Is the private sector doing more to help society than the government?

martyn and Bill Shorten

Walking through the streets of Melbourne recently I met up with Bill Shorten MP, Labor Leader of the Opposition, as he stood with a homeless young man by the name of Dean assisting in selling copies of The Big Issue. I purchased one, of course, as I am perhaps one of the biggest fans of this well considered social enterprise.

I stood and chatted for a short while with Mr Shorten and whether your view on these activities by politicians is genuine or for spin, at least he was out there and Dean told me he had never sold so many copies in a day!

But when it comes to sharing the responsibility of societal giving as a nation (the means by which we allocate responsibility amongst the business community, the general public and government), Canberra as a collective of parties have offered competing visions of the role that government and each of us should play.

They would argue that the Australian government from day dot has supported, and rewarded both commercial and social enterprise. And enterprise has always relied upon the infrastructure that governments provide.

However, some sectors of commerce and outspoken philanthropists would counter the argument that government ‘could do so much more’, especially in aiding and rewarding collaboration between private sector organisations and those they support.

New and successful non-government alliances 

More and more businesses, philanthropic organisations and charities are continuously forging alliances to achieve their social goals. And, by taking targeted approaches to pertinent social challenges, they are taking care to advance – rather than undermine – the combination of capacity and trust on which these alliances, and any social contract, must rely.

They seek collaborative and collective change and apply commercial thinking to their giving. Furthermore, there are now more and more collaborations led by forward thinking CEOs, charity leaders and wealthy philanthropists seeking to more effectively document and communicate their impact.

My answer is no. They are simply both architects and beneficiaries of the information age, and they want to see its benefits more evenly shared.

Collaboration on all levels

What they do seek is collaborative management among government, businesses, and charities so that together they can tackle these pertinent societal problems, and do so in ways that strengthen the social and political fabric that harnesses one of the most giving nations on the planet.

And so, rather than debate the division over resources and management they assume it will be ever-changing, with the mantle of leadership shifting from one to the other, according to the task at hand.

Let’s not underestimate the size of the opportunity if the government does provide more advanced support for collaborations, such as these, but perhaps the missing piece of the jigsaw is how success is measured and where that fits in the political landscape. That’s the lure I feel. That will be the subject of my next post. Watch this space.

What do you think? Are private sector collaborations on key societal challenges leaving the government behind?

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