Social Infrastructure Just as Important as Roads

Published: Mon 2 Mar 2009 01:38 PM
26 February 2009
Social Infrastructure Just as Important as Roads and Bridges
The Community and Voluntary Sector is challenging the Government to stop ignoring them and engage in managing impacts of the recession, and to follow up with them after tomorrow’s Employment Summit.
About 70 representatives from across the community and voluntary sector, philanthropy organisations, and government agencies met yesterday (25 February) in a Sector-initiated forum. They met to collect information about the impacts of economic recession on the community sector and develop strategies for managing the significant challenges that are expected ahead.
The Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector was the only parliamentary representative at the workshop.
Tina Reid, Executive Director of The Federation of Voluntary Welfare Organisations says workshop participants were clear about the need to link social and economic agendas.
“This is about social infrastructure as well as physical infrastructure. Social service organisations are at the front line of dealing with the fallout of the economic downturn.
“It impacts on all parts of our society, from the elderly whose retirement income has decreased with the lower interest rates, to the children living in families under financial pressure, to those in the workforce, including those middle managers being made redundant.
Tony Mayow, President of The New Zealand Federation of Voluntary Welfare Organisations says, “It is time for the National-led Government to engage from a holistic perspective – not segregating social services from the economic and business perspective.”
Research in 2004 by Johns Hopkins University showed that non-profit organisations in New Zealand contribute 2.6 percent to GDP.
The organisations have a 90 percent volunteer workforce, and are bigger than the construction industry.
Robyn Scott, Executive Director of Philanthropy New Zealand says there is a clear willingness on behalf of the Community and Voluntary Sector to work in coordinated and cooperative way with Government and Business.
“Tomorrow’s Jobs Summit was a major opportunity to get the Sector to the table. It is very disappointing that only three social service organisations have been invited to the Summit. It shows a fundamental lack of understanding as to how community organisations contribute to our economy.”
“Community organisations are currently facing increasing demand, less funding because of the reduction in philanthropic and corporate sponsorship, and a void of information from the Government.
“It is vital that these services are not just tacked on to the end of the process – or worse, just expected to adapt and pick up the pieces.
Ros Rice, Executive Officer of the New Zealand Council of Social Services says internationally, the business and corporate sectors are working with the Community and Voluntary Sector and the Philanthropic sector to maintain their workforce through difficult times.
The value of voluntary labour in New Zealand was estimated in the Johns Hopkins research to be $3.31 billion for the year ended March 2004.
“Clever businesses are working with the Sector to make sure they retain capability and care for their workforces. To lay people off is a short term fix. We will come out of this recession. If we want to be a healthy and wealthy country we need to focus on keeping our communities productive and future-proofing our communities.”
Tim Burns of Volunteering NZ says, “There are great examples of overseas companies doing it differently. One is Caterpillar in the UK, which closed down one of their factories for a period of time and kept their staff on full pay while allowing them to do voluntary community work and training and upskilling. It is this kind of innovative thinking that will help New Zealand be well positioned in the future.”
“Internationally, organisations are recognising that volunteer opportunities provide valuable work skills and experiences for people while they are seeking paid employment as well as staying connected to the working environment.”
“The Government has an opportunity to show leadership here by thinking creatively and using all their resources. The Wellington workshop showed the Community and Voluntary Sector are absolutely ready for that conversation. But it won’t work if Government and Business keep excluding the Sector from the table,” he says.

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