Social Enterprise or sitting ducks?

Andy Fryar December 1, 2004 0
Social Enterprise or sitting ducks?


By OzVPM Director, Andy Fryar

This month’s hot topic comes by way of a warning.

I believe there’s a growing corporate trend occurring that threatens to change the way that many volunteer programs operate – forever, particularly those in organisations such as hospitals, museums and aged care facilities where volunteers have for many years successfully operated business ventures to support the work of the organisation in which they work.

Traditional volunteer ventures of this kind (such as kiosks, gift shops and coffee carts) appear to be increasingly at the mercy of corporate giants, and the realisation by multi-national companies that these relatively untapped marketplaces are far more lucrative than once thought – after all, where else do you go when you already have a Subway on every street corner?

Having just returned from an overseas trip which included both the USA and Canada , I again saw first-hand a number of hospital foyers regaled not in the logo of some local volunteer group, but rather adorned with the all-too-familiar colours of Pizza Hut, McDonalds, Subway, Burger King and Starbucks. This is nothing new and an observation I have been making from visits to North American hospitals for nearly a decade now.

In fact a recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald revealed some already frightening statistics. It cited figures that indicated that more than 20 per cent of American hospitals already include a fast food restaurant. Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney includes a Subway and Gloria Jean’s Coffee store while other public health ventures such as the Westmead Children’s Hospital features a Starbucks.

Increasingly, the trend appears to be one that is affecting more than just the provision of food services – and technology appears to be one of the other growing enemies for many of us in the voluntary sector.

For instance, in many health facilities volunteer groups for many years have operated TV hire services for clients of the facility as a means of generating funds, however with the advent of digital TV and even more advanced bedside ‘information kiosks’ the writing is on the wall! These newly proposed ‘all-in-one’ systems not only allow patients to watch TV, but also give internet access and pay on demand movies. They also have the added benefit of allowing doctors to access a patient’s medical records on the same system and patients themselves can even choose their next day’s menu via the same technology.

What hospital Board and CEO wouldn’t want this cutting edge technology?

But where does that leave traditional volunteer groups who have for many years provided these services as the cost of this new technology is usually so prohibitive that only large multi-nationals will have an ability to install it – and with that outlay comes the provision of needing to run it, in order to recoup their costs. As you can imagine this leaves volunteer groups scratching their heads and wondering just what the heck happened!

The point I wish to make (regardless of the setting you work in), is that we all need to be aware of the impact that multi-national companies might make on our volunteer programs, and I believe we are only now scratching the surface of what may be to come.

Sadly we are not altogether blameless in this emerging scenario. I wonder how many volunteer groups have fallen victim to this emerging trend simply through a lack of foresight and an inability to properly plan for future?

In the same way that many traditional volunteer groups today struggle to recruit new volunteers we all need to be thinking now about how the infiltration of corporations into volunteer run business ventures might change forever, unless we head them off at the pass with some sound planning and pro-active measures of our own.

Let’s hear your thoughts

  • Why not share      your own stories about this topic?
  • Do you agree      that this trend is likely to emerge in Australia (and grow elsewhere)?
  • What can we do      about it?


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