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The community service industry takes a proactive approach with the future of services.

Belinda Drew is Chief Executive Officer of Community Services Industry Alliance (CISA) in Brisbane, Australia. MissionBox CEO and co-founder, Kathryn Engelhardt-Cronk, talks to Belinda about growing and improving the community services industry by educating and engaging with stakeholders, advocating for services policy reform and leading the way in industry productivity and innovation.

How did Community Services Industry Alliance (CSIA) come about?

In the beginning, about a dozen organizations who wished to increase their capacity to work together. They initiated a conversation about community services organizations focusing on the business of community service delivery, rather than social issues. After some consultation and the development of a business case, CSIA was established. We started with 27 key investors, now we've grown to 38.

How did you handle the development of the operating structure?

CSIA wrote a report called "Forecasting the Future," looking at the data from 10 years' worth of impacts on community service organizations. We imagined a future that was based on these impacts and the changes that some different influences have on the industry. From there, we created seven "key success imperatives”, which included productivity, the use of technology, collaboration and partnership. The report has been a fairly important piece of work for CSIA the industry development space. CSIA focuses on the success imperatives to frame the work that we do now and will do over time.

We're living in a time of unprecedented change in reform, requiring organizations to rethink how they do what they do. The policy peak bodies in Australia focus primarily on policy related to various social issues. CSIA seeks to influence the policy positions of government as they intersect with those reform agendas. In order to make the change process for organizations easier we arm them with research that supports their own interests. This approach supports organizations in assuming a more assertive voice when managing reform agendas.

Did you hear from CEOs and leaders of community service organizations about these concerns?

We realized that a lot of the boards and CEOs, the senior leadership of these organizations, are consumed by operational matters. We really wanted to share some leadership — we had to bring them on the journey with us.

The focus of our next strategic plan is to explore three imperatives of the community service industry: industry exfluence, influence and actions. We will organize our efforts with industry under those three broad headings, focusing on senior leadership and boards of the organizations as they are decision-makers in the change process.

How is the association funded? Do the community organizations contribute?

That's right. To be clear, we call them foundation members but they're community organizations incorporated under our corporation's laws. They're not foundations in the charitable, philanthropic sense; they are organizations that are delivering community service.

Each organization invests their own money in CSIA. They make contributions, which we call foundation member fees. Each organization signs a five-year contract and fees are structured to be greater in the first years and then they decline over time.

We've been working hard at securing contract work that's consistent with our mission and will provide operating revenue. We've been reasonably successful so far.

We're now in our third fiscal year and we are generating a small surplus. We're also inviting those original dozens — very large organizations — back around the membership table.

Could you tell me what you've learned about your value for these organizations?

CSIA is regularly given positive feedback. Our organizations often reference specific pieces of CSIA research and policy work that provides guidance. In a high-level summary, we bring value through speaking truth to power on behalf of the industry. There's a high level of impact made by our collective body . Each and every member is more powerful together than they are individually.

We've been using a deliberative policy process as we work to meet with government and politicians to say, "We represent a number of organizations and these are their greatest concerns."

We've got deep relationships within the industry and we've built insights. We do our own investigation of policy issues and develop an evidence base that lends a new perspective.

We're really trying to avoid a situation where we might be played off against the idea that we represent everybody. We can absolutely claim that we can deliver on our collective insights and our discipline around research. We base all our policy positions on research and evidence. We're achieving that either by doing it ourselves or doing it in partnership with universities or others.

I think from the government's perspective we deliver a different and better kind of value.

Do you believe that your foundations value the work you've done in Forecasting the Future?

Yes, absolutely. I think there's no doubt that they do. When we launched in 2016, we had an overwhelming response. We started in Brisbane, and then did a roadshow across Queensland. It was very well received.

Our foundation members agree that Forecasting the Future. It is an excellent basis for a public conversation, and it's really effective as a tool in the boardroom boardroom, or with other senior executive teams.

Organizations report that Forecasting in Future is useful in cross-industry conversations, for example the corporate sector. In a way, it has helped organizations to remove some of the opacity regarding community services.

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