#46 Socially Inclusive 2018 and beyond

Image of "2018" in stone against a mountain scene

Well done to us all as we have made another year! During 2017 I enjoyed my research into the United Nations Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs) and did I happen to mention I finished and graduated my PhD – introducing Dr JMT!

 During 2017 I not only recognised the importance of the ecosystem that surrounds the 17 SDGs but I also identified a fundamental factor that cannot be ignored. This fundamental underpinning factor throughout my 2017 Consequences Blogs was often presented as:

“if you are currently doing business as you always have then that is your amber light”

Having a business without purpose or purpose without business that is ‘not fit for purpose ‘only leads to isolation and stagnation with neither being great for the betterment of society.

Along with the paradigm shift and fast pace world that we live in the importance of being socially inclusive and flexible to the pace becomes a priority. The topic of social inclusion is quite apt for 2018 as it is also a decade from the Rudd 2020 Summit held in 2008. This event holds a strong memory in my mind as it was one of my first national commitments in my first year of immigrating back to Australia and only a couple of years after a similar experience held by the then UK Prime Minister -Tony Blair. The purpose of the Rudd 2020 Summit was to create a long-term strategy for the nations’ future. The summit was a Bipartisan event with 10 working group streams and 100 participants. The ten critical policy areas (being very akin to the SDGs) are interestingly policy areas that still require attention today.

The 10 critical policy areas were:

  1. Productivity—including education, skills, training, science and innovation
  2. Economy—including infrastructure and the digital economy
  3. Sustainability and climate change
  4. Rural Australia—focusing on industries and communities
  5. Health and ageing
  6. Communities and families
  7. Indigenous Australia
  8. Creative Australia—the arts, film and design
  9. Australian governance, democracy and citizenship
  10. Security and prosperity—including foreign affairs and trade

I was involved in the working group stream Communities and Families which had four categories; reform of funding models: national migrant and refugee settlement strategy; paid parental leave; safe relationships – national primary prevention initiative for domestic violence.

Even a decade on and until this day I am flummoxed as to how such discussions that involve social inclusion could be held without alignment to an overarching outcomes framework. Secondly social inclusion must be understood in many diverse ways so to attempt to narrow the categories is quite limiting. There were some good things that came out of the group and discussions I was involved in. The Social Inclusion Board became established and work was done across the Not-For-Profit sector through the creation of the Australian Government’s Not-For-Profit Sector Reform Council (the council). One of the actions of the council was the creation of a Compact between all sectors and I enjoyed my time as a Compact Champion. Unfortunately, this role came to a sudden and abrupt close at the point of changes in political administration and disbandment of the council.

Such ripple effects of political administration changes are not unusual but what is unusual is the lack of understanding and commitment towards the importance of topics like social inclusion causing the deepening of the silos particularly around the ten critical policy areas.

Having found this debate over the past decade to be quite relevant to my everyday interactions I am keen throughout 2018 to bring a heightened awareness around social inclusion. One of the most tangible ways to achieve this is through the topic of volunteering. Having previously mentioned in many of my Consequences Blogs I am extremely fortunate to hold a position as champion of Volunteer Family Connect – known as VFC. The VFC program and the VFC research project, are built on a joint alliance between The Benevolent Society, Save The Children Australia, Karitane, Macquarie University, Western Sydney University, Birbeck University (UK) and E&Y. VFC is the first randomised control trial (RCT) of volunteer home visiting in Australia, and the largest trial to be conducted worldwide. It is the only trial in the world to focus on outcomes for both families and the volunteers who support them. In addition, it is the first time any study has conducted an analysis of the Social Return on Investment (SROI) for a volunteers’ home visiting program.

Although the findings of this trial will not be released in full until the end of 2018/early 2019 the issue of social inclusion and more importantly the prevention of social isolation has become an issue that confronts many of those involved in the research. This finding must not be ignored especially as awareness of social isolation has become a bigger public health epidemic than smoking.

This leads me back to thinking about the same questions that were asked in the summit in 2008:

“What should the social services system look like in 2020 and beyond? Are there common reforms that need to be made to support a more socially inclusive Australia? “ Summit 2008.

Systems reform is another interesting topic to me and appeared to be behind a recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) demonstrating a misguided understanding of volunteering: Volunteering doesn’t make the world a better place. I am choosing to ignore such false accusations as “volunteering undercuts paid work” the writer demonstrated a lack of understanding of the differences between volunteering; fundraising; donations. These three actions represent three very different responsibilities and must not be confused with the “ there are too many charities in Australia” debate (see Consequences Blog #10 and ACNC).

Unfortunately, the article did exactly as it was advocating to not do. By intimating that a combination of single actions fixed by single notions gives weight to the ‘one size fits all’ mentality which is simply feeding the broken system. An article possibly not worthy of anymore attention but the action of putting volunteering on the map with robust evidence is.

At the same time, Pro bono released an article sharing news of recent research New research measures the value of volunteers for people with disability. I always get extremely excited when I learn of research around volunteering especially as a six-month research findings in just one state of Australia could be useful information to be shared with the 8 year RCT/SROI global first research that VFC represents. Along with plans for my 2018 Consequences Blog to expand on social inclusion I am also looking forward to sharing the collective findings of the various volunteering research interests and links around volunteering. An absolute obvious platform for this sharing is at the Volunteer Australia Biannual conference 2018: Ignite, Invigorate, Inspire. In mid 2018, it will be useful to share what we know about volunteering and provide answers to questions like how it helps reduce social isolation and promote social inclusion, what changes need to be made to these systems that incorporate the benefits of volunteering and paid professions thus by default creating the better way.

Here’s to an exciting and socially inclusive 2018!

References

https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org

www.australia2020.gov.au (archived – access through wikepedia)

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