Thinking about the Charity Model and Systems Change Debate

There has been a movement afoot for the past 15 to 20 years that evolved out of a growing dissatisfaction with the charitable sector or more to the point, the Charity Model. Critics of the sector are nothing new, of course. And these criticisms are often based on unproven perceptions (e.g. there are too many charities), biases people have toward “the needy” (e.g. I made it through hell, so can you), and some that still boggle my mind like, non-profits need to be more business-like.

But the conversations I am talking about have gone further than that and very often have been initiated and led by well-respected non-profit sector leaders tired of seeing good work (or what they saw as good work) not really moving the needle of big change. The impact, they say, just hasn’t been good enough, which has evolved into concluding that the so called Charity Model has failed us all.

What I find interesting and somewhat unnerving is that this thing we call the Charity Model is in effect a descriptor of organized helping; it is not and I suggest never has been an actual model in the manner that we tend to think of models or frameworks.  Usually a model has an author or set of authors and has an intended purpose, and governs or guides how you do something. I am not aware of anyone who authored the Charity Model. As a term it represents our attempt to put meaning to what the charitable sector does and why, though we tend to spend less time on the latter.

My sense is that the Charity Model is about our desire to capture and understand how the organized expression of love or kindness is implemented through institutions and systems. It is a term that offers differentiation from the private and government sectors. How that expression is organized is certainly worthy of review and adjustment, if not significant change, but my struggle with the direction many are taking is that charity has become something sector leaders want to move away from while replacing it with something better. Continue reading

Upside Down Thinking: Disrupting the Status Quo

This is the slide deck from the presentation I did at the Poverty Reduction Summit in Ottawa in May 2015.

Upside Down Thinking

Click the Image. It will take you to slideshare.net where I store many of my presentation.

I give custom workshops on Upside Down Thinking. Contact me for more info.

 

Questions We Must Answer to End Poverty

Over my career in the human services sector, I have been a part of many collaborative and cross-sector efforts that were formed to address a critical social problem. In most cases, if not all, the social problem being addressed was interwoven with economics. So, the problem was more accurately a socio-economic problem. As well every problem we worked on was understood and addressed through myriad lenses. Government, business, non-profit lenses were abundant and then of course each individual from those sectors brought to the table their own mindsets, beliefs and biases.

One of the critical challenges to solving poverty beyond what is simply described above is to find ways to accept the divergence of mindsets while authentically seeking a convergence of ideas and actions that will actually work to effectively address poverty.We require a method of inquiry that refuses to ignore the questions that divide us. Instead we need to engage in provocative inquiry which is often called engaging in “wicked questions.”

“Brenda Zimmerman, a professor at York University, defines [wicked questions] as a tool ‘used to expose the assumptions which we hold about an issue or situation. Articulating these assumptions provides an opportunity to see the patterns of thought and surface the differences in a group. These patterns and differences can be used to discover common ground or to find creative alternatives for stubborn problems’” (Retrieved from http://designmind.frogdesign.com/blog/wicked-questions-about-improving-american-health-care.html, December 1, 2013).

What is important in this method in inquiry is to check our tendency to communicate positions and allow our dialogue to become more like a debate than actual investigation of what it is we all wish to understand and act on. Wicked questions are a way to share our respective mindsets with one another in a manner that helps us understand what is behind our positions. But for such inquiry to be productive, everyone involved has to be open to changing their minds (i.e. changing their positions). That’s the hard part of course and most of the time our inability to change ourselves is what inhibits, if not prohibits, advance on the matter at hand.

Here are some wicked questions I suggest we need to address if we are truly serious about addressing poverty. Continue reading

Upside Down Thinking

So many great minds in our sector are talking about the need to change, the urgency to transform services and operations in ways that not only fit our chaotic environment but influence its future as well.

We tend to be rather good at seeing what should change and why, but life becomes much more difficult when trying to figure out the how.

It used to be how-type challenges were about improving quality, achieving incremental growth, tweaking a program, or coming up with a better way to do this or that. Sure, we dealt with big changes, too. We transitioned from typewriters to computers, from mailing letters to faxing them to emailing them. Continue reading