• Eugene McGarrell

How much do we value social outcomes?

As a society we don’t value the time, experience and commitment of people working on the front line in our communities. That’s a bold statement I know but let me tell you why I think that’s the case.

Community organisations are living on the smell of an oily rag. They negotiate for cheap accommodation; they spend significant amounts of time raising money for their cause and they rely heavily on people working for them for low wages or no wage at all.

As a society we generally believe people living in vulnerable situations probably brought that on themselves. That maybe if they just got a job, or just left their violent husband or even just pulled their “socks up” they’d be living the dream just like the rest of us. I mean, if they only just worked hard like the rest of us, right?

Opportunities to properly invest in social innovation are lost. Tax reduction (legal and illegal) strategies by some big corporations reduces the funding potential of governments, government investment is social policy is often historical, fragmented and uncoordinated and big non-government organisations raise money through large public relations strategies that fail to deliver outcomes but seem to sustain the problem they were set up to solve.

Trust in the social sector by potential social investors is low so they invest in large consultancies and boutique agencies who seem more capable of managing projects and reporting results that align more to the investors Public Relations agenda than to authentic and sustainable social outcomes.

We are wasting good money and devaluing our front-line experts on poorly designed social investment strategies, poorly paid social leaders and inefficient administration of poorly funded non-government agencies.

Of course, this is a huge generalisation. There are many community organisations out there doing great work and achieving great outcomes. But this needs to be the rule and not the exception.

On a positive note the infrastructure is there to re-imagine a social care sector designed to support communities to generate their own solutions to meet their own social issues. Creating better social connections, supporting neighbourly attitudes, fostering the emergence of self-agency will lead to a reduction in homelessness, suicides, domestic violence, addiction and mental illness and therefore a boost to the local economy.

Social investment should be targeting to local communities and held within the network of neighbourhood centres. In partnership with local government, state government agencies, primary health networks, Commonwealth Government agencies and local business chambers the neighbourhood centres can act as the backbone for collective social action.

The value of the neighbourhood centres is their network and their relationships. It’s their commitment for social good, their values to make a difference and their ability to leverage local action. But they need philanthropists, social investors and governments to re-direct their long-term social investment strategies.

There are several big corporations, consultancies, banks and insurance companies dipping their toe in this space. This may well present an opportunity to connect with a local neighbourhood centre to authentically co-design a long-term social investment strategy that will aim to deliver a social return on investment x 5.

Who among us will take up that challenge?

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