Saturday, January 10, 2015

When Good Is Not Good Enough

When Good Is Not Good Enough, a recent article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review makes the point that the nonprofit sector needs to shift attention from modest goals that provide short-term relief to bold goals that tackle root causes.

"A Contemporary Fable" has been around for a long time and reflects the same challenge to our work as a sector: Are we getting to roots causes or are we inadvertently making it easier for unjust and mal-functioning systems to remain unchallenged and unchanged? As a sector, are we about social change or social control?

A Contemporary Fable: Upstream/Downstream (author unknown)

It's been many years since the first body was spotted in the river. Some old-timers remember how spartan were the facilities and procedures for managing that sort of thing. Sometimes, they say, it would take hours to pull ten people from the river, and even then only a few would survive. Though the number of victims in the river has increased greatly in recent years, the good folks of Downstream have responded admirably to the challenge. Their rescue system is clearly second to none: most people discovered in the swirling waters are reached within 20 minutes, many in less than ten. Only a small number drown each day before help arrives; a big improvement from the way it used to be.

Talk to the people of Downstream and they'll speak with pride about the new hospital by the edge of the waters, the flotilla of rescue boats ready for service at a moment's notice, the comprehensive health plans for coordinating all the manpower involved, and the large number of highly trained and dedicated swimmers always ready to risk their lives to save victims from the raging currents.

Furthermore, state of the art information systems capture data demonstrating that measurable outcomes are being achieved - even exceeded- in line with detailed program logic models and theories of change that clearly explain the service delivery approach. Extensive cross sector collaborations serve to increase the collective impact. Finally, solid financial plans assure long term sustainability of the rescue efforts.

Sure it costs a lot, but, say the Downstreamers, what else can decent people do except to provide whatever it takes when human lives are at stake.

Oh, a few people in Downstream have raised the question now and again, but most folks show little interest about what's happening Upstream. It seems there's so much to do to help those in the river, that nobody's got time to check how all those bodies are getting there in the first place. That's the way things are, sometimes.