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The potential for transformative change and the role NFPs can play


19 May 2021 at 4:56 pm
Maggie Coggan
“In the NFP space, there is an additional contribution to the well-being of society that needs to be acknowledged.”


Maggie Coggan | 19 May 2021 at 4:56 pm


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The potential for transformative change and the role NFPs can play
19 May 2021 at 4:56 pm

“In the NFP space, there is an additional contribution to the well-being of society that needs to be acknowledged.”

Too much focus on service delivery, competition, and markets is standing in the way of community services organisations, stopping them from delivering transformative change, a sector leader believes. 

During an address at this year’s Communities in Control conference, the current NSW ageing and disability commissioner, and former commissioner with the Productivity Commission, Robert Fitzgerald AM, said that despite three decades of reforms across sectors including disability and aged care, there had been little progress. 

“Could any of us say that aged care reforms are actually delivering better quality care for older Australians within those institutions in recent times?” he asked.

He said that the sector needed to look beyond reform, and focus on community instead.   

“So I think the agenda is well beyond what reforms we wish to see, but rather whether or not we wish to use the very essence of what being a community is to create a new future,” he said.

Fitzgerald told Pro Bono News that COVID-19 had shown how the country could be transformed for the better, and that the community sector had the knowledge to drive this transition. 

“The community sector has a real legitimate role in the future of shaping Australia. COVID proved it,” Fitzgerald said. 


Read more: A decade of reviews with little social progress in between, new report reveals

He said that the reforms articulated by the 2010 Productivity Commission’s report provided an excellent roadmap for the NFP sector to strengthen its foundation, but there were a number of roadblocks.

“Over time there’s been a huge concentration on service delivery, competition, markets. The great value of the sector lies in what they call externalities or spillovers. That is, things like social cohesion, the restoring of social trust, social engagement, and the reduction of social isolation,” he said. 

“Unfortunately, however, we’ve seen no new information, data, or surveys being done about the economic and social strengths of the sector.” 

Steps forward 

To address these roadblocks, he said that organisations needed to highlight the value they provide to society, rather than just the service they provide. 

Fitzgerald added that while for-profit organisations had a role to play in delivering services such as aged care or disability care, they shouldn’t be the only players.  

“For-profit providers absolutely have a role and many of them are outstanding performers, but what NFP organisations give to society is so much more valuable, and yet it is not acknowledged,” he said.  

“In the NFP space, there is an additional contribution to the well-being of society that needs to be acknowledged.”

He said that it was important community services were delivered by a range of small and large organisations and not dominated by a few large for-profit and NFP entities. 

“It would be fatal to those human service markets if they are dominated almost exclusively by large for-profit and NFP organisations,” he said.  

“Because while they have a role, we do need to be very cautious about this notion that big is better because big is the only way to achieve efficiency, that is not true… it’s a falsehood that is being propagated by far too many people who should know better.” 

Collaboration not competition 

Fitzgerald also said that a major force holding the community sector back was a lack of collaboration because there was too much focus on competing for recognition or funding.  

“In order to get governments excited and engaged about the work you’re doing [you need to] work together, form alliances, form coalitions and collaborate no matter what anybody else says,” he said. 

“You can be a competitor for funding, but still be collaborative in terms of best practice in working together to achieve the aims and objectives for the people in your community.” 

He said that Australia had a rare opportunity, to redevelop a strong civil society, one that would support the country’s most vulnerable. 

“Australia did have one of the strongest civil societies in the world, but it’s been sidetracked by an obsession with service delivery, markets and competition to the exclusion of all else,” he said. 

“We absolutely need organisations at the local level who actually activate the community in supporting each other. 

“That’s what civil society is all about.”


Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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