"Taking Cinderella for a spin, are we?" Civil society organizations in the new limelight
Filip Wijkström, Stockholm School of Economics (Sweden)
Gemma Donnelly-Cox, School of Business, Trinity College Dublin (Ireland)
Ruth Simsa, Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration (Austria)
Martin A. Steinbereithner, Einstein Consulting/London (UK)
Call for papers
"It is late morning and Cinderella’s mean stepsisters, Dumpy and Skinny, are amusing themselves when their mother brings an invitation to a Grand Ball given by Prince Charming. In their excitement, they start fighting and tear the invitation to pieces. As the two stepsisters and stepmother leave to make preparations for the ball, Cinderella is left alone to dream of a better life, life without cruel treatment by her stepsisters and stepmother."
Much of contemporary understanding and knowledge of "organizations" have either been gained in, or directed to, the world of business and corporations or the state or public sector. Recently, however, there is an increased interest in the actors of Civil Society – a "third domain" in society – no matter if we call these organizations NPOs, NGOs or SMOs. These organizations represent a great diversity but often have some kind of public good mission, although they are not government; they are organized as private institutions, but not for profit.
We will here use the preliminary and shorthand term CSOs (Civil Society Organizations), to indicate that we do not need to view the identity of these organizations neither as primarily the negative ("non") of "profit" or "government" actors in society, nor necessarily always as sprung out of a social movement. But we have also tried to pick a terminology not primarily derived from the fields of economics (profit), political science (government) or sociology (social movement), just to open the dance floor for contributions from as many academic disciplines as possible.
A number of fairly recent, but major institutional changes, orchestrated by political or ideological developments, can be witnessed in many mature and developed societies of today. Important such large-scale societal changes – for example the call for more CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) in the business world or indirectly the strong NPM drive (New Public Management) visible in many public sectors – are challenging, opening up, crossing and blurring the traditional institutional borders in society. Not seldom are CSOs the driving forces or, in a second and more indirect step, the actors that businesses or state agencies turn to, to solve their own troubles, made apparent for example through calls for CSR or NPM. With these new tunes and new beats being introduced as demands or regulations – for example by actors such as the United Nations (UN) or the European Union (EU), but also by many national governments and other regulatory bodies – through the pressure of individuals acting as customers or citizens, we can notice an eager group of cavaliers lined up along the wall (from business as well as government) asking Cinderella for a dance (… or trying to take her for a ride).
Some critics have been talking loudly against the CSR blurring of the corporate agenda ("the business of business is business"). Others have voiced critique about the dismantling of the welfare state and the disempowerment of the citizens (through for example NPM). And we can notice a number of risks in the social landscape along these lines, for the CSOs as well as for society at large. But we can also envision a large number of opportunities where new solutions or different forms of partnerships can lead to interesting and creative constellations that might spur noveau hybrid forms and practices in the organizational world. These new forms or combinations might also open up for new or different ways for individuals to engage collectively in, to solve problems or to develop society.
Since the topic is relatively new in an EGOS context, we are, in our call, looking for a diversity of papers in terms of theoretical as well as methodological approaches. We would also encourage contributions under any of the five broad categories of themes or issues presented and discussed in brief below.
(1) "How to get yourself organized for the ball, Cinderella?"
Issues that might need to be revisited in a traditional CSO (be it a charity, a sports club, a more normal voluntary association, or a grant-making foundation) when it is about to enter into a new contract, work with a private firm, or just adjust to some kind of change in its environment, are: (a) Resources, such as gifts, membership dues, grants, or volunteer time; (b) Staff, such as elected officers, trustees, members, volunteers (part-time and unpaid), or hired professionals; (c) Organizational Forms, such as federations, networks, umbrella solutions or independent chapter structures, and, finally (d) Missions & Goals, of the CSO that might need some sharpening or focusing and maybe better and clearer communicating when it comes to organizational goals. How is this done and why? Any (or all) of these might represent or carry some of the uniqueness or special attributes associated with a CSO, the character that distinguishes them from corporate for-profit or government arrangements.
