Exchange, Reciprocity, and Citizenship -- Principles of Access and the Chanllenge to Human Rights in the Third Sector: An Australian Perspective

Article excerpt


A GROWING BODY OF INTERNATIONAL LITERATURE EXPLORES THE CONVERGENCE of welfare services and the organization of new mixed economies of welfare. In this literature, the examination of welfare provisioning has been overwhelmingly focused on service delivery - the production end of welfare provisioning. The consumption end (referred to in this essay as "relations of access") has been largely left out of considerations of the effects of changing regimes of welfare provisioning. In this article, we refer to empirical studies of welfare provisioning through nonprofit welfare agencies in Australia in the late 1990s. Insights from these studies lead to a reconsideration, from a social justice perspective, of the features of the nonprofit sector (increasingly referred to as the third sector) that distinguish it from the state and market. Our analysis suggests that, in a context of increasing "marketization" of state and third sector (1) services, effective third-sector organizations will be distinguished by (1) a clea r commitment to inclusive forms of delivery that are intrinsically based upon human rights and (2) their capacity to respond to the needs of marginalized peoples more or less unconditionally. We argue that to sustain this capacity to respond at a practical level, organizations will need to be multifaceted in their modes of delivery and be connected to diverse networks of providers and consumers of welfare. Beyond this, they may need to adopt strategies for development and advocacy that radically challenge hegemonic forms of the market/state/community alliance expressed in contemporary political rhetoric.

The Convergence of Welfare Services and the Australian Context

Contemporary discussions of the convergence of welfare services in Australia focus upon the progressive withdrawal of state-based service provision and the corresponding privatization of welfare services. The concept of "convergence" points to the promotion of a remixed (2) economy of welfare in the Australian context. That is to say, responsibility for the delivery of welfare services is shifted from the state to "partnerships" of state, non-government organizations (both nonprofit and for-profit) and "families." Commentators point to a shift in funding arrangements between government and existing nonprofit service providers, a move away from grant-based funding to contractual arrangements that hinge upon accountability and professionalization of services in nonprofit organizations.

Discussions of the effects of this process of convergence on the nonprofit, or third sector, have focused mainly upon the organizational changes necessary for the survival of nonprofit organizations. The literature is replete with suggestions that current changes will minimize the diversity and flexibility of nonprofit organizations and undermine their ability to provide services responsively. Yet, despite obvious concerns about service delivery, most writers who have considered the impact of changes in the political economy of welfare on the delivery of services have not sought to extend their analysis to consider client/user perspectives. The implications of changes in the funding and organization of service delivery have been considered closely from service-provider perspectives, but are less closely considered from service-consumer standpoints. Notions of consumer satisfaction and service efficiency are prominent within the service-provider discourse, but the emphasis is on issues like maximizing service efficiency and accountability to meet the demands and expectations of the funder, and to sustain the organization's survival. Except where the diversity of service needs among welfare recipients have been documented (Billis and Glennerster, 1998; MacKintosh, 2000), or where there have been concerns about maintaining opportunities for participation and democracy (active citizenship) in nonprofit organizations, the question of why flexibility in organizational arrangements in the third sector is important for clients has not been addressed in any detail. …


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