Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Tackling Social Problems of the 21st Century

Tackling Social Problems of the 21st Century 

Have you ever wondered how social problems involving education, health, and access to services are addressed?  Which organizations in society are actually catalysts for change in America today?

As many readers may guess, the answer is complicated.

In an article by Howard Berman, he explains that there is a complex interplay between government, business (for-profit), and nonprofits that work together to solve these societal issues.

Here is the basic who’s who in the world of social change:

1.     Government

The government plays a major role in establishing guidelines for social programs and policies. In essence, the government has established a set of rules to determine who is deserving of services and who is not. Government, thus, creates a safety net for vulnerable populations. It does not, however, deliver or implement many of these programs (Berman, 2002). These roles and responsibilities fall to the ever growing nonprofit sector.

It is also important to consider that the checks and balances at the government level make affecting change in this sector a lengthy process (Berman, 2002).

2.     Business (aka For-Profit)

The bottom line for many businesses comes down to money. Like the name insinuates, profit is the driving force for many for-profit organizations (Herman, 2010).  Recently, however, there has been a new buzzword in the business world called social entrepreneurship. Many for-profits are attempting to play a larger role (and divert a larger portion of their profit) to social problems like education, poverty, and community health (Berman, 2002). Ultimately, however, for-profits answer to their stakeholders who are interested in making money as opposed to social welfare issues (Berman, 2002).

In some ways, government and for-profit agencies actually help to fuel nonprofit growth. For instance, the government incentivizes individuals (those working for businesses) who charitably contribute to charities or nonprofits (Herman, 2010).

3.     Nonprofit

Where the magic happens. Pardon the cliché. Unlike the government or businesses, nonprofits have the ability to focus purely on social welfare issues (Berman, 2002). While nonprofits are accountable to funders and a board of directors, they are also accountable to their mission and the clients with whom they serve. (Berman, 2002). This allows nonprofits to work on social issues without the constraints of other sectors of society.

Take Away Points:

The government depends upon nonprofits to solve social issues because it is too slow and cumbersome to affect change quickly (Berman, 2002). The government, thus, incentivizes for-profit individuals to donate to nonprofits. Nonprofits, therefore, depend upon both the government and for-profits to remain economically solvent (Berman, 2002).

**Disclaimer: Above I have outlined the readers digest version of government, business, and nonprofit agencies. It is important to note that in recent times the boundaries between these organizations are blurring (Gowdy et. al, 2009). There are increasing opportunities for collaboration between nonprofits/for-profits and non-profits/government advocacy. Hopefully these networks will increase innovation, efficiency, and the ability for nonprofits to reach more clients. (Gowdy et. al,  2009).

Berman, H. (2002). The McNerney Forum: Doing “Good” vs. Doing “Well”-The Role of Nonprofits in Society. Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, 39 (5-11).
Gowdy, H., Hildebrand, A., La Piana, D., & Mendes Campos, M. (2009). Convergence: How Five Trends Will Reshape the Social Sector. The James Irvine Foundation, pg 5-29.
Herman, R. (2010).  The Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership and Management (3rd ed).  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.