Friday, September 17, 2010

The crises within the Wilderness Society

Sadly the crisis that has engulfed one of Australia's most respected and successful campaigning not-for profits continues to play out in public. The long serving Executive Director of the Wilderness Society Alex Marr has resigned just months after the election of a new National Committee dominated by a breakaway group (known as Save the Wilderness Society). Alex Marr is now threatening legal action against the Management Committee and the Society.

After a long struggle, that included a hearing in the Tasmanian Supreme Court, the breakaway group (that now forms the Management Committee) seized control of the agency earlier this year from a Committee controlled by Marr allies, citing concerns about Alex Marr's attempts to centralise control, his management style and approach and concerns about the governance and directions of the Society.

Not surprisingly, Alex Marr's resignation letter  accuses the new management committee of cronyism, of wanting to return the society to a political protest organization and of threatening the society's financial future. Some of the same concerns were directed at Marr and the former Management Committee.

Bitter internal conflict and tension are common in not-for-profits, particularly where competing values and ideologies play out and the agency is committed to fighting for hard won social, environmental and political change. 

In the last few years the Wilderness Society has fought many tough battles with corporations and governments, and found itself under direct legal and political attack by those powerful interests. So it is not surprising that internal conflict has erupted.

Sometimes such internal tension and conflict are necessary to revitalize and reinvigorate NFP's. Let's hope that the Wilderness Society can recover from this crises and emerge stronger to reposition itself again as one of Australia's leading environmental advocacy and campaigning organizations.

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