Make love, not war

Collaboration, not competition should be the mantra for charities and advocates in the 21st century, says author and activist.

Above: Tom Valenta, author of  “Remember me, Mrs V”

By Keryn Curtis

Author and dementia activist, Tom Valenta, is calling on dementia and aged care advocacy groups to collaborate, not compete, in their mission to advance the cause of dementia research and education.

A former journalist and public relations consultant, Valenta is author of Remember Me, Mrs V? Caring for my wife: her Alzheimer’s and others’ stories, his 2007 memoir about caring for his wife, Marie, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at age 54. 

Valenta is challenging dementia and aged care advocacy groups and service providers to start looking beyond the borders of their own organisations; to seek out partnerships to become more effective and efficient in achieving their goals.

In the face of mounting pressure on the public and philanthropic purses in coming years, Valenta says, the charitable and not for profit sector will become increasingly competitive.

“The sector’s participants will need to be more commercially clever, persuasive, well connected, able to demonstrate excellent service delivery and accountable for every dollar they spend if they want to survive, let alone thrive,” he says.

And he believes a critical success factor will be the ability of advocacy groups and other charitable organisations to join forces and share resources with like-minded groups.

“The sharing of resources, ideas and methods for delivering outcomes has to be the way of the future,” Valenta writes in a recent opinion piece for Alzheimer’s Australia (Victoria).  

“For far too long I have witnessed not-for-profit organisations squabble over resources like hungry seagulls at a desolate beach.  The idea of joint-venturing, resource sharing or working towards common goals seems to have been lost on many of them.  This must change and I suspect governments and other funding bodies will, in the future, look more kindly on organisations that can unite for the common good.”

“What do businesses do when there are too many businesses in the market?” he asks.  “The mergers and acquisitions start to happen.”

“It doesn’t make sense that the not-for-profit sector is the most competitive sector we have.  I’ve been saying to some church groups, why not work with other church groups to achieve the same goal?”

Valenta acknowledges the complex histories of the church-based groups, for example, but says it’s time to put history aside.

“I’ve been on deputations to see Ministers where we sit down and say this is what we want; and the Minister says, well yesterday we had this other organisation just like you come and ask for this and this and something else too.

“Hello! We are in the 21st century now and well into it. It’s time to rethink and revise. There are people and organisations out there who would share a resource quite legally and ethically, if only to to reduce and defray costs.  I’d like to see a couple of ministers in Canberra say, don’t come and see us individually.  Get together and work out your common interests and come and see us as a group,” he said.

Valenta has worked on a volunteer basis with Alzheimer’s Australia (Victoria) for several years now as a speaker and consultant, helping to advocate and communicate about dementia and dementia related issues. Late last year he joined their ‘think tank’ representing a wide range of stakeholders in Victoria, to help develop a three year strategic plan for the organisation. 

“What struck me about that think tank, which was organised by the new Chief Executive, Maree McCabe, was the huge range of people there,” said Valenta.

“When they asked me to speak, I had expected a small group where I’d know most of the people and they would know me so it was a huge revelation to me that there were all those other people being represented there.”

“There were people from everywhere; from community groups and finance people and corporate people and different CALD groups and even people like the representatives from the police missing persons unit,” he said. 

Valenta speaks about a ‘coalition of the willing’ and says the clear passion and commitment from such a wide range of people and organisations was heartening.

“The presence of such a diverse range of organisations at the think tank leads me to believe that there can and will be a ‘coalition of the willing’ driving the dementia agenda in Victoria from now on.  The organisations might be diverse but the commonality of interest was self-evident to all attendees.  

“Maree McCabe […] has hammered a stake into the ground by recognising the potential of working with many other organisations and attracting them to participate in this forum.  Hers is an enlightened and forward-looking approach,” he wrote.

Tom Valenta is author of Remember me, Mrs V? Caring for my wife: her Alzheimer’s and others’ stories Michelle Anderson Publishing, Melbourne.  Click here to read Tom Valenta’s opinion piece in full.

Tags: aged-care, alzheimers-australia-victoria, alzheimers-disease, charity, dementia, maree-mccabe, michelle-anderson-publishing, not-for-profit, remember-me-mrs-v, tom-valenta,

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