Pedagogy of the (Nonprofit) Oppressed

Pedagogy of the (Nonprofit) Oppressed

Robert Egger's keynote was chockfull of information, ideas and insights.

I wonder if Robbert Egger has had an opportunity to have a conversation with Dan Pallotta because their opinions about the restraints on, lack of sector advocacy for and flawed foundations within the history of the formation of the nonprofit sector are similar.

That's what I call affirmation of a concept or theory.

In his book, Uncharitable: How Restraints on Nonprofits Undermine Their Potential, is on my "Must Read List" for this summer.  I heard Dan speak about his book when it was first published, and I left his lecture thinking: So if the nonprofit industry in the United States is built on a Puritanical approach to charity, which defines good work as a mandatory penance for inevitable human flaws - sin.

Today, Robert Egger talked about the '60s and '70s as the proliferation of the establishment of nonprofit organizations in this country.  That time in the nation's history was a time of great change and awesome opportunities.  Starting with anecdotes about his mother, Egger's late mother became a symbol for hundreds of good-doing white women across the country who started nonprofit organizations founded with the tinge of Carnegie-model philanthropy based in individualistic, capitalistic for-profit business models. 

This created a system of "giving extra" - not giving more, but giving whatever is left over to those who need the most.  That is not charity, nor is transferring leftovers to our constituents the business of the nonprofit industry.

An industry, as Robert Egger reminded us, that is huge - in employees, people served and dollars - in this country.  An industry that he argued is oppressed.  And as he referenced Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert Egger lifted how oppression is not a one-way, unilateral, flat experience.  It affects both oppressor and the oppressed.

And like Franz Fannon's Pedagogy of the Oppressed, the responsibility of the oppressed to stand up and educate the oppressor on the true nature of oppression as a restrictive, destructive force.  So one of the themes of Robert Egger's speech that I walked away with was the need for the nonprofit industry to do advocacy individually (Do I really speak up for myself about my work/life balance?  Do I negotiate for fair compensation?), organizationally (Do our organizations have regular communication with public officials?  Do we partner with both like-minded and other-minded groups when the need arises to pursue a common goal?), and sector-wide (Do we get the media attention we deserve for the impact and good work that we do?  How do we overcome the external perception that dollars spent on marketing, public relations and advertising are wasteful "overhead" costs?)

Additionally, I could not help leave the auditorium thinking about shifting demographics in the country.  The old models (Puritans, Carnegie, well-meaning white women responding to the systems set up by capitalistic white men) are outdated and extremely restrictive.

As a Black female YNPN, I find great strength and inspiration standing on the shoulders of those before me who have been teaching the oppressors they encountered about the grave injustice of marginalization and discrimination.  I do not know how to now blow whistles, not identify injustice and address it.  Black people have fought too hard.  Women have made too many progressive strides.

So now is the time for me to assess that I am a part of a generation who has been told we don't have a movement, but here it is - change (not too reference President Obama...).  We are a generation of service, idealism and hope, and those of us working in the nonprofit industry have to strategize and execute a never-before-seen sector movement calling for respect for our work, space to innovate, and the dismantling of existing institutions that stand as obstacles to the creation of a new nonprofit model that actually strives to solve the problems plaguing this world.

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