Monday, March 31, 2014

So are there too many non profits?

Like Deborah Allcock Tyler I am constantly annoyed when I hear business people, Ministers, senior people in Government agencies, and many people in the non profit sector complain that there are too many non profits, particularly too many small non profits.

The claims vary- overlapping or uncoordinated services, duplication of effort and resources, failure to'get their act together', lack of efficiency, wastage of resources and reduced effectiveness, too many different voices, too many agencies for Governments to deal with. I have heard them all.

And the suggestion that follows is usually that someone- Government, the sector, the bigger agencies, the smaller agencies- should rationalise and reduce the number of non profits, particularly smaller ones who, it is claimed, are often unviable and less effective.

Many Government agencies have operated on this assumption for years, and have used their contracting and procurement regimes as a defacto strategy to rationalise the sector.

On many occasions I have heard senior Government officers and leaders of nonprofit organisations admit that one benefit of the contracting and procurement regimes that Federal and State Governments have imposed on the non profit sector here in Australia is that it it leads to a rationalization of the non profit sector by squeezing out what they perceive as 'unviable and less effective' (they mean 'less businesslike') non profits, usually smaller agencies.

Obviously, non profits should look at ways they can work more effectively with others to reduce duplication and improve their effectiveness and impact. This includes exploring collaborative partnerships with other non profits, if it is a way to deliver better outcomes for the people and the communities they exist to serve.

However, I have never understood the claim that more non profits is a bad thing. In particular, it is fundamentally anti-democratic for someone else to decide which non profits should exist, or to decide that there should be an arbitrary limit on the number of non profits.

Efforts to reduce the number of non profits, ultimately has the effect of reducing the democratic rights of citizens to take action.

And compare this claim that there are too many non profits, with views about for profit businesses. You never hear the claim that there are too many for profit business, despite the evidence of a huge number of failing, poorly run businesses, engaged in criminal and highly questionable conduct. Rather, the view is that the more for profit businesses there are, the better.

Deborah Allcock Tyler is spot when she writes:

One principle of a free democracy is the ability of people to come together in service of something they care about, regardless of whether or not someone else is already doing it and thinks they're doing it better than anyone else (which they always do!) or, indeed, if others don't think their cause is important..................................

The belief that there are too many charities is pardonable from those outside our sector, who are less likely to see the bigger picture and more likely to see donors and volunteers as willing and obedient stooges and beneficiaries as voiceless, choiceless victims who should be grateful for whatever they get from whomever is allowed to give it.

But that belief is, for me, incomprehensible when held by those within the sector. To them I say this: all right, if you genuinely believe that there really are too many charities, close yours down and that will be one less.
The issue of whether there are too many non profits in the US context is discussed here and here. A Canadian perspective is here.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Neoliberalism, market fundamentalism and the colonization of Aboriginal policy

"Neo-liberalism is a hungry beast and this 21st Century strain of capitalism is shaping the agenda for control of Aboriginal lands...........Australian Government policy is heavily influenced by neo-liberalism through its extraordinary emphasis on managing access for mining companies to resources on Aboriginal lands. This involves controlling what is still perceived as ‘the Aboriginal problem’ and forcing a social transition from traditional values and cultural practice to ‘mainstream’ modernism of a particular brand. It also involves displacing many Aboriginal people from their traditional lands and concentrating them in ‘growth towns.......To make any sense of the aggression behind most current Indigenous policy in Australia you need to study the impact of neo-liberalism around the globe"  
Jeff McMullen

The Australian journalist, writer and social justice campaigner Jeff McMullen has written two cogent and articulate critiques of the colonization of Aboriginal policy making in this country by the cancer of neo-liberalism (or what others call market fundamentalism). 

One of Jeff McMullen's articles The New Land Grab is available on line here (in The New Internationalist blog). The second piece is a book chapter titled Dispossession- Neoliberalism and the Struggle for Aboriginal Land and Rights in the 21st Century which appears in a new book In Black and White: Australians at the Cross Roads (edited by Rhonda Craven, Anthony Dillon & Nigel Parbury). This article is available here on Jeff McMullen's own website

In drawing on the work of David Harvey and others, and incorporating the voices of Aboriginal people, McMullen makes the case that neoliberalism is a key driver of the agenda for the control of Aboriginal lands and assimilation of Aboriginal people in Australia.  

Neoliberalism, McMullen argues is the ideological underpinning of a uniquely Australian strain of state-corporate capitalism that aims to control Aboriginal communities to enable exploitation of the land and mineral wealth on Aboriginal lands. McMullan argues that the real goal here is the upward redistribution of land and mineral wealth.

McMullen demonstrates the way that successive Federal and State Governments have used the coercive powers of the state to impose an agenda of modernization, control of Aboriginal lands and assimilation and assault on Aboriginal rights and culture.

Drawing on David Harvey's book A Brief History of Neoliberalism, McMullen identifies 4 essential features of the neoliberal agenda and analyses the extent to which they are manifest in Aboriginal policy making in this country:
  1. Privatization and commodification of public and community goods. This has occurred through the privatization of Aboriginal lands, via policies that open up Aboriginal land to resource exploitation and attempts to override community land ownership and impose private property ownership rights.
  2. Financialization to treat good or bad events as opportunities for economic speculation.
  3. Management and manipulation of crises to establish a neoliberal agenda. This includes using the  Northern Territory Intervention as justification for  exerting greater control over Aboriginal communities to enable market and corporate exploitation of the minerals and resources on Aboriginal lands and the use  of 'military style campaigns to exert control and challenge Aboriginal sovereignty
  4. State redistribution of wealth, not to the poor but to the rich and powerful.
Analyzing Aboriginal policy through the lens of neoliberalism as McMullen does, helps us to understand what drives social policies such as the Northern Territory Intervention and the social engineering to control Aboriginal people still living on traditional lands, as well as the aggressive land grab by mining and resource companies, aided and abetted by Federal and State Governments, which divides Aboriginal communities, and even Aboriginal families.  He writes:
'Neoliberalism connects the agendas of modernising Aboriginal culture and allowing mining companies to vigorously exploit and minimal cost the mineral treasures on Aboriginal lands'.
McMullen points to the divide and conquer tactics of mining companies and governments in the Kimberley and Pilbara in Western Australia, across the Northern Territory, on Cape York and in parts of NSW and South Australia, as manifestation of these neoliberal agendas.

McMullen is scathing about the role played by influential Aboriginal leaders, such as Noel Pearson, Marcia Langton and Warren Mundine who have become influential advocates and brokers for neoliberal policies and have gathered adherents and supporters in both political parties and corporate Australia.