Bermuda Civil Society Project: Analysis of Social Service Agencies
Resource type: Research Report
Root Cause |
This report aims to increase understanding of the gaps and overlaps in services being provided to address social issues in Bermuda. It is part of the Bermuda Civil Society Project (BCSP), an independent research and data analysis initiative designed to clarify how nonprofit agencies and other stakeholders deliver programmes and services to the community. Its purpose is to better inform plans for allocating resources and collaborative work.
About the Bermuda Civil Society Project
In early 2009, the Bermuda Civil Society Project (BCSP) was born out of concerns in the philanthropic community that nonprofit community service providers were facing increasingly tough times due to worsening economic conditions. Donors wanted to apply their funding dollars most effectively in areas where they were most needed. At the same time, the nonprofit community had its own concerns about diminishing funding at a time when the community was in greater need of its help than ever.
These joint concerns demonstrated the need for a review of community services to determine whether nonprofit service providers were directing their efforts most effectively; whether the needs of the community were being met; and whether there were, in fact, gaps in or duplication of services.
The BCSP is coordinated by a task force of Bermuda funders, nonprofits and technical advisors, including The Centre on Philanthropy, The Family Centre, The Atlantic Philanthropies, the Bank of Bermuda Foundation, ACE and XL.
The BCSP task force is focused on communication with stakeholders, making information about the services that are available more accessible to the community and assisting to highlight improvements that could be made.
Introduction to the Report
The report is the first product of the BCSP initiative, and it details the results of three “convenings” – gatherings of colleagues in the social service agencies – and a survey of the nonprofit organisations. It also synthesises some existing research compiled in reports 2005-2009.
In the social services sector over the last 10 to 15 years, the need for help has increased considerably, resulting in an upsurge in the number of service providers. Committed individuals throughout Bermuda are taking the lead on tackling some major problems, such as gang violence, child safety, mental health and well-being, and the advancement of human rights.
However, resources are spread thin and these efforts, driven by a keen sense of urgency, become scattered because they operate within a limited framework from which to support, inform and organise activity.
If these aggressive and complex social problems are to be effectively tackled, they will require increased collaboration between agencies. To be successful, social service agencies must have the tools to do their jobs, including better information about the root causes of the problems, and an accurate understanding of the magnitude of the problems and their real impact on the community.
A few months ago, the BCSP task force invited all those who provide social services, both prevention and care, to come together to discuss what they do, the challenges that they face, and their hopes for the future. Three of these convenings were held, with a total attendance of 102 service providers, both non-governmental and government. Following the meetings, nonprofit consulting firm Root Cause prepared the “Analysis of Social Service Agencies Report”.
This document contains substantial detail and the BCSP task force, the agencies, and the groups that will be formed to tackle specific issues will have much work to do. For example, now that we have a better understanding of the landscape we are dealing with, we need to consider the technological, infrastructural, and policy responses that will be required to meet identified needs.
A Brief Overview of the Report’s Findings
1) As Bermuda was experiencing economic success due to the growth of international business based on the island, the tourism industry was diminishing. The economic recession has further weakened Bermuda’s tourism industry, and has resulted in a slowdown in international business based in Bermuda.
2) This set of circumstances resulted in a social environment where more people were out of work, the cost of living was higher, the workplace skill set had changed dramatically from tourism-related to business-related, and the island’s housing infrastructure became significantly stressed.
3) The results of the shifting economic conditions were: a) Bermuda did not have the number of skilled employees required to sustain international business, and foreign workers were brought to the island; b) with fewer philanthropic funds at their disposal, international business donors began to require greater accountability of corporate grant recipients, many of whom were unprepared for this level of scrutiny; c) Government began to depend more on the nonprofit organisations to assist in meeting the community’s increasing need for services; and d) adequate funding became a significant issue for many third sector agencies.
4) Primary issues of concern for Bermudians today are crime, drugs, education, housing and, more recently, ageing. However, actual donor giving does not always align with these social priorities. One of the main reasons seems to be the shortage of nonprofit agencies able to tackle some of these major community challenges.
5) Although corporate, private and government funders are looking more closely and critically at agencies and their services, the social service agencies do not tend to have the infrastructure or capacity to respond effectively. In addition, it is difficult to prevent both duplication and gaps in services, due to a lack of generally available data. The Charities Act of 1978 is in the process of being updated, and it is hoped that this will provide a more robust legal and regulatory infrastructure to assist both nonprofits and their funders.
6) The top three identified social issues from the convenings were: Inadequate education, lack of adequate life skills, and unaddressed multigenerational trauma.
7) Existing services are only meeting a portion of the social need and appear to be missing the mark in some areas when it comes to accurately targeting the need. For example, the majority of educational services target youth, but services for young people at risk of dropping out of school and for disconnected young adults over 16 years old, are very limited. We have found that more prevention services are greatly needed.
In the survey of the nonprofit community following the convenings, the overwhelming majority of respondents reported that they operated in youth development and education. This would appear to leave a number of vulnerable populations underserved, highlighting the need for additional services for populations such as public health education, workforce development and training, and mental health.
At this stage it is clear that funding is needed in three major areas: to nonprofit agencies to build their capacity for increased effectiveness; skill-training services and education for a stronger workforce; and counseling services to treat the multigenerational unaddressed trauma prevalent in the community.
We continue to gather information and data from the social service agencies in order to provide the community with a complete picture of who is doing what, with a view to:
1) Identifying top social service organisations in education, mental health, crisis intervention, and youth development to form working groups to tackle each of the top presenting problems.
2) Publicising the report findings to agencies, including the Government, to ensure that services are being developed more strategically and address the top social concerns.
Ultimately, the BCSP task force is hopeful that these efforts will assist Bermuda’s vital third sector agencies to function better than ever and enable them to meet the island’s growing needs for their services.
Atlantic Philanthropies Programme Executive Myra Virgil is Chair of The Bermuda Civil Society Project.