Friday, November 30, 2012

Why demands for greater accountability and stronger governance should be challenged

Very good advice from Helmut Anheier who calls on not-for-profits to resist and lobby against demands  by legislators, politicians, academic think tanks and corporate leaders for greater not- for- profit accountability.

This is a critical issue here in Australia where Governments of all political persuasions and corporate and business leaders demand greater not- for- profit accountability and exhort the sector to "rise to the accountability challenge".

Of course their demand for greater not- for- profit accountability is wholly incompatible with their commitment to reduce accountability and regulation of politicians and political parties, and corporations and business.

Anheier argues (here) that the continual focus on accountability and governance produces undermines the reasons why not- for- profits exist.
Charity leaders must lobby against ever greater accountability requirements, delegates were told at Acevo’s annual conference today.

Speaking at the event in London today, Helmut Anheier, professor of sociology and dean at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin, said he was concerned about the growing expectation for the voluntary sector to become more accountable.

"Why I’m concerned is that continual emphasis on good governance and accountability will ultimately put non-profits on the defensive, making it very difficult for them to meet these expectations, unless we take a proactive solution and steps in that direction," he said.

Anheier, who was Centennial Professor at the London School of Economics between 2001 and 2009, said the debate about the need for charities to be more accountable stretched back almost 20 years, but was now getting louder.

"It is the ‘audit society’, general institutionalisation, the suggestion that more and more mechanisms are needed to reassure us that things are okay," he said. "This is merged with ideas of good governance, which are now the prime directives for voluntary organisations."

He said that putting emphasis on accountability undermined the reasons non-profit organisations exist.
Innovation in accountability should be encouraged in the charity sector, he said. He advocated demonstrating the academic Jonathan Koppell’s "five dimensions of accountability": transparency, legitimacy, controllability, responsibility and responsiveness.

"It should be acknowledged that full accountability is beyond what non-profits can and should do," said Anheier. "New forms of self-regulation and smart reporting should be encouraged.

"Lobby against new directives for ever great accountability requirements – let’s not overdo it."

Monday, November 12, 2012

We are Spartacus: The power of social justice campaigning

Here's hoping that the release of the second Spartacus Report  in the UK proves to be as significant as the first Spartacus Report (released in January 2012) which generated a huge groundswell of opposition to the Cameron Government's welfare reform package for people with disabilities, and resulted in Parliamentary defeats for the Cameron Government (the website of the We are Spartacus Campaign is here)

The second Spartacus Report released this week is described as a People's Report and analyses the failures of the Government’s Work Capability Assessment and the Employment & Support Allowance system for people with disabilities.

It  includes the experiences of more than 70 people who have been wrongly assessed, humiliated, badly treated and forced to go to  a tribunal to secure the benefits to which they are entitled under by law. The report highlights press reports of some people who have died after being found fit for work or whose suicide has been linked, at least in part, to a process which is considered abusive, demeaning and not fit for purpose. 

The first Spartacus Report was a social policy and social justice landmark. It demonstrated the power of an authentic grassroots campaign organized and run by people most directly affected by welfare reform. Rather than attempt to work "inside and with Government and political parties" the campaign directly resisted and challenged Government policy.

The first Spartacus report was written and researched by a group of people with disabilities as part of a grassroots campaign to challenge and reverse a key social policy reform. The  report and campaign grew out of the online support networks that sprung up as people’s right to much needed DLA was removed by the government. 

The campaign used a wide variety of tactics – with a particular focus on social media campaign and direct action – to shift the debate on disability benefits. One significant feature of the Spartacus campaign was the organic nature of its development from a social support network to a formal political campaign. 

The first Spartacus Report showed the Cameron Government's lies and evasions and its misleading of the public over plans to reform the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) being paid to people with disabilities and replace it with a Personal Independence Payment (PIP). The Report showed that the change would result in significant cuts in benefits and reduction in allowances.

The Spartacus Report exposed the Cameron Government's lies and evasions on the reform and showed that:
  • There was overwhelming opposition among people with disabilities and disability groups to the reform
  • The Government ignored the majority of consultation feedback it received  and concealed the huge amount of opposition to the reforms
  • The Government used inaccurate figures to exaggerate the rise in DLA claimants in order to justify its policy
  • The Government broke its own guidelines about consulting with people with disabilities
  • The Government ignored advice that the policy breached legislation including the Equality Act, the Human Rights Act and the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Rick Cohen on the need for the Not For Profit sector to be more involved in political issues

Rick Cohen is one of the best writers and commentators on the US not for profit sector.  His regular Cohen Report can be read on the website of the Non Profit Quarterly.

He has written this excellent piece on the implications of the US elections for the not for profit sector.  There is much in here for the Australian not for profit sector to consider.

One of Cohen's key points is that the not for profit sector needs to be much more engaged in the political debates and issues of the day, whether it is climate change, economic policy, political corruption or corporate power.

Cohen argues that the nonprofit sector can and should be the bridge through which the political parties start speaking to—rather than sidestepping—the critical issues of the day.

Cohen writes:
In a way, the gig is up. It’s no longer sufficient for the nonprofit sector to sidestep critical societal issues of race, campaign finance, climate change, and the fiscal cliff for fear that in speaking out on them they will alienate arenas of political support they need to cultivate and protect. It’s equally no longer tolerable for our nation’s political leaders to be allowed the leeway to feed the nation bromides without coming to grips with the real issues at hand. And it is untenable for the leaders in Washington and in the state capitals to continue down a path of intransigence and obstructionism that makes the nation appear virtually ungovernable. The nonprofit sector has a concrete role to play in telling politicians to get their acts together, to start speaking to the real issues of the day, and to act as if being elected to government means having to engage in the process of governing.