Community Governance

A report into the future of governance for New Zealand’s 114,000 (NGOs), produced by the Centre for Social Impact in partnership with the Superdiversity Institute for Law, Policy and Business, has identified a need for considerable investment into NGO governance capabilities. 

The report, which drew on the experiences of fifteen NGO governance experts, identified a number of barriers to good governance including the low value and low profile of NGO governance, the behaviour of individual board members, the complexity of the NGO context and poor processes around decision-making.

“NGO’s in New Zealand generate an estimated $20 billion in annual income,” says researcher and report author, CSI associate, Dr Jo Cribb.  “These NGOs touch the lives of New Zealanders in many ways.  They provide services to the elderly, youth, and vulnerable families and whānau.  They deliver much of what holds our communities together, such as sports, arts, environmental and cultural programmes. They employ around 100,000 people (nearly 5 percent of the workforce) and contribute nearly 3 percent to GDP.  If the work of volunteers is included the contribution to GDP rises to 6 percent each year.  It is in all our interests that they are well-governed.

“What our research found is that while NGO board members play important roles in helping organisations develop strategies and secure funding, few of them have had any formal governance training, and many receive limited support in these roles.”

Jo said the research aimed to identify good and emerging practice in NGO governance.

“There is some impressive work being done by NGO boards and committees, the best of which are demonstrating the value of harnessing diversity, maintaining close connections to the communities they serve, and drawing on insights from Māori and iwi governance models.  They are also looking at innovative approaches, such as building coalitions at a governance level with NGOs working in related fields, to share strategies and find ways to collaborate to have greater impact.”

“There was also a strong endorsement of the value of diversity around the board table.  Having a board comprising people with a diverse range of experiences, personalities, perspectives and backgrounds brings a wealth of collective wisdom, a depth of conversation. Diversity for all interviewed was more than ensuring there was at least one woman on the board; it was ensuring that the board had the ability to solve its problems drawing on many angles. Age, ethnicity and experience all need to be considered, as well as gender.”

The report recommends the development of a national strategy for community governance.

“This would focus on providing easily accessible support for board and committee members to learn the basics of governance, backed up with practical advice, coaching and mentoring for chairs, board members and boards to help them apply best practice. It should also look at investment to grow a pipeline of emerging, diverse governance leaders and future chairs.”

This report builds off the Superdiversity Institute’s report released in August 2018, Diverse Thinking Capability Audit of New Zealand Boardrooms, which explained what “diverse thinking” really means for governance, and how to create a diverse thinking Boardroom culture and governance practice for peak performance and better decision making.