WHY STRATEGY IN SOCIAL AND SOLIDARITY ACTION (I)
The multidimensional character of poverty, like that of other social problems, requires an integrated and coordinated approach that encompasses all dimensions of society (the person, the family, the community and organizations) and is guided by a strategy that promotes measures focused on problem-solving and encourage the practice of social initiatives.
It is in the sense of embodying a response of this nature that social solidarity institutions emerge which, being a multi-secular reality in Portuguese society, are dispersed throughout the country and develop a work of commitment to the needy people, providing them with the aid possible with its means and requiring the subsidiary intervention of the State as co-responsible and regulator.
These organizations, whose action was, over time, marked by a strong welfare dimension, face, nowadays, numerous challenges of a conjunctural and structural nature, motivated by the dynamism of the context in which they are immersed and by the scarcity of resources to which they are subject. Such conditions constitute an excellent opportunity to break with welfarism and promote a paradigm shift: the development of strategic management focused on sustainability and based on careful planning of activities by reducing levels of dependence on political cycles and guidelines governmental agencies, for the professionalization of the management staff, for the diversification of funding sources and the use of synergies, economies of scale and cooperation with other agents of society. The answers to the needs detected in the communities must be based on a demanding assessment of the existing situations and resources and meet the objectives, criteria and methodologies capable of maximizing the income extracted from the available means.
We are talking about a set of bodies with a unique mission that materializes in developing specific social responses to meet the needs and deprivations of communities. The complexity of their role in society, the multiplicity of means that their action involves, the restrictions of different natures to which they are subject, the problems and challenges they face and the vast network of relationships in which they are immersed lead to their structuring must be accompanied by a strategic approach.
The operationalization of this approach presupposes that the resources of each institution are assumed as essential elements – assets (tangible and intangible), competencies, processes, attributes, and information, among others, which they control, allowing the design and implementation of strategies designed for the improvement of its efficiency and effectiveness – and its organizational capabilities – which relate to its endogenous attributes that allow the coordination and exploitation of resources. It is the combination of resources through capabilities that enables organizations to develop specific actions to maximize the value generated – the difference between the benefits derived and the costs incurred that results in a higher level of benefits than the one that the target audience currently holds.
However, it is essential to bear in mind that organizations are not immersed in a vacuum and that, for this reason, their analysis should not be reduced to the observation of a single dimension centered on an individual reality, of which their resources and capabilities are part. (internal context). Around them, there is an external context in constant change, sometimes turbulent, which strongly influences the internal context in the present and the future. The success of an organization is, therefore, dependent on the way it adapts and interacts with its external environment, and from this process of interaction arise different modes of organization based on exchange relations between autonomous entities that establish links between themselves – networks – to enhance their complementarities, skills and resources.
We focus on a set of organizations whose primary objective is not economic but social; they are pervasive institutions that influence our lives and the world around us in numerous ways, within a specific economic sector, known as the “third sector”, “civil society sector” or even “social economy”, whose scope extends to entities that are cumulatively characterized by: i) having a markedly social primary purpose and not predominantly centered on profit; ii) be independent of the State, being managed by groups of people disconnected from any governmental structures or authorities; and iii) reinvest their financial surpluses in their services or their activity.
It is important to highlight the central role of social institutions in directly supporting populations and promoting social protection structures, often replacing the State itself; from their nature emerge five structural and operational characteristics that consensually define them:
i) organized – their operations follow some structure and regularity, a fact that is materialized in the promotion of regular meetings, in the existence of members and in some structuring of the decision-making processes, regardless of whether they are formally constituted or registered;
ii) private – they are institutionally separated from the State but may receive financial support from it;
iii) non-distributing profits – its primary purpose is non-commercial, not distributing any profits to directors, shareholders or managers, but may, however, generate positive operating results whose application affects investments aimed at achieving its objectives;
iv) self-governed – they have their internal governance mechanisms, being able to control all their activity;
v) voluntary – it is not a condition of citizenship nor required by law to be a member, participate or contribute in time or money to these organizations.
These five characteristics define an entire sector that is comprehensive, involving formal and informal, religious and secular organizations, organizations with paid people and others with some volunteers, or only made up of volunteers, and organizations that perform essentially expressive functions – such as advocacy, cultural expression, community organization, environmental protection, human rights, religion, advocacy, and political expression – as well as those that essentially perform service functions – such as health, education, social services.
It is also essential to highlight the role of the Catholic Church in the development of this sector in Portugal; although the country had its origins in 1143, many of the Church’s charitable organizations were already established in the national territory before that date, which motivated all social and solidarity action carried out in our country to be institutionally and structurally marked by the Christians values.
 As an example, the Santas Casas da Misericórdia