Here We Go Again!

 

Last year around this time, the Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work (CCRW) and just about every other organization that receives money from Human Resources Development Canada (HRDC) were facing financial crises!

The crises were the outcome of a series of events. HRDC had been under scrutiny by the political opposition parties and the news media for its allocation of funds under the Canada Jobs Fund. The NGOs, for the most part, were still adjusting to restructuring within government departments and shifts in criteria to access funds. The combination of these two major situations meant that many NGOs had to lay off staff and limit their activities.

In the case of CCRW, this also meant a significant reduction in our capacity to negotiate and deliver contracts to the private sector. The irony for CCRW was that the organization had begun the development of a pan-Canadian network of partners, the delivery of comprehensive job accommodation services utilizing the Internet, and the effective implementation of employment programs with the Skills Training Partnership model. In other words, at the very time when CCRW was building its capacity to operate a dynamic array of services, demonstrating the effectiveness of partnership and achieving its objective of promoting meaningful employment of people with disabilities, the organization was reducing staff, limiting its number of contracts and jeopardizing its inter-organizational relationships.

In spite of the agony that everyone connected to CCRW experienced, directly or indirectly, throughout the year 2000, there is no question that lessons have been learned. The following is a list of observations and thoughts that should be taken into consideration as we face the challenge again of building viable and sustainable quality programs within an environment of insecurity and instability.

CCRW Reflections of the Year 2000:

– As a result of the public criticism of the HRDC funding process, an accountability system has been instituted that is so labour intensive, layered and cross-checked, both government and NGOs spend far too much time discussing what to do, how to do it and how to measure it. At the end, there is precious little time to actually deliver the program!

– In spite of repeated pleas to set up long-term, sustainable funding systems, organizations continue to face short-term, project-to-project programs. This means more paperwork, less continuity, more duplication and less efficiency.

– The Labour Market Agreements continue to generate confusion and frustration! In spite of what the agreements say, no one seems quite sure who is responsible to support what!

– Apparently, there is a difference between “training” and programs that develop skills!

– Government-funded programs are not allowed to fail! Every other industry operates with the understanding that some activities/programs are more successful than others.

– Governments seem to believe that success can’t be measured — it must be counted. The numbers will determine the success or the failure of a program.

– While everyone is desperate to promote “best practices,” little attention is given to lessons learned from the vast majority of so-called failures.

– If a project is “successful” and demonstrates its effectiveness, it is not repeated, because funders will only fund something that is new and innovative!

– There is always government money available for consultation meetings!

– Even good programs based on sound reasoning and demonstrating effective accountability procedures cannot be supported if they don’t meet funding criteria!

– No one in the public sector seems to have the authority (or the influence) to modify or adjust funding criteria to respond to sound proposals.

– Well-connected private consulting firms can get contracts to conduct any number of activities in areas they know nothing about!

– Long-term business planning is very difficult when an organization is operating within a short-term, erratic environment.

– Guess what? Some things don’t work! We can learn from mistakes too!

– In spite of rhetoric about avoiding duplication, there is an amazing number of parallel activities going on!

CCRW Conclusions:

The degree of optimism and dedication that people have in the NGO sector and within governments is truly amazing!

In spite of all the frustration and continued challenges that have been experienced and will most likely continue to be experienced, we do not hesitate to sit down and try to identify solutions to problems.

Recently, CCRW hosted a meeting of its regional partners, government and employers to review our current status and determine future directions. The consensus was that we will continue to build our network in order to enhance those activities that demonstrate effectiveness. We recognize that we need to communicate regularly in order to share information and knowledge. We know that our collective expertise and resources will make the difference and will continue to remove barriers for people with disabilities.

2000 has been a hell of a year! My personal thanks to everyone in the public and private sectors who continues to prove that cooperation and collaboration are critical!

(Joan Westland is CCRW’s Executive Director. For more information, call (416) 260-3060; TTY: (416) 260-9223; or e-mail: info@ccrw.org.)

 

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