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Ensuring Social Justice in Community Development

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Joshua Odetunde
May 2, 2017

There is need to clearly conceptualize partnership with nonprofit sector institutions and public sector institutions to ensure social justice in community development. A case study of nonprofit sector institutions illustrates the stumbling block in trying to conceptually separate economic, human and social capital producing activities. Currently, partnership is commonly conceptualized as contractual, making many complementary nonprofit sector institutions more like extentions of public sector institutions. The community development impacts of such partnerships are often reduced to statistical data and monetary values rather than needed social change to ensure liberty and justice for all.

Even where the services of a nonprofit sector institution are complementary to those of a public sector institution, the mission goal of the nonprofit sector institution should still be kept in focus. The goal must not be compromised, as it represents a unique claim on the path to ensure liberty and justice for all. Charitable social values are intertwined with ensuring social justice. Those social values can only be recognized — they cannot be directly dictated or enforced by the public. Charitable social values and norms can only be encouraged by the public. Hence, contractual partnership is not the same as recognizing and encouraging the essential services of a nonprofit sector institution. Strick adherence to contractual partnerships with public sector institutions tend to compromise the mission goals of nonprofit sector institutions by insisting on certain statistical data or accountability in terms of monetary values. It could also result in attempting to draw false equivalence between charitable social benefits and economic values. The mission goal of the nonprofit sector institution, representing a unique claim on the path to ensuring social justice, needs to be recognized and encouraged for preservation and equitable community development.

social inequality 2Furthermore, contractual partnerships with public sector institutions tend to weaken innovative approaches often required in social entrepreneurship by insisting on proven paths to solutions rather than learning opportunities for improvements. Insisting on proven paths to ensuring social justice is counter intuitive because that logic presumes acceptable level of social justice. There is no acceptable level of social justice in any community because diverse charitable social values and norms that public institutions cannot directly dictate or enforce are intertwined with it. Those diverse charitable social values and norms are neither private nor public. Therefore, public sector institutions cannot directly influence those social values and norms to avoid violating individual liberty and justice for all. In the bid to follow the letters of the law, however, some public sector institutions attempt to cirmcumscribe nonprofit sector institutions with rules and regulations in contractual partnerships. Such rules and regulations often limit the much needed innovation for social change through nonprofit sector institutions.

In the United States, the rules and regulations public institutions often use to guide against separation of Church and State in contractual partnerships with faith based nonprofit organizations illustrate the need for clearer conceptualization. Logically, faith based nonprofit organizations receiving public grants or subsidies for social services programs cannot proselytize. That is, government sponsored social services cannot be used to promote any religion or religious practice. However, such rules and regulations tend to focus on letters the law rather than the community impacts of the social services delivery. Social change cannot occur without direct impacts on the stakeholders. Since religious practices are voluntary and private, rules and regulations focusing on them tend to weaken innovative approaches to social services delivery with direct impacts on the stakeholders. The focus of contractual partnerships with nonprofit sector institution in complementary social services delivery should be direct impacts of the services or goods on the stakeholders or beneficiaries rather than dictating the means.

Without clear conceptualization of contractual partnerships of public sector and nonprofit sector institutions, matching grants to recognize and encourage the essential services of the latter sector could be confused with performance grants to private for-profit institutions. The innovative element of the nonprofit mission goal could also be undermined. The distinction is subtle but significant in today’s economy and comprehensive planning efforts to ensure equity and sustainability. Economic activities in the public and private for-profit sectors have become inextricably interwoven. Economic activities in the nonprofit sector provide the link needed to ensure equitable distribution of essential goods and services since money has become the common means even in social transactions. Thus, it is important to differentiate contractual partnership between public and private for-profit institutions from similar contractual partnership between public and nonprofit institutions. They are different because while the former requires performance or solution through proven means, the latter requires innovations and learning opportunities for improvements as reflected in the mission goal. More often, the latter also involve directly engaging the stakeholders to ensure social justice in community development.

Author: Joshua O. Odetunde is consulting director at Community Housing Market Support Network Inc., Louisville KY. He may be contacted through [email protected]

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