Is the community sector a toxic environment?

kerrygrace-2014 Blog, Inspiring your community, Leading change

If you work in the community (read not for profit) sector, particularly in a community development, coordination or management role I’d say you wouldn’t be surprised to hear the sector described as somewhat ‘tricky’ sometimes (not all the time) even tipping into dysfunctional.

I wonder sometimes if the rise in recent years of ‘corporate refugees’ (i.e. people escaping their corporate jobs in search of something more meaningful) is really about people wanting to ‘give back’ or is it about the challenge of sorting through messy systems?

As a corporate refugee myself I cannot deny both giving back and sorting out are things that initially appealed to me.  I also admit it took me a rather long time to realise that trying to rescue people in community and/or community services wasn’t going to really help anyone.  I know that now.

Whatever draws people to the sector, I’ve found it very interesting to witness the philosophical shift of sorts.  Even my little community now has a mish mash of community sector people that hail from a variety of backgrounds from government to private sectors right back to die hard lobbyists that started the services in the first place.

In recent times we’ve also witnessed the slow demise of grassroots organisations and in their place either larger, amalgamated services, robust clusters and/or contracts managed from afar by bigger organisations.

But no matter what the broader organisational structure is, services are still operated by humans who serve humans.  No matter what the motive for working in the ‘caring’ sector is day one thing remains the same.

The community sector is about working with humans to create the best outcomes possible for a good life.

So why, I constantly ask is there so much b*&tching, niggling, white anting, fighting and downright duplicitous behaviour going on in the sector?  Why are there so many people that are physically and mentally unwell making decisions for the most vulnerable people in our communities?

And for that matter, WHY is it that if you fit within a particular demographic you lose the right to make decisions about how your life will be in the first place [note, there is a much deeper explanation to this comment that does not fit within this particular rant].

This rant is about working together, it’s about collaboration for the greater good.  It’s about pulling our heads out of our proverbial and just creating situations that enable positive outcomes.

How many not for profits are competing right now over measly funding budgets for the ‘ice epidemic’, for saving poor young people, for creating innovative opportunities?  How many staff of not for profits will make this competition personal?  Stating that ‘Jo Bloggs’ shouldn’t get the funding because he doesn’t know what he is doing anyway, or ‘Shazza Brown’ shouldn’t get the funding because her son is the ice dealer.  If we are truly in this to create change those things don’t matter.

Everyone has a role to play in creating thriving communities.  Yet the gossip, rhetoric and politics surrounding the proposed antidotes to poverty somehow outweigh the possibility of positive change.  Well they must – why else would a country as wealthy as Australia have such high levels of poverty.

Just last week I noticed that I was getting a little too big for my britches – I didn’t like some of the comments that were escaping my mouth.  So I created a ‘diffusing box’ (in picture).  When I have a thought about something or someone that makes my blood pressure rise and makes me angry I write it down and put it in the box (rather than speaking it out loud).  Sometime later this week I’ll go back through the box and just throw away the things that actually don’t matter any more.  I think there will be a lot of those things in there.

We need to do things differently and I believe it starts with the way we treat one another.

Because if the sector that supports people to be well is not well itself there are some dire problems at hand.