IT’S ALL ABOUT RELATIONSHIP
By John Berry, Chief Executive Officer, St. Vincent de Paul Georgia
The world seems to be a very unsettled place right now. The rise of populism and tribalism across the globe has created seismic shifts in the political landscapes of Europe and the United States while the economic alignment, power, and impact of countries from East to West is changing the dynamics of trade and monetary policy. Wealth disparity grows across the globe; the poor get poorer, the rich get richer, the rest stagnate. We are at a pivot point which will determine whether we move through the chaos and confusion and once again ratchet up our economies and social systems, or whether we take a hatchet to the success of the past and open a door to an unknown future.
For those of us who strive to positively impact the lives of the innocent, the poor, and the victims of these societal changes, the battle gets harder and the outcomes more elusive each day. In many ways the commitment to social change and social justice is being replaced by a tribalistic rejection of the importance of the ‘common good.’ Populism rejects the common good for the ‘what’s in it for me’ good.
Have we in the social sector, maybe inadvertently, had a part in driving this sea change in attitude? Through our well-intentioned actions have we done things that helped drive people away from a desire to be part of a common good? Maybe.
Maybe because we forgot something that I think is very important. And that is that no program has ever changed or transformed a life, only a relationship has.
And in forgetting that truth, we have put programs, outcomes, and results ahead of people. We in the nonprofit sector, especially in the human services sector, have become so focused on making sure that our ‘programs’ have huge outcome and impact numbers that we have forgotten that it is people we are helping, not funders, governments, or agencies. And in doing so we have opened a door to people that allows, or rather encourages, them to reject our efforts because they really don’t succeed.
If we transform 10 lives through our efforts but 10 are not transformed are we a failure compared to the one who gave 20 people an extra $1.50 a week in their paychecks so they could pay for their Costco membership? We had a 50% failure rate, they had a 100% success rate. Who did more good?
The human services sector needs to stop thinking that it is big business. It is not. It is people. People who are hungry, people who are cold, people who are alone, people who are homeless. The social services sector is not supposed to be about all the same things that are important to business – because if we are then we will have to do the things they do. Focus on profit, efficiency, and outcome. All important, no doubt. But not our most important things. Ours are, or should be, people. It is all about relationship. For you were hungry, and I gave you to eat – without calculating the ROI on the meal. For you were thirsty and I gave you to drink – without reporting it as part of our impact study. For you are a human person – and I respected you and treated you as one.