(2) "Cinderella is not alone. Her existence depends on the dreams, engagement and resources of all the individuals that believe in her fairy tale, and want to take part in and shape her particular dance as well as dance floor."
Individuals in all societies and for all possible functions use CSOs to address or solve important needs – to deliver social critique or to express joy, for voluntary fire or crime fighting, social care or basic education, cultural manifestations or religious gatherings. And the CSOs are dependent upon these individuals: as volunteers, members, staff, donors or trustees. But the individuals are also dependent on these organizations for their identity, care, salary, education, leisure activities, etc. How is this very particular "Interdependency Twist" danced in civil society, and what could be learnt from this special dance by the actors of the other sectors – by the for-profit company or the governmental agency?
(3) "What are the necessary sacrifices (midnight deadlines, risk of vehicles turning into pumpkins, etc) needed to meet possible new (dance) partners? And what are the benefits when finding a new partner (e.g., to go to live in the castle)?"
Like in every serious partnership, you might not only lose your heart, but also your entire identity. Keeping the idea of a special CSO character in mind, when coming closer to other forms of organizations or entering new fields or institutional settings, what possible organizational processes will be taking place, and what will be the subsequent effects on the organization in question as well as on (its relations to) its environment? What kind of transfers will occur – of knowledge, practices, or mental frames? And in what direction(s) will these transfers be going? And what are the roles and positions of the individuals during these changes?
(4) "Who are the potential stepsisters and stepmothers, and where to find an eventual Prince Charming? Cinderella in search of a strategy."
In the moment an organization plays a new tune with a new beat, enters a different dance floor than before, or just wants to shift into another place in the room, it might run into new actors (or meet earlier actors but in new situations). How are these moves done by CSOs? Where is a productive balance of co-operation and competition between different types of actors as well as between actors in the same sector? What strategies of communicating and co-operating with potential new partners are successful and what organizational effects do these have on the CSOs? Can we notice any differences from companies or state agencies?
(5) "Everyone wants to take Cinderella for a spin of the dance floor – but where is she going herself – and with what "porpoise"?
(cf. Alice in Wonderland and the Lobster–Quadrille)"
Sometimes, the special role of CSOs in society are mentioned but this particular role is often represented as a multitude of possible functions in society, such as vanguard, complement, alternative, agents of social change, or to preserve values, just to mention a few. Every now and then, we have the tendencies of CSOs and their missions being utilized or even misused by other actors. Under this particular heading, we hope for scholarly work that may include inquiries into the raisôn d’être for the CSO in society, how this or these can be preserved or even enhanced, and organizational consequences.
About the convenors
Filip Wijkström (SE) is Associate Professor and Director of the Economic Research Institute at the Stockholm School of Economics. His research deals with various types of organizations – such as federations, foundations and societies – in civil society and comparisons of the nonprofit sector and its role in different countries. Most recent work addresses the challenges to chisel out the systematic distinctiveness of civil society actors and to understand in which ways this distinctiveness affects the organizations, as well as how to enhance and work strategically with these
Gemma Donnelly-Cox (IE) is a Lecturer in Organization Theory and Academic Director of the Centre for Nonprofit Management, School of Business, Trinity College Dublin (TCD). Her recent work includes cross-national comparative study of the role of voluntary nonprofit organizations in social care delivery systems; legitimization processes in voluntary nonprofit organizations; and linking theory and practice in nonprofit management.
Ruth Simsa (AT) is Associate Professor at the Department of Sociology, and currently Director of the Institute for Interdisciplinary Non-Profit Organization research, at the University of Economics and Business Administration in Vienna, Austria. She is also active as coach, management trainer and consultant in business, administrative, and nonprofit organizations. Her recent academic work is focused on organizational contradictions in NPOs, on foundations and their role in society, as well as on staff and employment conditions in primarily social service organizations.
Martin Steinbereithner (UK) holds a doctorate in organizational behavior from the Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration. His research interests are non-profit management; career and human resource management; strategy and change management; as well as the role of religious or faith-based NPOs in society. He has previously been involved over the last twenty years both in running various non-profit organizations and in consulting such organizations in Western and Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa. He currently resides in Belfast-Northern Ireland.