Joe’s Journal: Building Community Through the Social Sector

“Civilizing the city will increasingly become top priority in all countries—and particularly in the developed countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Japan. However, neither government nor business can provide the new communities that every major city in the world needs. That is the task of the nongovernmental, nonbusiness, nonprofit organizations.”

—Peter F. Drucker

Peter Drucker’s interest in the social sector was strengthened by his awareness of three disruptive trends that emerged during the latter part of the 20th century.

First, there was the shift from the industrial economy to the knowledge economy. As Drucker wrote, “In a transition period, the number of people in need always grows.” Second, there was the increasing failure of government to deliver results in its own human-services programs.  And third, there was the need to foster “a center of meaningful citizenship” that the private sector, with its relentless focus on maximizing shareholder value, had failed to create.

For Drucker, this third trend was especially troubling. He had once hoped that this sense of citizenship would be generated by businesses. Earlier in the 20th century, in fact, Drucker had envisioned a “self-governing plant community” though which blue-collar employees would take charge of issues affecting them. Drucker was disappointed because American corporations mostly rejected this idea (although it was widely implemented in Japan). This setback ultimately spurred Drucker to lend his expertise and prestige to help social-sector organizations manage themselves more professionally while building communities among their clients, employees and volunteers.

If Drucker had a regret, I believe, it’s that he hadn’t turned his attention to the social sector even sooner. “If I look back, my greatest frustrations are probably . . . that I have, far too often, made the urgent rather than the important my priority,” Drucker told the Rev. Peter James Flamming in 1988.

In Flamming—who served successfully for 24 years as senior pastor of First Baptist Church in a poverty-ridden inner-city neighborhood of Richmond, Virginia—Drucker found a soul mate. He found an example of a person committed to professional management and to helping develop the people of his church and the people of his city.

—Joe Maciariello