Author: Peter Cantelon, Executive Director
In a diverse and ever shrinking world such things as ethics and values can be a tad difficult to grasp in any clear-cut way.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. When you have to engage with a thought or an idea you come to better understand it and it can evolve as your context and the context of the world around you evolves.
Conversely when we believe you have a set of absolutes, be they rules, values or ethics, we tend to ignore them and set them up on a mental shelf somewhere where they can gather dust and be forgotten about.
Then when you least expect it, you are confronted with a moral dilemma or ethical challenge and are ill prepared to respond with something more substantial than a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’.
One of the many things I love about the non-profit world is that most non-profits are founded upon a clear vision and mission that is often grounded in a solid moral and ethical framework.
For instance, at Jubilee Fund our vision is: Jubilee Fund sees a future in which equitable economic opportunities are available to all members of society.
Out of this vision arises our mission which is: Jubilee Fund’s mission is to finance projects that reduce poverty and have a positive social impact in Manitoba. The Jubilee Fund is a non-profit lender that finances organizations and individuals that do not qualify for traditional financing.
Out of both of these things we have developed a set of core values which are: Local ownership, Community ownership, Democratic ownership, Cooperative ownership, Economic participation by women, Economic participation by people with disabilities, Economic participation by Indigenous people, Economic participation by newcomers to Canada, Equitable, and sustainable business practices, and Opportunities for all.
One of the many nice things about these statements, the vision and the mission, is that they are clear and concise without being too restrictive. This means that staff, volunteers and others can gain ethical traction when engaging the community without feeling like they have no room to interpret.
This also means that staff, volunteers and clients can bring their various and diverse moral and ethical frameworks to bear on Jubilee Fund projects without feeling like they are compromising in some way.
Another benefit of publicly available clear, concise vision, mission and values is that we can be held accountable when we make decisions and we can seek to hold others accountable and enter into dialogue when we feel our values may be or have been compromised.
It is through this kind of community-oriented dialogue that values are sharpened and refined. It is in this place that they engage in the real world and can adapt to meet changing circumstances and needs.
In our days of increasing division and conflict, having your vision, mission and values defined and available in a way that leaves room for growth signals that you are approachable and open to conversation. If they are too strictly defined and verbose, people will believe you are immoveable and not worth the effort. This is the opposite of community.