How could faith-based organisations do good, better?
From a report by Theos
As we know, faith-based organisations are heavily and increasingly involved in social action. However, are we delivering services that may or may not resolve the problems we intend to tackle, at a limited scale, without accessing emerging forms of social finance, and where social entrepreneurs and innovators will be perceived as acting outside the core mission of religious networks?
Theos have recently published a report, 'Doing Good Better: The Case for Faith-based Social Innovation' which explores different aspects of religious social innovation. They take a look at organisations and individuals who are thinking and acting innovatively. These show a level of ambition and trust in human creativity and agency, and have an intentional and reflective approach to social change. They look to embed innovation as a process – a new approach to social change.
The report looks at:
1. The institutional context – the engine of social innovation. A significant barrier to religious social innovation is the lack of the kind of institutional framework which creates space for innovation. Religious institutions can also be poor at embedding processes which allow for innovation – religious social innovation therefore tends to progress not within religious institutions, but alongside and outside of them.
2. The fuel for social innovation. Religious social action has not yet been able to fully tap some of the new social funding that has come on stream. They suggest that barriers might include a continued suspicion of faith-based actors, but also an aversion to more sophisticated approaches to impact measurement.
3. Drivers – that is, social leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs. These can be marginalised in religious networks.
Included in the above are several case studies.
Theos then make several recommendations, some of which are outlined below:
1. Faith-based organisations should give greater attention to innovation. Continue to peel back the layers of the problem and ask how they can have a greater impact than ever. Religious organisations should be about doing more, but also doing better.
2. Religious charities could start small when it comes to innovation. Focusing on the output model of innovation misses the importance of embedding the culture and processes of innovation.
3. Religious groups should closely monitor innovations which seek to use markets and enterprise as ways to achieve social change. Such interventions have the potential to move beyond poverty alleviation and amelioration into transformative social engagement.
4. Religious charitable trusts could create dedicated innovation funds which look to invest in both innovative projects and processes for existing organisations to push their work on to another stage.
5. Faith-based charities need to be better at identifying priorities and tracking impact – this will create access to forms of finance and opportunities for scale that hitherto have not been available to religious organisations.
6. There needs to be systematic engagement with social innovation funders in order to understand what, if anything, prevents them from engaging more with religious groups.
7. At present, too many religious social entrepreneurs end up taking their skills and abilities out of the tent. Social action has been seen as a bolt-on to religious networks – social entrepreneurs and innovators can seem disruptive, asking questions around how resources are directed within a religious denomination. Religious groups need to support social innovators within their ranks by recognising and developing their skills, and acknowledging social change as an important vocation in its own right, rather than a clerical hobby.
8. Religious organisations often have significant convening power. They could support religious social innovators by drawing them together with others, promoting collaboration between different individuals and organisations on given social goals.
The report recognises that there are barriers and dissonances between religion and innovation. Religious traditions are exactly that – traditions. It is not that they are not open to change, but they are rooted in ways of thinking and of doing (and also of not-doing) that are open to evolution, but not revolution. Our social, economic and political context is changing rapidly and will continue to do so. Faithfully pursuing the common good is unlikely to look like doing the same thing over and over again.
Download the report here.
Who are the Christian innovators, church-based or in the marketplace, that you know and how are you supporting and encouraging them? How are you encouraging constant innovation?
Various articles on the Wordonthestreets site have been tagged with 'Innovation' as they have been published. This tag can be found in the tag cloud on the home page. A link to this search is here. At the time of writing, the articles number 24. They may trigger ideas.
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