I’ve been working in the community service sector for almost 8 months now and in my brief time alongside those at the heart of social service, among the many, many wonderful projects undertaken everyday with the needs and betterment of people placed very much at the core, there’s one thing that has struct me more than most.
That is that it seems the methods by which funders, be that central government, or local philanthropic organisations, determine the success and or failure of a given service can be very different from those of the sector themselves.
The sector, driven by a desire to ensure that whatever happens, whether the need be socio-economic, physical or emotional, views that the service supplied and the vision of the success of that service, must be driven by the people concerned. In short, it’s about people and wellbeing, not about money.
Whereas all too often and in an increasingly worrying trend, funders seem to have a need to quantify success in simple numeric terms. How much does it cost to get to the point where the individual or organisation no longer needs help, is the all too often simplistic, broad brushstrokes view of those with the purse-strings firmly tied.
Now it would be too easy at this point to dive inexorably into a political maelstrom. It would be too easy simply to blame right wing economic constructs. Too easy to present evidence of societal theory dating back to the 1980s that may or may not have lead to the point where the 12-year-old kid with a physical disability struggles get a diagnosis and the appropriate treatment before he’s left home for a job downt mines. No, as much as I desperately want to launch into that rant, it won’t address the issues of people on one hand and money on the other. At least not immediately.
My own view is unequivocal. I believe that when it comes to human health and wellbeing there can be no price tag attached. I’ll argue to the end of my time on this earth that everyone, regardless of age, demographic and personal wealth, should be afforded the same right to that health and wellbeing regardless of cost. Health is not and should never be a matter of how big your bank balance is.
I think though, and this is the crux of the matter, that all to often confusion develops in the understanding of accountability and finance. You see there’s nothing wrong with accountability. Knowing and understanding that whomever one has asked to accomplish a task is doing that appropriately and having an effect is crucial.
You’d want to know for instance that Barry, who you’ve paid $1million to fix the local dual lane highway does exactly that and isn’t off in Rarotonga enjoying the beach on a golden throne. You’d want to know that the funds you’ve allocated to aid the delivery of social service haven’t been handed mysteriously to Sergey, the dodgy Russian from down the road with an odd interest in the importation of talcum powder. But there’s a huge difference between ensuring accountability in an organisation and presenting an image that suggests the distribution of funds is based on a numeric version of what a funder may see as success.
What’s the solution, I’m not sure? Having spent a career, prior to the point I understood the challenges faced by the community service sector in business leadership, I understand the need to ensure funds are being spent in a manner that most efficiently creates the result one looks to achieve. But now, well now I see that in community service it just can’t come down to dollars and cents, we’re worth more than that.
Bottom line is that when it comes to people, 1 and 1, rarely equals 2.