Friday, March 8, 2013

Social Justice: Governance

As I have mentioned before I am the chair of the Vision / Governance team for the Mount Initiative. This initiative is centered around four pillars: affordable housing, a food hub, a cultural center and offices for agencies. Being the chair of the Vision and Governance group for the Mount initiative was really challenging yesterday. I do not know all there is to know about governance. I took a course on Not for Profit Leadership in which I learned about Board governance. But yesterday I felt in over my head. I am meeting with a woman from United Way Peterborough named Lisa Smith today who was my teacher for my course. I am hoping that she will be able to help me with some of the questions that I have.

So what is governance? It is how a non profits board of directors is structured. You can have an agency with open governance where anyone who shows up to the AGM (Annual General Meeting) and pays a dollar is a member and allowed to vote. Or you can have a more closed and rigid governance where only a certain few are members and have the ability to vote. There will be a new entity that is formed for the Mount initiative and we are trying to determine what kind of governance structure it will have.

It's interesting because I volunteer at a food bank and I am on a poverty reduction board as well as the chair for this new committee. At the food bank I am faced with the immediate need of the individual in front of me. I find out where they live, what kind of assistance they are on and what they need today from us. But at the board level I am making decisions and policy for things that might not effect those living in poverty for several years from now.

I think both are important. It is important to be in connection with those living in poverty and helping them with their immediate need. But it is equally important to be making decisions about governance and how an organization is going to be held accountable for its decisions. The first seems more practical and you see immediate results, a.k.a. someone is fed. The second is a little less tangible and harder to see how it makes an affect on those living in poverty but it does.

The reason I am involved in decision making and policy at the board level is because I see its value. As a network and a collaborative we can throw our collective weight behind issues and have a voice that one individual living in poverty wouldn't have. For example, when the local municipal government misspent the money allocated for discretionary benefits the Peterborough Poverty Reduction Network called them to task for it. This couldn't have been done by one individual or even one agency.

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