisations unique is that they are as much about citizenship as service, as much about participation as provision. Voluntary organisations, at their best, encourage active citizenship and participation, mobilise resources, build community leadership, and enhance cooperation and trust. And this is what has been increasingly bulldozed in exchange for increased funding. For the kind of society I want to live in, I believe it is a price too high to pay.
Then we had a change of government, and it was springtime again in a kinder, more child-friendly, Aotearoa New Zealand with added well-being. It’s great to have new hope. I’m a great believer in the power of hope. But the insidious metaphor of the shopping trolley is deeply entrenched in the psyche of public policy. Even though the Labour Party and Greens’ policy platforms say all the right things (I could not find anything on-line in the NZ First policy platform), we don’t want this to just be a repeat of the ‘good intentions’ 2000s. I have two bits of advice at the policy/lobbying level (which of course hopefully includes all of us – that is not just the task of head office; in fact your real power is in your grass-roots services, organising and local connections), and two bits of advice at the direct service or programme delivery level.
At the advocacy level, first hold your government ministers and back benchers (especially Labour and Greens) accountable for all the nice policy they put in their election-manifestoes. That means you need to get a copy, read it, talk about it, ask Ministers and MPs what they understand it to mean, and what they are doing to implement it. Read, get to know, memorise, and quote like the devil can quote scripture the election manifestos, Coalition Agreement, Confidence & Supply Agreement, Speech from the Throne, and Coalition’s 12 Priorities (‘Our Plan’).
Second, also at the advocacy level, we need to take the same messages to public servants – yes I do prefer that old-fashioned concept that they are there to serve the public. Remind them of this new government’s policies and principles, and ask them what they understand it to mean, and how they intend to help the government of the day implement these ideas. It’s hard to unscramble an egg even if you are new politician coming in and can blame all the bad stuff on your predecessors. Its harder still to put that egg back together again if you were the public servant who helped write the policy. Whatsmore, there is not a public servant under the age of 50 or 55 who hasn’t learnt their craft and then spent their whole career under people who vehemently believed that whatever the policy question, the answers lay in market-oriented strategies such as deregulation, privitisation, outsourcing, the structural separation of purchasers and providers, a greater emphasis on performance measurement, a shift from input- to output-based funding, and increased contracting out. And now we expect them to jump and adopt a completely contradictory worldview? This is going to take hard work, new incentives and persistence.
A while ago I uncovered an interesting piece of research (Bernstein, 1991) that offers two pieces of very helpful advice for successfully dealing with the encroaching contracting environment, based on the real world experience of the non-profit leaders she interviewed. Those most effective in surviving, even thriving under this regime had two things in common:
First, they relentlessly kept their focus on their vision and their values. We will never keep our souls if we don’t deeply know, and shamelessly assert who we are. They not only had their vision and values everywhere in the organisation, but they also put them into action, time and time again – using them to help the board make tough spending decisions; using them to help front-line workers deal with dilemmas, and so on.
Second, because of the insidious power of measurement and what we pay attention to, they all kept a second set of books. You may have expected the first lesson, but did you really see this one coming. They provided whatever their government funders wanted in the way of figures and reports, but they also took the time and energy to record and report on what was important for them in really achieving their vision and working consistently with their values. This is because of the overwhelming evidence that we do more of whatever is measured. And without an eye to where that is leading us, we may soon find ourselves subtly and even innocently led astray. Let me just give one quick example. Over the years I have done a bit of work for the non-profits in Australia that help unemployed people with training and support. A couple of decades ago the Australian government changed their funding so that it was open tender (including with commercial temp agencies) and they got paid (effectively) a bounty for every client who was in unsubsidised employment 3 months and 1 day after their interventions; otherwise they got no funding. Even amongst well-intentioned non-profits it quickly led to: cherry-picking the clients most likely to get good outcomes; lowering the focusing to getting any old job for any person; a sausage factory approach that doesn’t worry about the collateral damage along the way; short-termism, that doesn’t care about the long-term impact as long as they got short-term ‘outcomes’; and scams like employing the person yourself or for a fellow organisation for a few weeks only to get the bounty. The deeper thinking organisations soon realized they were not in the business of just getting any (unemployed) person any job; they were in the business of helping people reach their full potential, and live their dreams. So they soon realized they had to measure a lot more than just ‘employment outcomes’ if they were to keep faithful to their real purpose. As the whakataukī says, Whāia te iti kahurangi ki te tūohu koe me he maunga teitei (Seek the treasure you value most dearly: if you bow your head, let it be to a lofty mountain – our vision and values, not just some passing contract outcomes).
As well as holding government to account for its public policy and funding, we need to hold ourselves to account for being true to ourselves and what we believe in – or otherwise we might as well give up, and let it all be contracted out to a call centre of exploited workers in India. But if we are not ready to give up just yet, as the whakataukī says, Kaua e mate wheke mate ururoa (Don't die like a octopus, die like a hammerhead shark) – lets go down fighting, because we have something worth fighting for!
In my heart I firmly believe that it is possible to draw on the assets more commonly associated with community and civil society, alongside the assets of professional service provision. At our best, these approaches connect and empower people. They are jointly developed with the people and communities we work with. The best of these models out there are smart, values-led, and people-powered. They connect and empower people. Because they are jointly developed with those effected, they are shaped around those people’s lives, their families and their informal support networks (built in their communities). Some tough but helpful questions to ask of ourselves, if we really do want to make a difference, might be:
Can we demonstrate how our organisations help build the eight ‘social value’ capitals (from the NZCCSS Outcomes Plus report)?
Do we support the communities we serve to develop and redevelop what we do, and how we do it?
Do we aim for good lives, not just good services, helping people to build and sustain well-being? Are we targeted on building strong communities, not just strong balance sheets?
Can we show that our long-term support and services connect the people we support and avoids 'capturing' or isolating them?
Are our services delivered in a way that empowers people, builds resilience and confidence through sharing our knowledge, networks and resources?
Do we provide multiple opportunities to contribute, including engaging 'local experts' to contribute their life experience?
Do we build leadership and capacity as we go in our communities?
Naku te rourou nau te rourou ka ora ai te iwi (With your basket and my basket the people will surely live)
Bernstein, S. (1991) Managing Contracted Services in the Nonprofit Agency: Administrative, Ethical and Political Issues, Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Lyons, M. (1996) “Nonprofit sector or civil society: Are they competing paradigms?” Paper presented at Social Cohesion, Justice and Citizenship—The Role of the Voluntary Sector ANZTSR Conference, Wellington, July.
Neilson, B., with Sedgwick, C. & S Grey, S. (2015) Outcomes Plus: The added value provided by community social services, Wellington: New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services (NZCCSS).
Nowland-Foreman, G. (2016) “Crushed or Just Bruised? Voluntary Organisations – 25 Years Under the Bear Hug of Government Funding in Aotearoa New Zealand” Third Sector Review, Vol.22 No.2: 53-69.
Statistics NZ (2016) Non-profit Institutions Satellite Account: 2013, Wellington: Statistics New Zealand.