When I was installed as the National President earlier this year, I committed to a review of governance practices across the St Vincent de Paul Society nationally. Everything from training, formation and succession planning for our members in conferences, to looking at legal structures and reporting standards for councils.
Good stewardship of our precious resources – both people and money – demands nothing less as we seek to keep our mission at the heart of everything we do.
It’s imperative that members across Australia feel that we are all part of the one Society; that all of us are well informed and feel we are supported and empowered to continue doing good works in new and creative ways.
The National Council is also looking at supporting the evolution of conference and program structures in order to best meet the needs of our companions and our community.
There is work to do yet, but the National Council has done a deep dive into its structures and lines of accountability. We have reviewed the terms of reference for standing committees, advisory committees and working groups, and we are in the process of establishing an advisory group of distinguished legal minds, who can provide legal and governance advice on a range of issues which the Society is addressing at various levels.
We know through the tough lessons of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse that an organisation must be accountable to its members and the people it serves. It must be transparent, not only to its members and those it serves but to the broader public. It must also be open to change to ensure it is fit for purpose in a contemporary world.
The National Council was approached recently by the Federal Government to help distribute the second round of the Drought Community Support Initiative. This in part was a reflection of the Society’s successful participation in the first round of funding, but it was also an acknowledgement by the government that the Society is a united, national organisation, and on national matters, the Federal Government’s agenda is often to preference working with one organisation, rather than a number of state and territory organisations.
The National Council can facilitate the distribution of drought funding at the local level through conferences in specified local government areas. We can establish the call centre and streamline the paperwork in order to simplify people’s experience as they go through the often challenging process of seeking help.
In the meantime, state and territory councils through their local conferences can get on with the job of offering pastoral care to people on the ground who need access not only to funding but to all sorts of support services.
The National Council does not aspire to deliver services directly, but we can facilitate the work of local conferences and reflect this in our engagement with the Federal Government.
Each council will work towards our shared mission, responding creatively to its local community, but in the current environment, we must be seen to be working together.
Speaking with one voice means at a national level we listen and respond to the members serving locally, who share their wisdom gained through their person to contact with those they assist. This daily, human experience of the barriers faced by those doing it tough informs our collective efforts to bring about a more just and compassionate society.
Opening up new channels to communicate with members throughout Australia is being explored by our national secretariat. Relaying to government ministers and their advisors the stories and learnings we have from members’ personal contact with companions is part of the advocacy work being undertaken in Canberra.
On broader governance issues, as a lay Catholic organisation, we can lead the way by pursuing best possible practices as we work towards a more just and compassionate society.
Claire Victory is National President of the St Vincent de Paul Society National Council of Australia.