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We're All in This Together...Right?

August 24, 2009

Multigenerational-family We ran an item over the weekend about a new report issued by Generations United, a national membership organization that works to improve the lives of children, youth, and older people through intergenerational strategies, programs, and public policies.

The report documents key areas of intergenerational "policy convergence" (health care, family and medical leave, education and community engagement, family economic success,the environment) where the interests of youth, families, and older adults converge and encourages funders to adopt an intergenerational approach to their work based on a handful of concepts/principles:

  • a clear definition of intergenerational solidarity that extends beyond the nuclear and extended family;
  • a commitment to using an intergenerational lens when developing or influencing policy;
  • a call to include the "missing middle" -- both middle-aged people and those of middle income -- in all relevant policy developments and reviews;
  • a promise to explore solutions which, when possible, avoid means testing and stigmitization while involving and providing benefits to all incomes and ages;
  • a commitment to promote "economies of scope" -- a single intervention that helps or positively affects multiple issues/populations;
  • a social contract with children, similar to the one in place for older adults; and
  • a demonstrated connection between the social contract with children and the contract with older adults.

As a fifty-something father of two who derives a ton of satisfaction from his other roles -- son, brother, uncle, nephew, volunteer coach, good neighbor -- the report resonated with me. But what are the chances that funders and nonprofits will adopt such an approach? Pretty slim, says a person who left a comment on our site earlier this afternoon, for the following reasons:

First, nonprofit organizations aren't on board. The move from age-focused service delivery to need-focused service delivery not only threatens jobs but organizational identify and survival. It's also a major shift towards serving individuals and families with the greatest unmet needs; a shift that demands greater accountability and has greater costs associated with it. Many organizations, most notably those serving older persons, are reluctant to trade comfortable missions and institutional programs for the daunting task of serving the common good.

Second, grantmaking organizations aren't on board. Board Members and Trustees are worthy and successful community stewards with expertise, wealth and influence; but they're not always the most progressive, global or visionary thinkers or leaders. There are thousands of exceptions of course, but I contend that the vast majority are unwilling or incapable of embracing the social and economic needs of society as a whole, nor should they be. Their work is admirable and the challenges of change are overwhelming and virtually unapproachable.

Finally, in the hierarchical world of nonprofit organizations, the pecking order has to be maintained for better or worse. Those at the top protect their 'industry' from harm or the erosion of brand, position or funding. We need only to look at the 'aging enterprise' to see that universal change is slow if present at all....

The anonymous commenter acknowledges, in closing, that the report's core principles "are worthy and demand our calling -- not as institutions but as individuals that question and challenge policy and practices that have outlived their usefulness or can no longer be defended." And then s/he urges us to "move beyond the language of 'intergenerational' and the baggage that accompanies it towards something more relevant and fundamental to our lives and the world today -- serving the common and collective good."

Strong stuff.

What do you think? Recognizing that there are thousands of exceptions, are most nonprofits too complacent, turf-conscious, or set in their ways to shift from an age-focused delivery model to a needs-focused model? Does the "language of intergenerational" come with baggage that hampers the sector's ability to serve the common good? And, when it comes to the collective good, are most nonprofits too focused on the trees to be able to see the forest?

Use the comments section below to leave a comment, or leave a comment here, where the above remark was posted.

-- Mitch Nauffts

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