One of the challenges in “lessons learned” is that failures, which we learn the most from, tend to become something else as those lessons move up the chain. I am reminded of The Plan which I recall from my corporate days (when we used to fax jokes to each other) …
But I have a few reflections of my own following the symposium and other things I’ve been thinking about.
One of the biggest points pounded home during the two days was the need to put people at the centre of the recovery. This point was well made by one speaker, who spoke of one family they were helping. There was an issue with plumbing: the neighbour’s pipes would overflow into the family’s section. There were three or four entities who needed to work together to resolve the issue: resolution still pending.
Now, I had the Social Investment Agency’s “Findings of the “Your voice, your data, your say” engagement on Social Wellbeing” document show up in the mail box last month. On page 24 of the report is something that resounds with me: “Putting people at the centre. You support a person-centred approach that puts people at the heart of everything government and providers do”.
So, there is a theme! People at the centre of Business as Usual and at the centre of Disaster Recovery. Who would have thought? But … there are a bunch of barriers in place to what is essentially a common-sense option: namely a system which treats people as policyholders, as patients, as students, as victims, as cases. We have budgets, education systems, careers and entities structured around these specific facets of people. How do we change this? Well, there will be far smarter people than me looking at this, and I am vaguely heartened by the Prime Minister being Minister of Child Poverty Reduction…. And some hope at the Whanau Ora review which puts families at the centre of things. However, at my age I’m getting a bit cynical and suspect that these systemic issues won’t be addressed and my kids will still be dealing with many of the complicated issues around intergenerational poverty.
Back to the symposium. Ryan Reynold’s discussion had a couple of points which struck me as interesting. Firstly, innovation.
Those in Christchurch will undoubtedly recall that Gap Filler was one of the post earthquake groups who made us smile through initiatives like the Pallet Pavilion. They received a lot of media, and a lot of love from locals and of course politicians. Indeed, at the symposium Gap Filler was mentioned many times: if they had $1 for every mention, I reckon that would cover monthly operational costs. And that brings me to funding. They have been told by one funder that Gap Filler’s job is done, so they don’t need to be funded any more. And when I look at my beautiful database I can see funding to post earthquake organisations has dropped by more than a third since 2015. A recent trip to Auckland showed the importance of transitional projects in cities that aren’t completely broken.
JB Were released a report in 2017 called “The New Zealand Cause Report”. This is super interesting, and I would recommend anyone with an interest in the sector to have a gander. The writer looks at Innovation, and summarises “While there have been some large changes in growth rates between different charity sectors over time, there hasn’t been much change in the names of the large organisations dominating the sector suggesting the ability for new and smaller organisations to innovate and grow is limited. Almost 80% of the 40 largest New Zealand charities have existed for over 20 years. This is in contrast to the for-profit sector where dramatic change in ranking order is common, availability of risk capital is higher and the financial rewards for success are greater.” And in the summary the point is rammed home with this comment: “The Facebooks of the charity sector are rare”.
We can see this happening in real time, with the demise of funding support for organisations such as Gap Filler. The funding moves back to the incumbents with decisions made by risk averse committees. But this stifles innovation, and arguably the innovative solutions our communities need. Changing models, such as those by social enterprises, may enable greater innovation, but without decent coherent conjoint meaty funding opportunities (and not endless capacity building programmes!) many are doomed to limp along.
I had a wee chat with Ryan a bit later. At the time of the earthquakes the founders were footloose. Fast forward 8 years and now there is a mortgage and kids to consider: this organisation probably would not have done what it did if these personal financial obligations had been in place at the time. Again, how can we create an environment where people can take risks, follow passions and be the best they can be… Universal Basic Income perhaps??
The symposium was a worthy attempt to talk about what happened. However, there is still a lot of anger at people and institutions, and clearly many people feel not listened to. Props to those politicians from both sides who listened and heard. However, I think all of us who both experienced the quakes and arrived later have things that we learnt, and would like to share with others. Perhaps a mooted Community event could incorporate something along the lines of “share an idea” to ensure those invisible get a chance to speak.
I write about this stuff as believe that as need to understand where funding comes from, where it goes, and how it gets there. Love to talk with you if you think this is at all interesting, and if you want to dive into the data a bit more then happy to do so. Check out my website www.delfi.co.nz.