2008 Annual Review
Issued on February 21 2013
The year under review has seen DFI move from dealing with changes and developments in an environment which we considered to be largely stable, even allowing for a slowdown in growth, to responding to an environment, which has been shaken, not just domestically, but against the background of a global economic crisis. That has been, and still is, difficult for all of us to come to terms with.
What we are sure about is that our role is more important than ever. We must keep the National Disability Strategy (NDS) alive and to the fore. We must support our organisations to do that in their day to day work. As we reached the close of the year we were addressing the issues of how best to make our organisations and their work more relevant in the midst of an ever changing and ever deepening crisis.
We kept within the overall thrust of our work programme. This was to provide supports and services to our member organisations and to deepen the commitment to the delivery of the NDS. It also involved providing leadership and coherence to our sector through expanding our work with other agencies and entities, building on the 2007 collaboration project, and finally, continuing to strengthen and develop our own internal organisational capacity. Through this process we became more conscious of the need to alter and reposition our operations in a fast changing and confusing environment. This became the focus of our work as the year ended, and we developed our 2009 Annual Plan with that firmly in mind.
I will now focus on internal DFI operational and governance matters, leaving other areas for specific comment by the CEO and the review in general.
DFI strengthened its own internal capacity by developing staff working practices, management information systems, and reporting on progress from staff level through to Board and National Council. The Board renewed and updated membership criteria and expectations during the year. It also established a category of membership to encourage engagement by mainstream organisations. Three National Council meetings were held during the year, as well as the Annual General Meeting, at which the Board reported on the implementation of our planning. This was a critical development which will be important for us to build on. Another important governance development has been the programme of work to develop a Board governance manual. We have also recently decided to undergo the Practical Quality Assurance System for Small Organisations (PQASSO) quality assurance system within DFI.
Work progressed in relation to our longstanding intention to purchase office premises and simultaneously to have improved capacity for meeting and working with our member organisations and other stakeholders. We were at the stage of considering the financial and legal aspects of an offer when we had to postpone the initiative towards the end of the year. We are conscious that our present facilities are not adequate for the needs that exist for working with our organisations and we see these needs growing in the current climate. This matter continues to be actively under consideration by the Board.
While this review concentrates on 2008, I want to specifically comment on the current crisis that our State is in, specifically in the context of DFI and the disability sector, and to briefly set out the approach that the Board has taken. This approach has been developing for some time now, and even more so since the end of December 2008. A meeting of the National Council was held in March 2009 at which the Board presented its 2009 Annual Plan, a plan that was agreed at its January meeting. In agreeing that plan the Board asked the CEO to give further consideration to the need to have the plan “implemented firmly within the context of the deteriorating economic outlook”, and to report back to the Board. In February the Board agreed that
“DFI needs to simultaneously focus in a number of directions. On the one hand, it must ensure that it remains close and relevant to its membership, while at the same time needing to concentrate on maintaining its influence on how the Government and the HSE, in particular, but not exclusively, make decisions that affect the lives of and services for disabled people over the next five to ten years”.
Furthermore, the Board took the view, in agreeing the 2009 Plan, that they will not be operating in 2009, and beyond, in the way that has become normal in past years.
“How we prioritise our work and how we engage with our members and other stakeholders will be significantly changed to meet the requirements of the times we are in and that we expect to be in for some time”.
At our April Board meeting we reviewed progress for the first quarter in light of the ever deepening crisis, and the implications of the recent Budget and other developments within Government and the social partnership arena. This provided an opportunity to do a risk assessment of DFI”s fitness and orientation within the wider environment. From that we identified a number of issues, including our funding position and capacity, maintaining and winning the confidence of our organisations and the sector, ensuring the NDS is not jettisoned and that decisions are not made which put back progress towards mainstreaming. We identified as a grave and overarching risk that Ireland would come out of the recession without confidence, morale or basic capacity, and infrastructure still available to move on the implementation of the NDS. It is on the basis of this assessment that we are progressing our work.
Furthermore there has developed a strong and interactive planning cycle in DFI in recent years which engages staff, Board and National Council. This is based on the vision and optimism implicit in the three strategic priorities set out in our Strategic Plan. Having developed the skills of planning towards such an ambitious vision in economically good times, we realise now how valuable it is to have, and to further use this vision, in these difficult times. This is a key area of Board work, along with deepening our governance structures and processes, and valuing the reputation that DFI has gained for the focus and quality of its contribution to providing leadership and support to the voluntary disability sector in relation to the implementation of the NDS.
Before I conclude, I want to thank my fellow Directors and particularly to acknowledge the support that the Vice Chairperson, Paul Ledwidge, and the Honorary Treasurer, Niall Keane, have given to me this year. Apart from preparation for, and attendance at, Board meetings, the Directors have also reported to the National Council through its meetings and participated on two Board sub committees dealing with property purchase and the development of the governance manual. As Directors of DFI we are all conscious of our obligation to have regard for the well being of the Federation and to carefully mind its interests on behalf of you, the members of the company. During the year we welcomed new Directors to the Board namely Don Bailey, Judy Windle and Anne Coffey and their service and perspectives are much appreciated.
DFI is also well served by many people from our membership organisations, and beyond, who actively engage in work to support the objectives of the Federation.
I also wish to acknowledge and thank John and the committed staff team within DFI. We depend on their professionalism and dedication to support the governance of the organisation and to move on the work. We all value and appreciate their positive approach to what is ever more critical and challenging work.
