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Going Against the Odds in 2016 – Year in Review

22 December 2016 at 10:56 am
Wendy Williams
As we come to the end of year there is a growing consensus on social media that 2016 will be entered into the history books as one of the worst years ever. But this year has also brought it’s share of good news as the social sector has rallied to make a difference amidst the chaos. Wendy Williams takes at a look back at the year and what 2016 meant for the not-for-profit sector.

Wendy Williams | 22 December 2016 at 10:56 am


Going Against the Odds in 2016 – Year in Review
22 December 2016 at 10:56 am

As we come to the end of year there is a growing consensus on social media that 2016 will be entered into the history books as one of the worst years ever. But this year has also brought it’s share of good news as the social sector has rallied to make a difference amidst the chaos. Wendy Williams takes a look back at the year and what 2016 meant for the not-for-profit sector.

In many ways, 2016 was the year of the unexpected.

With the dawn of the so-called age of post-truth, came Brexit, President Donald Trump, terror attacks, the Zika virus, the final agonies of Aleppo, fake news, Pokemon Go and the deaths of much-loved icons including David Bowie, Alan Rickman and Prince.

Closer to home there was a double dissolution election which saw the Turnbull government re-elected and Pauline Hanson back in the Senate, the mantra of “jobs and growth” was repeated ad nauseum and we had a Census… sort of (#CensusFail).

Against this backdrop the not-for-profit sector has never played a more important role.

Community Council for Australia CEO David Crosbie said the discussions about safety and terrorism, disadvantage and elites, fueled by Brexit, Trump and Hanson, were a clarion call to the not-for-profit sector.

It was tied up with trust, a theme we returned to throughout the course of the year.

“At the heart of most charities, what is being traded in the day-to-day work is not economic exchanges or even access to services, it is trust. Trust matters to us all. Trust is an antidote to fear,” Crosbie said.

Just this month it was revealed that trust for charities is at a six-year high.

According to the 2016 Charity Reputation Index, more than half of the country’s 40 largest charities saw a “significant” increase in reputation scores and the highest trust levels since 2011, boosting the overall sector score from the “strong” to “excellent” threshold.

One of the big announcements for the sector in 2016 was confirmation that the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) had been saved.

Two years of speculation came to an end in March when Minister for Social Services Christian Porter and Minister for Small Business and Assistant Treasurer Kelly O’Dwyer announced the charity regulator had been saved following consultation with the sector.

“It is intended that the ACNC will have a renewed focus on working with charities to help them to become more effective, and helping them to improve their governance,” Porter said at the time.

The announcement received wide support from the social sector.

“This decision will benefit all Australian communities through a better regulated and supported charities sector,” Australian Council of Social Service CEO Cassandra Goldie said.

March also saw Victoria’s Royal Commission into Family Violence report tabled in parliament, after taking evidence from survivors and experts over 13 months.

It made 227 recommendations, all of which the Victorian government pledged to implement.

In response, the 2015 Australian of the Year and Pro Bono Australia Impact 25 winner, Rosie Batty was appointed to lead a new Victim Survivors’ Advisory Council.

As we moved towards the federal election in June, domestic violence and women’s inequality remained strong issues for electoral and policy attention.

The election also saw the social sector find new ways to get their message across.

In an Australian first, a political party dedicated to arts and culture, The Arts Party, ran a crowdfunding campaign on Pozible to run in the federal election.

Meanwhile, Campaign for Australian Aid (CAA), representing more than 65 organisations in the foreign aid and development sector, launched a “fight back” campaign using emotionally evocative and cutting-edge tactics favoured by the major political parties, including door knocking, fence signs and phone booths to garner support.

Sara Bice, socio-political commentator from the Melbourne school of government at the University of Melbourne who wrote a series of articles for Pro Bono News leading up to 2 July, said the federal election required not for profits to extend their imaginations and position their concerns within a global policy context.

“Campaigns like those of CAA and NFAW remind us all of the real issues at the heart of why the NFP sector exists: people and the belief that advocacy and support can achieve better futures,” Bice said at the time.

Certainly, one of the biggest talking points this year was around the issues of housing and homelessness.

Leaders of Australia’s largest homelessness service providers united in a bid to make reducing homelessness a national priority in the federal election and they took their campaign directly to the politicians through a series of nationwide forums.

In November, a delegation of housing and homelessness not for profits delivered a petition from 40,000 Australians to the federal government, calling for urgent action to avoid the looming funding crisis. It was announced earlier this month that the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness, which funds 180 services and supports 80,000 vulnerable Australians, would be extended to June 2018.

