Sunday, September 2, 2012
Corporate take over of nonprofit and government sectors
Have you noticed? Business is taking over… the government and nonprofits are all being gradually redirected by corporate, as in ‘business’, interests. If only these interests were truly ‘corporate”, as in our ‘common good’.
Consider the common corporate belief that bigger is better. This belief has been forced onto other sectors. Supersizing isn’t just for fast food menus; nonprofit and school mergers have become popular. This has happened despite studies that have proven smaller schools are more effective in educating students than larger ones. Efficiency and reduction in costs have become much bigger priorities. The recently proposed nonprofit healthcare merger between Health Partners and Blue Cross Blue Shield is an example. If you are a business, and you get big enough, you become “to big to fail” and can expect taxpayers to come to your aid.
Public education has become suspect. Unions are demonized. Schools are becoming more business like. Instead of taxes paying for our children’s extracurricular activities they now have fees. If you child wants to be in debate, drama or a sports team, be ready to pay extra.
The business world’s outcry for testing has created a testing industry within education. As a math tutor I’ve witnessed how third grade children and teachers are stressed about passing their Minnesota Comprehensive Exams. How is it that so many of our current business, government and nonprofit leaders were able to succeed, when their early schooling was diluted with classes like art, gym, music, and home economics? Isn’t innovative and creative thinking still vital to success in the 21st century? With our nation’s obesity epidemic don’t we need to teach our children about nutrition and encourage physical activity? These things are just as critical to our nation’s future and “bottom line” as the core subjects of reading, writing and arithmetic, and yes, of course, Microsoft Office.
The one area where bigger isn’t better, according to most corporate interests, is the government, aka the arch nemesis of unbridled business. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and all the other government institutions that go by an acronym and have a role in checking the power of business have come under immense scrutiny and budget cutting pressure.
Nonprofits and government agencies being pushed to become “social entrepreneurs” by incorporating profitable business models into their services. As if it weren’t hard enough to manage a nonprofit, government agency, now they need to become successful at business too! Watch out, public libraries might soon be charging to check out popular books or our public highways might charge extra for those that can afford to use express lanes. Oh wait, those things have already happened…
While serving as the Executive Director of a nonprofit organization I had a well meaning, successful businessman on the board of directors who suggested that in order to save costs we might consider outsourcing our receptionist functions to workers in India. The business approach has even drifted into the faith communities. Mega churches now have “executive pastors”, who are simply glorified business administrators.
Why is it that business has become the dominant sector at this point in our nation’s history? Perhaps as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof observed… “when you’re rich they really think you know!?”. Or maybe many have a delusional belief that they too will become a part of the one percent club?
President Obama has been discredited for being a “community organizer”, and so wouldn’t know about running the business of government. Isn’t our government supposed to be of the people, by the people, and for the people? Last time I checked corporations are not people. Governmental agencies and nonprofits deserve our admiration and support for the work they do in meeting the unmet needs of people and the environment. A healthy, civil society benefits by a respectful balance of strong government, nonprofit and business sectors.