Non-profit institutions as agents of change

by Josef Gundacker, Family Forum Austria

European Leadership Conference – Czech Parliament Lower House
„The Family in 21st Century – Prospects, Problems & Solutions“  
Tuesday, October 14th 2014

 “The „non-profit“ institution neither supplies goods nor services. Its „product“ is neither a pair of shoes nor an effective regulation. Its product is a changed human being. The non-profit institutions are human-change agents. Their „product“ is a cured patient, a child that learns, a young man or woman grown into a self-respecting adult; a changed human life altogether.”
Peter F. Drucker, (1909 – 2005) considered the Father of Modern Management, management consultant, educator and author

Are today´s families healthy and well-functioning? Or is the modern family the patient? Does our patient have the flu or even cancer? Sociologists and politicians say: Family is only in a changing process, becoming more diverse and colourful. The Council of Europe promotes the social, legal and economic protection of families by providing childcare, education, legal advice and financial support. It is paying special attention to vulnerable family members, gender equality and children’s rights. But what are children´s needs and where is family most vulnerable at? Children and parents alike need trusting bonds they can rely on. Family doesn´t need more choices and opportunities, it needs commitment and sustainability.

The problem with European family policy is that it considers only the material wellbeing of family and pays almost no attention to the family relationships. Most important for children are the love, trust and support they receive from their parents. That gives them the strength and self-esteem they need. That is what the state cannot provide.

A UNICEF report on the situation of children in industrialized countries in 2013, provides frightening testimonies of girls and boys about their upbringing. The report cannot explain the reasons for this development, but the data suggest that many girls and boys are not valued, don’t feel accepted and lack a positive self-esteem. The report states, that their self-esteem is low because their chances to participate in society are low. However the girls and boys often lack the support from their family and friends and have therefore no motivation to participate. Ideally parents are the one to provide an atmosphere of stability and trust; otherwise the child might always feel inadequate, insecure and not valued.

On that point the role of NGOs is very much needed by politics and society. Here are a few examples:

Marriage Week International wants to strengthen marriages and they address the importance of commitment. A couple who is committed manages life’s challenges much better than those in non-committed relationships. The Civic Institute is committed to promote traditional values for a free society
WFWP Europe promotes the dignity of women, so they can fulfil their unique role in the orchestra of the family. The aim of the Catholic Association of Family Organisations is to strengthen the family as the cell of society

My diagnosis of the family, looking at the family relationships is that the modern family has cancer! The cancer of broken relationships. Recently I read an article entitled: “Europe – Union of divorces”. It is a puzzle to psychologists and anthropologists and they have their own explanations for this phenomenon, but no answers.

Sociologists define family as a dynamic form of co-existence. But many family experts and politicians are afraid to say, that so many families and lifestyles are not dynamic and the relationships are often not functioning at all. The divorce statistics and the statistics about violence and sexual abuse in families show only the number of divorces and abuses. They don’t tell us the real story. It often breaks my heart to hear the stories of divorces: When the wife is being betrayed by the husband or the husband left behind by his wife for a “better” one. The right to freedom and love is always the justification for such destructive behaviour.

The average divorce rate in the European Union is over 40% and more than 30% of children experiencing violence in their family. We can’t take the divorce statistics and the statistics about violence and sexual abuse in families lightly! The only answer that politics seems to offers to the problem of divorce is to liberalize the law, to make it even easier to divorce.

I want to address four areas of concern:

  1. Confusion about the value of human life and human relationships

Most people still search for stable relationships and the right partner, but many don’t know how to build a trusting relationship and create a stable family. Although we are inspired by the ideal of a peaceful, loving family, we quickly find this may be the ideal most sought after, but most rarely found. The obstacles within and without are very real to all of us. We long to find the right partner, hope for loving parents and family, yet, mistrust, envy, greed, fear, anger and resentment are our constant companions. We would choose to liberate ourselves and our loved ones from these bad habits, if we only knew how!

Research says that family needs time. But when the time is not used wisely it is of no benefit and when the resources are not used wisely, they turn against us.

  1. Popular life philosophies give no answers to people’s problems

Social science is, in its broadest sense the study of society and the manner in which people think, feel or behave in particular situations. Today’s social theories such as the theory of individualization (Beck 1986, 1994, Frederick 1998) describe the transition of the family as a process of liberation, liberation from feudal bonds, binding norms and standards. Individual rights and interests are the main priority. Selfishness and greed is not a problem anymore, but helps to increase the freedom of the individual. The theory about Gender Equality says that everybody has equal value, regardless of behaviour or lifestyle; there are no guiding principles and moral standards necessary. This is a mistaken idea! Popular philosophies stress human rights and neglect human responsibility. They offer techniques for empowerment and better communication without addressing the root problem which lies in the human heart and character. Only lip-service is paid to character and integrity. The basis for human relationships is first, character, integrity and trust and secondly communication and social techniques.

  1. No place for parents!

Without parents, there would be no children; they are the bearer of human capital, the carrier of love, life and linage. But parents are considered as being not important anymore for the development of a child. Women are told today that their job is most important. A good job brings recognition and value; children are a hindrance to the job. Imagine how a child feels, when the mother sees it as an obstacle. When the child receives from her the message; ”I only like you as long as you fulfil my expectations”. The developmental psychologist, Prof. Gordon Neufeld says: “For the child it’s not important, what their parents know and do, what’s important to them is who they are” and “Kids need the parents more than friends” Therefore the integrity, maturity and character of parents is crucial for the stability and the development of a family.

  1. Mistrust and Scepticism toward the traditional family

Radical students in the 60ties proclaimed: “Don’t trust anybody over 30”. Social Scientists at that time supported them by saying that family is indeed a feudal system which keeps everybody under control. As consequence, parents, teachers and authority figures were met with distrust and negativity. The radical women’s movement had a very negative outlook toward fathers and the family. They considered the men of a household as oppressor and the family as the hotspot for neuroses. Liberation was their claim and freedom from responsibility the norm.

That distrust of parents is still prevalent in family politics. When a mother wants to take the sole responsibility for taking care of her child, she is questioned and told she should rather return to her job as quickly as possible. Only public childcare, so the message, is quality childcare.

To conclude, the best way to bring about change, to be agents of change is, to promote family values, a positive image of family life and the principles which serve as the foundation for all life.

As best practice examples I want to mention the joint events we did in Austria. The UPF, Women’s Federation, the Family Federation and the Family Forum organized the yearly True Family Award to honour parents and families for their accomplishments. Also the joint conferences here in Prague, in Geneva, Paris and other European countries are an important contribution for a healthy development of the European family. I hope we will see even more of that kind of networking in the future.

Thank you for your attention