The sector also found other innovative ways to tackle the problem.

In February, Infoxchange, with the help of Google, and News Corp, launched Ask Izzy, a mobile website that connects homeless people, or those that are at risk of being homeless, with service providers.

Two young Brisbane entrepreneurs were honoured as 2016 Young Australians of the Year for developing the world’s first free mobile laundry for the homeless, and they are now trialling a shower van in their home state.

And in Melbourne, a bottled water deal between a Melbourne not for profit and a supermarket chain helped deliver a mobile shower service for the city’s homeless.

The sector also spent a large part of the year talking about marriage equality.

The controversial $170 million plebiscite to legalise same-sex marriage was eventually blocked by the Senate in November with Labor, the Greens, the Nick Xenophon Team and Derryn Hinch joining to defeat the bill with 33 votes to 29.

Manus and Nauru were also never far from our thoughts as leaked incident reports from Australia’s detention camp for asylum seekers laid bare the devastating trauma and abuse inflicted on children held by Australia in offshore detention.

By September public attitudes were changing with national polling showing two-thirds of Australians believed the prime minister should take urgent action to resettle refugees by the end of the year.

But with Hanson back in the Senate and the world facing the biggest refugee crisis of our time, conversations turned to Muslim immigration.

Echoing fears aired in her 1996 address about multiculturalism, the One Nation leader used her maiden speech to call for a ban on immigration and claim Australia was “at risk of being swamped by Muslims”.

Worryingly, a poll released in September showed nearly half of Australians wanted to ban Muslim immigration.

But the sectors feelings were made clear when they voted for Afghan migrant and human rights activist Romal Baluchzada as the winner of Pro Bono Australia’s 2016 Impact 25.

More than 18,500 votes were cast and a list of nearly 300 names narrowed down to establish the social sector’s most influential figures of 2016.

Baluchzada told Pro Bono Australia News it was “unbelievable” to be recognised in this way and said he wanted to use the accolade as an opportunity to show that Muslims, now more than ever, can have a positive impact on the community.

“I want to convey a message to the community, as a Muslim I am very happy to be recognised as an impact maker, I came out top, which means Muslims can make an impact on the community as well,” Baluchzada said.

In terms of having an impact on the community one of the biggest events of 2016 was the arrival of the long-awaited National Disability Insurance Scheme.

The $22 billion NDIS, started to be rolled out across Australia in July. While there has been some bumps in the road, the consensus coming from the sector is that the promise of choice and control is set to revolutionise the disability sector.

With so much change happening in the sector, it is perhaps unsurprising that another big talking point was that of disruption with digital innovation, scale, globalisation and other factors all driving accelerating change.

The Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) conference was told in November that community sector organisations need to transform to remain relevant and survive the impacts of disruptive change.

Even the landmark Giving Australia 2016 project, released in December, talked about the rise of the charity bypass.

The three-year $1.7 million Giving Australia 2016 project, described as the largest ever research effort into philanthropic behaviour to understand how, why and how much Australians give to charity, found an estimated 14.9 million Australian adults (80.8 per cent) gave a total of $12.5 billion dollars to charities and not-for-profit organisations over 12 months in 2015/16, (up from $7.7 billion in 2005).

Volunteers are more generous with their dollars as well as with their time.

And Australian businesses are not only more engaged than ever in giving to charity and not-for-profit organisations, they’re also increasingly focused on building community partnerships.

In October, the CCA released the Australia We Want Report, described as the first benchmark of how Australia and each state and territory is performing against values and goals prioritised by leaders from across the charity sector.  

CCA chair Tim Costello (who also made headlines in May when he announced he was stepping down as CEO of World Vision), said it was time Australia looked beyond economic indicators and started focusing on the values that make Australia a great place to live.  

“We are all much more than passengers in an economy. We are part of families, workplaces and communities. Within our communities we want to live lives that are worthwhile and enact values we believe in. This report highlights how far Australia is slipping in achieving some very important values. It should be a wakeup call for all of us,” Costello said.

As we look to 2017, there seems consensus from the sector on the Australia we want, where (in the words of Costello) “incarceration rates are falling, where the suicide rate is less than the road toll and where your postcode doesn’t define your chance of getting an education or a job”. You can even hear the CCA choir sing about it in their Christmas carol.

So the internet may have decided this was the worst year ever but for the not-for-profit sector, it wasn’t all bad #UpsideOf2016.

Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

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