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Government and NFP Collaboration Key to Addressing Social Problems

20 May 2011 at 1:44 pm
Staff Reporter
Collaboration between government and the Not for Profit sector is crucial to addressing the greatest social problems facing Australia, the Building Partnerships between Government and Not for Profits Conference has heard.

Staff Reporter | 20 May 2011 at 1:44 pm


Government and NFP Collaboration Key to Addressing Social Problems
20 May 2011 at 1:44 pm

Collaboration between government and the Not for Profit sector is crucial to addressing the greatest social problems facing society, the Building Partnerships between Government and Not for Profits Conference has heard.

The conference, held at the National Convention Centre in Canberra, has heard from a range of government and non-government speakers about the potential and pitfalls of Not for Profit organisations working in partnership with government, and how this may be best achieved.

In his keynote address, CEO of the Australian Social Innovation Exchange and conference chair Steve Lawrence told around 100 attendees that partnerships between government and NFPs are crucial, however they must be undertaken in the right way.

Lawrence says where once well resourced Not for Profit organisations could independently deal with the challenges facing them, the changing and complex framework within which the NFPs operate means they now need to engage the full range of stakeholders in moving forward.

Lawrence says building partnerships between NFPs and government is crucial – the two sectors need each other. He says the one-size-fits-all approach of governments means they cant access many groups, and the NFP sector is needed for this.

Lawrence says NFPs need government to mainstream good ideas and turn them into national practice, and set the legal and policy environment.

Lawrence reffered to a major IBM report – Government 2020 and the Perpetual Collaboration Mandate – which says for the 6 major social problems facing the world, the only way that government are going to work towards a solutions is by making collaboration a priority. (View the IBM report here)

Lawrence says access to data is one of the critical issues in the government/NFP relationship, and is critical to solving social problems. He says government has huge wealth of data that should be made available to the NFP sector in order to drive innovation in our communities.

Lawrence says the journey for the sector so far has seen churches/NFPs fill an unmet need; government sees the need and funds universal provision of the NFP solution; and business comes in and seeks commercial opportunities. However he says this picture is now much more complex as sectors, boundaries and needs become more interconnected.

However he says NFPs need to ensure their ‘cosy collaborations” are benefiting citizens and communities, not just their own interests.

Lawrence warned about competition in the Not for Profit sector, saying in many cases it is far more extreme and immature than competition in the business sector.

The much-lauded National Compact is a step in the right direction in regards to collaboration, however Lawrence says that as important as the Compact is, it will be mere words if it isn’t given the practical support from all sides to make it real.

Lawrence says that new kinds of leaderships is needed, saying Australia is currently experiencing a leadership vaccum.

How to collaborate well

Lawrence says the key to collaborating well is:

  • Preparation/planning – not a huge amount, but good planning
  • Self assessment – Is the NFP ready to partner? Is it collaborating well internally, is there a culture of collaborating within the NFP? Is the required leadership for this to happen in place?
  • Indentifying priority areas
  • Finding the right partners – A partner that comes to an NFP is not as good as a partner a NFP has carefully sought it. Values need to fit, and each party must understand the objectives of the other.
  • Clarify expectations and objectives – An NFP shouldn’t make assumptions about what they think their collaboration partner wants – they will trip up on the unwritten expectation.
  • When it comes to implementation, start small if you haven’t had much experience with collaboration
  • Put time in to relationship management
  • Sort out your internal silos first

Making reform a reality – The Office for the Not for Profit Sector

Helen McDevitt, Assistant Secretary of the Social Inclusion Unit and head of the newly-established Office for the Not for Profit sector, spoke on the Gillard Government’s steps towards making reform a reality.

McDevitt says the Productivity Commission’s report into the contribution of the Not for Profit sector is a excellent report, and is the major focus of the Office for the Not for Profit Sector.

She says a number of initiatives revealed in the 2011-12 Federal Budget show the government’s commitment to NFP reform.

One such initiative is the Australian Charities and NFP Commission. McDevitt says the government’s decision to establish the Commission before going through the complex negotiations with the states and territories to develop the legislation shows the government’s commitment to reform.

She says rather than spent the next 12 months consulting, the government will establish a taskforce from July the year to drive this process and make sure it is done right.

McDevitt says it is a priority of the Commonwealth to reach agreement at the next COAG meeting on working together to streamline regulation that sits across state and federal responsibilities.

McDevitt says an important part of the 1st year with be determining the scope of a public information portal. She says Ministers are keen that this becomes a world’s best practice information portal for the NFP sector.

McDevitt says it is important that this reform actually leads to the reduction of red tape – these initiatives need to be kept on track, and must make it clear how they are reducing the compliance burden of the sector.

McDevitt says government will develop a statuatory definition of charity, and will try to make such a definition national, not just applicable on the Commonwealth level.

McDevitt says the Government has considered and agreed all of the recommendations in the Productivity Commission report, at least in principle, and has set out a detailed plan on how to take all of these recommendations forward.

She says the Office for the Not for Profit Sector is working right across government (in particular with the Australian Tax Office and Treasury) to move these recommendations forward. She says there is a work plan mapped out on all of this.

Responding Patrick McClure, Ethics Fellow at the Centre for Social Impact, who spoke in his presentation on the need for National Compact Advocates, McDevitt says the Government has agreed that all government agencies will have Compact advocates.

She says this process is being undertaken now – the role of the advocates will be to make sure this engagement happens, but also to serve as a high-level complaint mechanism. She said all departments have relationships with the NFP sector, so they should all have compact advocates.

McDevitt says the budget included workplace participation measures that will operate as partnerships between government and NFPs. She says place based initiatives to increase workforce participation in ten communities will build on local knowledge and strong partnerships with NFPs.

The placed-based initiatives will be established in 10 locations with persistent disadvantage, with $25 million invested for a Local Solutions Funds for Not for Profits.

More broadly, McDevitt says the role of the the Office for the Not for Profit Sector is to drive and coordinate with states and territories.

She says the key areas of responsibility of the Office are

  • Coordinating whole of gov approach to NFP reform
  • Support the NFP Reform Council
  • Progress the National Compact
  • Promote Volunteering
  • Promote Philanthropy and Social investment

The Office for the Not for Profit Sector launched its website recently, and McDevitt says the revamped Social Inclusion and National Compact websites are due to be re-launched soon. 

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