Time for a new way of working

I find it incongruous we have so much wealth yet more people are falling through the cracks. For some there’s an abundance of food and water and others don’t have enough.

Would you be shocked to know we have children in Sydney going to school without food, families going hungry?

Would it shock you that we have communities living in shanty towns in the state of NSW?

Would it make any difference to know that while we waste water in some parts of the country – there are Australian communities that don’t have access to clean drinking water?

Personally I think at some stage we lost our way from being community centred to government and NGO centred. Somehow we believed that anyone outside community was the key and we saw bigger government and bigger NGOs often dislocated from the heart of the matter – community.

We stopped listening to the very people we are here to serve and only spoke to each other, we set up structures to distance community with layers of community leaders, advisers and committees between those that make decisions and the people ultimately affected by these decisions.

I think we can agree that on their own government and NGOs are not the answer  – despite enormous efforts and   investments across sectors (business, philanthropy, government, fundraising) to support vulnerable people and communities – estimated at $250 billion per year (Centre for Social Impact 2014), disadvantage is growing with 1 in 7 Australians living below the poverty line (ACOSS, 2014).

I believe 2015 will be the year of community, we need to re-engage with the people in communities – not just the leaders, we have to get over our need to have processes and structures that don’t work and move closer to understanding and collaborating with affected communities. We have to stop giving out fish and start giving out fishing lines, so communities can be the change so desperately needed.

My dream is to pull decision makers together and talk more sense than platitudes – why can’t we move the water from here to there? Why can’t we ensure that no child or family goes hungry by more effectively redistributing the food that is often thrown away? Food Bank and Oz Harvest are brilliant redistribution services but somehow they are not reaching all those that need, how do we create market gardens so people have access to fresh vegetables? How do we give families a chicken so they may have fresh eggs?  How do we facilitate these initiatives, which by the way are happening in some communities but not others?

I believe we do this by disrupting the status quo – stop whatever we are doing that isn’t working and start collaborating across sectors – if we are dead serious about social change – we have to work differently, with community at the centre and we have to start owning our failures (1 in 7 Australians below the poverty line) and start listening to the very people we are here to serve.

Anne-Marie Elias is @ChiefDisripter

of The Collective NSW a social impact model which brings together business, community, NGOs and government to collaborate on social disadvantage. To see our stories, visit The Collective NSW YouTube Channel.