Finally, I want to reassure each member organisation, and all disabled people, their families and carers, that DFI knows what it must do above everything else. It must, and it will, keep hope alive. Hope will be the cornerstone of this approach, but it is a hope supported by strong analysis and planning matched by hard work that invites and encourages all stakeholders to sustain and develop the vision and goals of the NDS. This will be the approach and attitude of DFI throughout this recession.
As the Chairperson has remarked, we found ourselves, particularly towards the latter half of the year, re-evaluating how we would adjust to the developing recession and setting out how this readjustment has happened in the early months of 2009.
I want to briefly deal with the major developments across each of our four objectives conscious that there is greater detail in the body of the review.
Supports and services to our member organisations were greatly enhanced during the year with the appointment of a staff member to exclusively focus on this area, and in that way to consolidate much of the valuable work already being carried out by other Support Officers. The development of organisational health checks, further implementation of the SKILL Training Programme, garda vetting procedures and the introduction of quality assurance systems in organisations were all part of these developments.
Policy implementation revolved around progressing the implementation of the National Disability Strategy. Health and personal social services continued to be key elements of this work. We worked closely with other disability organisations through the Disability Stakeholder Group, and used the opportunities afforded by our participation in the social partnership process. The review of the social partnership agreement, Towards 2016, was an important area of this work throughout the year.
Moving to our role in building a national platform which gives leadership and coherence to the sector, it is fair to say that we have continued to be conscious that our work in the above areas guides us in this regard. We continued to develop and consolidate relationships with key disability and other agencies and entities, and in so doing brought more depth and resources to the work, mainly by sharing work with others in an organised way.
We continued to build key corporate services areas such as finance and human resources. We introduced a staff handbook and considerable work has been undertaken to reduce costs. This has included significant work to stress test our financial situation against a reduction in funding levels. We have advanced work to develop team working across the staff in parallel with improving our reliance on project management approaches ICT development during the year concentrated on back-up and disaster recovery and the website continues to be a focus to ensure AAA accessibility and universal design.
As the year ended we were planning and reconfiguring in order to secure our corporate future and our fitness as an organisation. Our work in supporting organisations was more and more around critical areas for our members, such as the service level and grant aid arrangements, organisational health checks and the quality assurance agenda. On the policy implementation front there has been sustained work in relation to protecting voluntary disability organisations through ongoing social partnership engagement and through the NDS structures. Throughout all of these areas our work and approach has been in keeping with our commitment to advance our national platform objective, to provide greater leadership and coherence to the sector.
The above gives a picture of what we were doing across our work areas. But what is the guiding approach and focus for our work within the context of the recession which shows no signs of ending?
DFI is clear that it needs to plan for the inevitable continuation of a deteriorating economic siutation for a number of years to come. We must stay close and relevant to our membership, and we must concentrate on influencing Government in order to protect and enhance the NDS. A multi-annual plan needs to be established showing how the NDS will be implemented, and which will have the full support of our sector and Government.
DFI has been improving its internal capacity over the past number of years, and its reputation has been growing as an authoritative and skilful resource to support the full inclusion of people with disabilities in Ireland. At the same time we never considered that we would be facing into the situation that confronts our State now and the challenges that are before us in order to sustain what has been achieved, and to make progress. We have developed a strong culture of forward planning, we have a competent staff team, improving internal capacity, governance systems a supports and services to our member organisations, and significant progress and expertise in working with other groups and agencies. It is reasonable to state that our reputation and credibility is strong.
The Chairperson has already set out the work that has recently been done to assist DFI in adapting to the changes in the economy and to develop our growing understanding of, and thinking in relation to, the recession, as we understood it towards the end of 2008. The principal overarching risk which has been identified by DFI, as expressed by the Chairperson, is that when Ireland comes out of the recession there will be neither the confidence nor morale, at one level, nor on another level, the basic capacity still available to move on the implementation of the NDS.
The current environment can be viewed as complex and rapidly changing. What we have to do is straightforward: we must keep hope alive and work for the delivery of the National Disability Strategy. This will be demanding and difficult, but it is our role and purpose.
Finally, I want to acknowledge the work and effort of a number of distinct groups within DFI. The National Council and Board provide our governance and oversee our management. Within that context the staff team works to further the objectives of DFI. Members of the Council and Board all operate on a voluntary basis. Board Members, who meet on a monthly basis, are often called upon to give additional time and expertise. For this I am grateful. Board Officers have specific roles and responsibilities. In particular, I wish to acknowledge Geraldine Clare, Chairperson, for her sustained work and commitment during the year, and for her advice and support to me as CEO. I would also like to acknowledge and thank our Vice-Chairperson, Paul Ledwidge, and our Hon. Treasurer, Niall Keane, for their commitment and support. The Board members are also involved in reporting to the National Council and serving on Board sub committees dealing with premises purchase and development of the Board governance manual. We also have other volunteers who represent DFI”s interests on a range of working groups and committees. They too play an important role on behalf of our membership.
It is also right that I acknowledge and thank our staff for ensuring that the work is carried out, and in doing so, to recognise their valuable input into developing the work and future of DFI. They individually and collectively pay a key role in enhancing the reputation of the organisation. As with staff in every organisation the latter part of the year brought unwelcome aspects and considerations to their work which unfortunately will be with us all for some time. The professional manner in which they have dealt with this changing situation is much appreciated by me.
Chief Executive Officer