THE VOLUNTARY SECTOR, 1995 AND BEYOND: ACTION AND REACTION
Susan Carter and Havi Echenberg
In 1995, when the notion of the "voluntary sector" was little known, and often described as a collection of "special interest" groups, lead national organizations came together to improve their status vis-à-vis the federal government. In addition to a deteriorating relationship with federal officials, elected and staff, sector organizations were struggling under the increased demands for service created by government withdrawal from a number of health, social, cultural and environmental areas of activity.
In 1997, this roundtable of organizations commissioned an independent panel to study how the sector could improve its governance and accountability. The resulting report included recommendations for government, which created "joint tables" with a short time-line in 1999 to consider how the recommendations might be implemented. In 2000, the Voluntary Sector Initiative, a five-year, $95 million jointly managed project, was launchede. This period starting in 1995 saw the "framing" of many of the policy issues confronting the voluntary sector. The implementation of the Initiative coincided with the development and articulation by the sector and the federal government of positions on these issues.
This paper reviews literature, including documentation of expectations and assumptions by both partners, combining this arm's-length view with direct experience to examine how the sector acted, and reacted, during the period. Particular emphasis will be put on the advocacy functions of the sector and its organizations, examining the extent to which this series of events both muted the voice of the sector, and created opportunity for greater influence. The complexity of the factors at play will be described and considered in this paper.
Susan Carter is a practitioner and analyst in the Third Sector. She worked in several departments in the federal government, specializing in social policy and federal-provincial relations. She left the federal public service in 1994 to work as Associate Executive Director of the Canadian Council on Social Development – a voluntary organization in the field of social policy and research. She was a founding member of the Voluntary Sector Roundtable and in this capacity led the creation of the Broadbent Panel on Governance and Accountability in the Voluntary Sector. She headed the secretariat which supported the voluntary sector's participation in the Voluntary Sector Initiative. She holds a Masters Degree in political science from the University of Toronto and a diploma from the Ecole Nationale d'Administration in France.
Havi Echenberg is an independent consultant in social policy and public affairs. From 1997 to 2002, she was involved with voluntary sector issues first as a research assistant for the Broadbent Panel on Accountability and Governance in the Voluntary Sector, then as a research assistant to one of the joint tables under Working Together, and finally in a number of capacities with the Voluntary Sector Initiative Secretariat focussing on communications and engagement with the sector. She is a graduate of Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.
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