A couple of years ago I remember a cause that was oriented around ensuring the entire global population had access to clean drinking water. This being an issue that is close to my heart and mind (my undergrad degree is in environmental engineering), I still remember a few of the statistics they used to illustrate not only how large the issue was but how solvable it was as well. Around 1 billion people still do not have access to clean drinking water. Luckily, the percentage of the overall population has dropped in the last 20 years, and the amount of organizations that are addressing the issue has grown exponentially. Statistics from the UN range in estimation that it would only take somewhere between $5 billion and $30 billion dollars to create and provide clean drinking water for the entire world. Yes, this is a large number, and I apologize in that I don't remember the source for the next stat, but basically the perfume and cologne industry does a similar range in sales during the Christmas holiday season alone. I'm not even comparing this to how much is spent on other items such as defense in national budgets.
When I hear about such a cause, it grabs me and draws me into its mission. We get this all the time, regardless of what cause it is. Even businesses use this in their marketing. "I have to have the latest phone or razor because its going to ease the problem I have up to this point in a close, non-irritating shave or slow 3G speeds."
Returning to the clean water issue, I can easily name the following organizations that have sprung up over the past decades to address the issue: Living Water International, Charity:Water, Blood Water Mission, The Water Project, Water For People, Global Water, UNICEF Tap Project, Drop in the Bucket, Ethos Water, and of course Water.org. In fact, here is a good comprehensive list.
Why do I bring all this up? As you can see here that in 2010 Americans donated nearly $291 billion dollars to charity. I did not pay to access the report referenced, but clean water falls under development organizations which had a large increase from the previous year. The sector that water organizations fall under would probably be around 6% of that total according to the GivingUSA report referenced in the above link. So, if we can assume that roughly 1% of the total amount of giving is toward the clean water issue, it would still only take 10-12 years to raise enough money to solve the issue.
Yet, this hasn't happened.
Couple individual giving with governments funding of clean water programs from all over the world and we should be in a maintaining the water systems, not establishing them, mode according to those projections and the emphasis since 1990 that has occurred.
Don't get me wrong. It is being addressed and progress is being made. I simply fear, as the list of organizations above shows, that this cause, like all, becomes trapped in organizational self-maintenance and build-up.
What is the cost to market, maintain an organization, build support, run budgets, social media, develop infrastructure, perform human resources, health care, and comply with international law that is somehow outside of the estimated cost above?
When did the organization get in the way of the mission?
Organizations, for the most part, are organized around a mission that is fulfilling a need (or perceived/created need - see Apple's iPad). Hearts and minds are moved by sights of starving children, cold and dark homes, or even simply how to get from one location to another. Clean drinking water is a simple necessity that actually seems to have a fairly reasonable solution to it, for example. Yet, it is not solved. Dozens of organizations are now addressing the problem. Each of these is now also held captive by providing the livelihood of each of the employees. I'm not saying this is wrong. But I think we really, really have to provide a strong dose of remembering the mission above and beyond the organization.
At what point does the shift occur when individuals who mobilize around solving an issue become about sustaining an organization that is addressing an issue. Think about it. If my personal livelihood comes from helping people have clean water would I not need to continue to have the need (or dare I say demand) there? While I in no way think that all of these great organizations intentionally think like this, I do think it happens.
Let me use another example in another field entirely.
I recently was in a meeting with the principle of a middle school in Phoenix, Arizona and several faith-based groups that were wanting to help the school, no strings attached. The principle was describing the situation and needs of his school. One of the large problems was that enrollment was down because many families had moved away from the area towards more suburban locations. Thus, many of the programs and facilities of the school were unable to be maintained at the level they had been as the budget was determined and issued to them in some form of enrollment numbers. Did his school have needs, absolutely! But they were organizational needs, it seemed to me, that were more interested in maintaining the status quo of what the school had been able to do in the past, and not about what was needed now. The school used to have a highly regarded band and music department, and so they wanted to keep all of the teachers and equipment for 2/3 the students that they had had before, for instance. The burden on the principal was huge, and it was his position to "grow" or "develop" the school to be better each and every year.
My question to the above question is why
True, these are hard decisions. But it is this shift - is the concern the mission, the educating and equipping of children in the neighborhood or the maintaining of the systems and organization in place that is the goal?
I do think there is a way to solve this solution, and they are not found in business principles. In fact, business is in part to blame for this. Profit, growth of the organization, and market share and indicators of success rather than needs being met.
Even non-profits like the water organizations above, get into this frame of thinking.
Churches do as well.
Our paradigm for organization needs to change. The organization must always serve its mission.
Mission and vision are not simply statements thrown up on the wall that shows what the organization is organized around. They should be what each and every person is actively achieving that day. And when the mission is met then a new one is needed. Closing or shutting down, or completely re-orienting is not failure. Rather, it could be indicative of success!
Of course, human nature is at the core of the shift, is it not? We become compassionate to help others, but we also have our personal self-interest to look after. The way of the world is to take care of the personal self-interest first, then help. I'm not in any way diminishing our own needs, but our self-interest should be second to the larger community in which we live and serve.
I do mean "serve." It's a better word than "work" isn't it? When we serve, we recognize our place amongst the mission and the whole.
To prevent an organization from hindering its own mission, we need to keep things simple and see that the mission comes before the organization. See the cause as priority over the self. We need to be less selfish and more oriented on others. We take care of each other together, not me first - then you. Its us...all of us.
We all should have clean drinking water. Our goal should not to have one water organization be the predominant one, but that the world water crisis is solved.
Ultimately, we should all understand that we, the people, are the mission. Not me and mine, but we and ours. We're all together in this.
*I plan on a follow-on post that directly address the church regarding this topic. Since when has the church organization replaced people participating in God's mission and reign in the world?