One successful way to promote innovation in social welfare organisations in Portugal

One successful way to promote innovation in social welfare organisations in Portugal

15.04.2013 Blog

Private social welfare organisations are, by far, the main providers of social welfare services in Portugal. According to the preliminary results of the Social Economy Satellite Account for 2010, there are 7740 organisations providing this kind of services for a total of 55383 social economy organisations . If they are ranked in the third position in terms of number of organisations, they are, by a large difference, the most important group of social economy organisations in terms of share in the value added (41,4%) and in the total employment (34,1%) of the social economy.

This is a very heterogeneous group in terms of legal status, modes of governance, quality of the management, number and qualifications of the paid and volunteer workers, range and quality of the services provided to the target population, and size of their activities. In spite of these differences, they all share the following concerns:

  • they face a decreasing demand from users who can afford to pay some amount for the goods and services they provide to them and an increasing demand from those who cannot afford to pay, but need help;
  • in terms of future trends of the support from public funds, the prospects are negative and the same from private donors.

What all of these implies is that there is an urgent need for these organisations to find new ways to insure their economic sustainability, without compromising their mission of serving the people in need who cannot afford to pay the full cost of the goods and services they provide to them.

In spite of these strong drivers for change, this change does not necessarily happen in a spontaneous and generalised way across this large population of organisations. Also, it is not easy to find a successful strategy to help them getting started in a trajectory of change capable of coping well with the difficult challenges they are facing.

Since 2008, the national confederation representing the most important component of this type of organisations (CNIS – Confederação Nacional das Instituições de Solidariedade), in partnership with the Catholic University of Portugal in Porto, has launched a project which is proving to be a successful trigger for the kind of changes needed in these organisations. This project is called FAS – Formação Ação Solidária. It is an action training where training is designed to meet the specific needs of each  organisation participating in the project. The design of these plans is done with the most possible participation and engagement from all the directors, managers and workers.

This kind of training and the participatory methods used to design and implement the training plans have proven to be effective triggers for getting started processes of change in these organisations leading towards better conditions for sustainability. With different combinations in each organisation, these processes involve the following elements:

– actions within each  to improve efficiency through reductions in costs, search for new sources of income and improvement in the quality of the services provided to the users;

– development of networking among directors and staff of different organisations which results in sharing of knowledge and partnerships.

Obviously these outcomes don’t happen overnight and with the same intensity in all the organisations participating in the project, but the evaluations made so far provide clear evidence that the impact of the project is effective and goes in these directions.

Concerning the short time results of the project, the following table with the outputs for its two completed editions (2008/10 and 2010/12) clearly shows that the implementation of the project has been very successful. The third edition started in February 2013 with a target population of 81 organisations. These outputs make this project the main operation ever done in Portugal so far to improve the qualification of the directors and staff of the social welfare organisations.