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Defining New Zealand’s non-profit sector

Defining New Zealand’s non-profit sector

Diversity and change have shaped an energetic, innovative and vocal non-profit sector say the New Zealand researchers of an international comparative study of non-profit organisations.

Massey social scientists and historians Professor Margaret Tennant, Dr Jackie Sanders, and Associate Professor Mike O'Brien are leading the New Zealand component of the study. Their report on the historical and legal dimensions of the non-profit sector and its relationships with government will be combined with information collected by Statistics New Zealand for the international study led by the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies, Baltimore, US.

The researchers’ report, Defining the Non-profit Sector: New Zealand, was recently launched by the government. It’s key findings are:

- The sector offers rich opportunities for citizen engagement, and is uniquely shaped by indigenous organisations.

- The closeness of government and the sector, especially in the social service area, stands out when compared internationally.

- Iwi/Mäori organisations, and particularly those involved in the stewardship of tribal and hapu affairs were a particular challenge in terms of international definitional frameworks, and the researchers suggest the need for a new category in the United Nations Classification of Non-profit Organisations.

- Organisations have generally operated within a positive legal and ideological climate. English common law provided an enabling, rather than a constraining legal environment.

- Underpinning the sector’s diversity are the special characteristics of Mäori organizations. These draw upon tribal traditions and are sometimes overlain by complex legislative structures derived from the colonial power, but which demonstrate the vigour and adaptability of the indigenous social formations.

- Interactions between government and organisations can be traced to the 19th century, and the notion of partnership was further elaborated during the primacy of the welfare state, especially in the social service sector.

- The more recent rupturing of established, often comfortable relationships between government and some sections of the sector is a key theme of the researchers’ report. They says the “contract culture” of the 1990s increased the ability of government agencies to increasingly shape and direct the activities of organisations, raising questions about the boundaries between government control and self-governance.

Defining the Nonprofit Sector: New Zealand is the first major national study to measure and report on the national sector. It will culminate in the first comprehensive statistical report by Statistics New Zealand in 2007 and a national overview report from the Johns Hopkins Center in 2008.


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