In the business sector, the board members of a corporation such as Ford Motor Company know on behalf of whom they make decisions: their shareholders. In the non-profit sector, whom the board works for is sometimes not as clear. Should the board think solely of the people their organization supports or are they working on behalf of something larger?
In governance language, the Board of Semiahmoo House Society (SHS) does its work for the “owners” of the Society. The “owners” of SHS are not the people supported by the organization or the membership of the organization. The owners of the organization are “the community.” This broad definition is based on the fact it is the community who funds the organization through taxes and donations and it is assumed that the work SHS does for the betterment of people who have disabilities is also for the benefit of the community in general. This definition of ownership removes the notion that society is divided into “haves” and “have nots,” and reinforces the idea that our community is a web of relationships where all people will need support at some time and all people have a responsibility to support others, to the best of their ability, at other times. When SHS has achieved its mission*, the community will be a better place.
In order to act in the best interest of its owners, the Board regularly meets with people who represent different aspects of the community. Two or three times a year, we gather together groups of people for a meal (served by our catering trainees) and an insightful discussion around SHS’s role in building an inclusive community. We use iterations of the following five questions to guide the discussions:
- What do you believe is important for Semiahmoo House Society to achieve?
- If we could meet one need that would best assist people with developmental disabilities, what would it be?
- Which of the following outcomes do you value most? (they are asked to select these from our Ends Policies, which we consider our mission)
- What are the challenges that you believe people who have developmental disabilities face, and what kinds of resources are needed to overcome them?
- What opportunities do you think Semiahmoo House should make available for people with developmental disabilities?
One of the most memorable ownership meetings we had was a few years ago when we brought together spiritual leaders from Surrey and White Rock. Leaders from a variety of faiths, including Sikhism, Christianity, and Islam spent a few hours discussing perspectives on disability and the community’s role in supporting inclusion. Many of the spiritual leaders had never been in a room with each other, so not only did SHS learn from the session, the leaders also learned from each other. More recently, we have met with health professionals, school board representatives, and business leaders.
All these meetings serve a dual purpose: not only does the Board learn from its owners, the owners learn about SHS and the right and desire of people who have disabilities to be fully included in their community. The Board uses the information they gather to help create a strong vision for SHS, and the owners become more aware of their responsibility in creating an inclusive community. These ownership meetings have resulted in people SHS supports being hired as employees and have created long-term relationships that have benefited the organization and the community in general.
At SHS we believe that an inclusive community is a healthier and more resilient community. When people who have disabilities are fully included in employment, housing, and recreation, everyone benefits.
*Semiahmoo House Society Ends Policies (Our Mission)
Our mission is to achieve the following:
People with disabilities live self-directed lives in the community at a justifiable cost:
- People are valued members of society:
- People perform different social roles.
- People are respected.
- People live in integrated environments.
- People participate in the life of the community.
- People decide how they live their lives, and make informed choices:
- People are connected to personal support networks.
- People have intimate relationships.
- People choose where and with whom they live.
- People choose their work
- People have volunteer opportunities
- People have entrepreneurial opportunities.
- People choose and use their environments
- People choose services
- People have recreational opportunities
- People have travel opportunities
- People have educational opportunities
- People have opportunities to explore spiritual needs
- The rights of people are protected:
3.1 People are safe.
- People have the best possible health.
- People exercise rights.
- People are treated fairly.
- People are free from abuse and neglect.
- People experience continuity and security.
- People decide when to share personal information.
- The community is aware of the universal rights of all people
Semiahmoo House Society, a non-profit organization located in Surrey/White Rock, exists to provide quality services and supports to people with disabilities and their families in the community. The Semiahmoo Foundation exists to fund, support and enhance the programs and services delivered by Semiahmoo House Society.
By Doug Tennant, Semiahmoo House Society
Well put! I also believe that when all members of the community has the support they need to live full lives within their community, the community as a whole benefits.