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Collaborative leadership in voluntary organisations
Collaborative leadership in voluntary organisations

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2 Why focus on organisational boundaries?

Working across boundaries is a common feature of voluntary sector life, often in an endeavour to address some of society’s most complex challenges – taking care of vulnerable children, providing support for older people, tackling environmental issues and promoting healthy lifestyles. These are the issues that Grint refers to as ‘wicked’ (Grint, 2005). They are also described in the academic literature as ‘relentless’ (Weber and Khademian, 2008). They are too complex for any organisation to address alone. Indeed, they are ultimately problems which persist, are unresolvable and tend to change their form over time. They therefore require the continued attention, resources, expertise and energies of multiple organisations from different sectors over an extended period of time. This is one of the key reasons that this course's authors and colleagues at the Centre for Voluntary Sector Leadership argue that voluntary organisations need to move on from an individual, person-centred approach to leadership to develop boundary-crossing collaborative leadership practice (Terry, et al., 2020).

Volunteers and employees are working together to pick up litter from a park area with grass, bushes and water.
Figure 1 Working together to clean up the environment

Read the case study below for an example of this boundary crossing collaborative leadership.

Case study 1 Collaborative leadership: MND Scotland and Marie Curie

MND Scotland is the leading charity in Scotland providing care and support to people affected by Motor Neurone Disease (MND), as well as funding vital research into finding a cure. The organisation campaigns on behalf of people affected by MND, and raises awareness of the disease to ensure their voice is heard.

Marie Curie is the largest independent provider of end of life care and the largest charitable provider of hospice care beds in Scotland.

In 2017, MND Scotland and Marie Curie combined forces to partner on a joint award-winning campaign ‘Social Security in Scotland – a fair definition of terminal illness’.

The campaign successfully convinced lawmakers in the Scottish Parliament to amend new legislation to make it easier for people with terminal illnesses, like Motor Neurone Disease, to get access to some benefits more quickly, when power over these comes to Scotland.

Susan Webster, MND Scotland’s Head of Policy & Campaigns, commented:

Almost 3,700 emails from people affected by MND were sent to MSPs in support of this change. This meant that the Scottish Government and Parliament were in no doubt about the strength of feeling that Scotland’s new social security system needed to be made fairer for people with a terminal illness, than the current UK system.

(MND Scotland, 2019)

As a result of the campaign, people living with a terminal illness in Scotland should no longer have to prove how long they have left to live to access financial support, for benefits which are being transferred to Scotland under the Social Security (Scotland) Act.

Currently, under the UK system, people with MND have to prove they have just six months left to live to be fast-tracked and to claim the maximum level of benefit. This ‘six-month rule’ is a big problem for people with MND because it is virtually impossible to prove that they only have six months left to live. This has resulted in many people with MND not receiving the financial support they need quickly enough.

MND and Marie Curie campaigned hard together to ensure this ‘six-month rule’ was not included in the new Scottish Social Security system being set up. This means from 2020, when the new powers are expected to come into effect in Scotland, people with terminal illnesses will be able to access the full amount of financial support quickly and more easily.

MND Scotland and Marie Curie continue to work with the Scottish Government to ensure the new rules work in practice.

The two charities’ Heads of Policy and Public Affairs/Campaigns (Susan Webster and Richard Meade) led on this campaign. They commented jointly:

We were the only two people working on it. We produced everything jointly and there was very little navigation of boundaries. We had complete autonomy and authority from our CEOs to proceed as we thought best.

This was straightforward because we had one clear joint goal – to ensure that no reference to life expectancy was introduced into Scottish social security legislation. However, it was also important that we worked in this way because as this legislation passed through Parliament, particularly in its final stages, we needed to make very quick decisions and brief key MSPs as amendments and counter amendments to the legislation were introduced, and passed, right up to the wire.

Of course, inter-organisational collaboration is not confined to such serious social issues. Voluntary organisations collaborate to deliver cultural festivals and celebrations, to enhance physical space, to encourage creativity and to entertain. Even comparatively small organisations, such as self-help and residents’ groups, find themselves collaborating with other voluntary organisations and public agencies to address such aims. Community art groups collaborate with the local gallery to deliver an exhibition; residents groups collaborate with the council to manage the local community centre; and youth clubs join together to deliver a programme of holiday activities. All of these require individuals to reach across organisational boundaries to make something happen, which their organisation could not have achieved alone – we see this as a place for leadership.