Collaboration – a view from small NGOs

Ros 2015 short hairRos Rice
Executive Officer
Community Networks Aotearoa

Why is the idea of collaborating so hard?

Well, first of all let’s look at the word.  Collaboration can mean many things and not always positive things.  In World War 2 collaborators were considered to be people who worked with the enemy against their own communities.  To be exposed as a collaborator could literally mean your death.

In modern times it has a softer meaning… or has it?  We know that we think of collaboration as working together for the common good, the antithesis of the ‘war definition” yet we are suspicious of what those who use this word actually mean.  If our funders use this word are they actually pushing for ‘occupation’ rather than collaboration?

Also if we share similar goals, do we put ourselves and our organisation at risk if we pursue trustingly collaborative work?  We all know that like that anomaly of ‘sisterhood’ that ‘community and voluntary sector’ does not mean we all agree; that we all like each other; that we can easily work together and that our collaborative partners are not intent on domination of our space and clients.

And I am not even going to discuss the issue of competition in this fraught market.

Let’s look at history and how that makes us suspicious of collaboration.  Many social services have evolved from the grass root communities who saw a need and as good communities should – stood up to fill that gap.  Organisations have evolved from hard graft, dedication and years of service from people who have stood behind numerous cake stands, street corners with buckets of change, and unfettered love for people in their communities.  Who would easily put those years at risk?

Let’s look at statistics!  Many organisations who are asked to ‘collaborate’ are not funded by government.  But they are reliant on philanthropy and communities to support them with enough resources for their continued existence.  No one is arguing that there comes a time for some organisations to shut their doors.  But the calls from philanthropy, statisticians and politicians based on numbers of NGOS seem to me to base these suggestions on their own perceptions which might be skewed.  I have personally realised that many politicians think every NGO is getting money from government.  We know this is not the case out in our communities.

Philanthropic organisations can fall into the trap of believing their money is too scattered and too small to make big differences, and start providing big funds for big organisations to do big projects.  Shame about the application for $500 to get school buses to take one rural school to another for school sports.  But those small grants also make minute but massive differences to some communities.  We also hear “we can’t manage all the hundreds of applications, so we want to do what we can with our smaller resources.”  Fair enough.  So we work together; collaborate, and what do many of us still hear “no to a grant”. One loses hope.

My biggest concern is the loss of the small community organisations who like the cell in the body, may not be considered big enough to notice, but without which the entire system can fall down.

Finally, viewing Community Networks Aotearoa and our work, we collaborate with our Funders.  (MSD and DIA).  It is important to do so, they provide us with the means to reach out to our people in the provinces, but also to ensure that we share the messages both ways on the needs, goals and aims of our funding stakeholders to whom we are very grateful.  We also collaborate with our members, the network agencies in the regions.  We rely on them to ensure we reach their members who collaborate with their networks and with us.  We also collaborate with our peer organisations.  At the moment we are working on a joint conference with The NZ Christian Council of Social Services and also on a series of seminars around the country with Child Matters on Child Safety policies.  We collaborate with other national organisations in numerous and daily ways, which is shown for example by our diverse Board representation.

Maybe there is a recoil from the push for collaboration, because most of us, are already doing it and have been for years.  If we weren’t collaborating already, in our varied and wonderful ways maybe none of us would be here to have this discussion.

This blog has been contributed by a member of ComVoices

ComVoices  actively promotes the value that community sector organisations and their people, both paid and unpaid, add to New Zealand’s economic and social wellbeing through information, and political advocacy and dialogue.

Click here for our website:  http://comvoices.org.nz/

 

1 comment:

  1. Mark Shanks, 5. April 2017, 7:29

    Yes Ros the semantics are important. It reminds me of the ambiguity of the word ‘submission’ and how making a submission is supposedly a demonstration of being active in our democracy. Yet both collaboration and submission can mean a giving away of your power, identity and integrity. Hardly democratic or enabling. And another thing, in my experience it is the ones with the most power (ie not NGOs but GOs) who are the least likely to collaborate.