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The (Im)Balance of Social Forces – Part One

We are experiencing impacting social imbalances everywhere. This is simply exemplified by the following partial list of events that happened during the last weeks:

• The Climate Conference in Copenhagen (to me, an anticlimactic event)
• The Healthcare Bill Showdown (to me, more of a giving-in event)
• The Unemployment End of Year reports (things continue to look grim)
• The Christmas Day Northwest Flight Bomb Attempt (glad no-one died)
• The launch of Move your Money Campaign while banks continue their game with toxic assets after the taxpayers picked up the bill from Wall Street mess just to have have foreclosures continue
• The Tiger Woods’ scandal (ay caramba!)

During all this and as part of the Collaborative Society directory project, I have been reviewing government-led collaboration initiatives to address social challenges. The Collaborative Society‘s main premise is that the (im)balance of role, responsibility and power that exists in a society between the three segments (government, non-profits and for-profits) could provide indicators and even predictors of that society’s health.

Part Two of this post lists some projects from the long list of government-led cooperation and collaboration initiatives I reviewed. You can also see health and environmental projects posts in the Collaborative Society’ recent posts section.

Although the number of projects I have reviewed so far is just a fraction of all the government-led collaboration initiatives, I want to go over some of the trends I found.

Collectively, the projects indicate that partnerships between government and non-profits are still abundant, even though both segments continue to face horrendous budget and program cuts.

Also, the diverse types of entities leading projects and their use of Web 2.0 technology exemplify how all sorts of entities, from small towns to federal agencies, have adopted the latest Web technologies primarily to facilitate communication and citizens’ engagement and transparency of government data.

A more interesting trend I found is the minimal participation of the business world as direct partners in these initiatives. By the 15th project I reviewed, I caught myself ignoring whether the project offered real value or practical solution to social challenges.

Instead, I kept looking for “partners” and reading “press releases” wondering where the corporation’s role was. The projects leaned heavily (and at times, primarily) on non-profits and the public at large. At times, the projects resulted in new non-profits that seemed to compete with existing ones, but direct business partners were hard to find. They were either the vendors or not present as leaders of the projects.

I could attribute this to challenges like conflict of interests, policies or competitive issues, but considering that corporate foundations contribute a large percentage of the US nonprofit industry’s $1 trillion+ revenue, it is hard to believe that their lack of participation is due to lack of corporations’ involvement in the social arena.

Could the lack of corporations as direct partners in these projects be because:

• Policy and regulatory issues?
• The project’s leaders don’t know how or don’t want to reach out to corporate?
• The non-profits were receiving government grants?
• They are planning to reach out to corporate via the newly created non-profit?
• They don’t see the business world as partners?
• They believe the businesses wouldn’t support them without wanting to be a vendor?
• A PR nightmare might result if businesses were allowed into the project? Or maybe
• They see corporations as greedy and not socially oriented?

And more complex questions like:
• Are these projects resulting in a sort of double-taxation for citizens?
• Are government-led projects adding to the duplication of efforts already experienced in the non-profit segment and vice-verse?
• How familiar are government entities with social entrepreneurship structures? Would such structure type be applicable to many of these projects instead of leaning on fundraising and grants?
• Instead of creating new non-profits, could existing ones have been able to execute the solution?

It seems that not only balance between the three sectors is necessary, but the actual structure and financial model used to go about solving social challenges might also be reflective of a society’s health.

I will expand on my findings as I continue my evaluations of these projects, but, if you are in a government-led collaboration initiative and have opinions about my questions or know of some projects that bring together the tree segments, please let me know!

Imbalance – Part Two will list some of the many projects (some rather fun ones.)

What is this all about?
The Collaborative Society Directory’s goal is to collect and understand information from different collaborative projects that bring together as participants entities from the three forces that shape our societies: public, private and
non-profit. The goal of The Collaborative Society is to explore if such information can provide us with insights of what could be the characteristics that make a society or a community healthy.

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Looking forward to seeing the projects. I do see a rise of new non-profits as well. Like IAVA vs the legacy veterans organizations. I think it is good…innovation and new blood is always needed…