By Mark Schroffel
Ignore what it says on the website: hospitality and gaming is the core business of RSL Victoria.
It wasn’t always that way of course. RSL Vic has evolved and from a business point of view it has found its level in running a network of veteran-flavoured hospitality venues. Not exactly the vision the founders had in mind back in 1916.
The history section of the RSL Vic website confirms that “the RSL was formed in June 1916 by troops returning from WWI with the purpose of preserving the spirit of mateship formed amidst the carnage and horror of battle, to honour the memory of the fallen and to help each other whenever required.”
Flick back to the home page and there’s a photo of a bistro and the opportunity to win a car.
While there are many smaller “traditional” sub-branches dotted around the place, they simply aren’t part of the main picture anymore. Branches such as Hawthorn are trying to keep the spirit alive, a task that is increasingly difficult within a state branch plagued by disunity and limping along with an amateurish approach to strategy and stakeholder engagement.
To its credit, the state branch wants to deliver something good and there’s no reason to doubt that the people working there are giving their very best. While it’s an “A” for effort, the problem is that too many things aren’t right and in some cases the cart has not just been put before the horse, the horse has wandered off.
A case in point is the proposed Veterans Reference Group (VRG).
The VRG is a good idea and if implemented well would augment the lines of communication between state headquarters and the sub-branches. The only problem is that, save for select favourites, those lines of communication are in tatters. One sub-branch president told me that some substantial sub-branches are so frustrated that they have decided to place a freeze on their engagement with ANZAC House. Hardly a situation conducive for the effective establishment of a VRG.
According to the draft terms of reference provided to AVN, the VRG is meant to be used to provide “consumer” input into service initiatives. In ordinary circumstances that’s a very good idea that can be used to gain valuable input when designing and evaluating services. Only in this case the Resilient Veteran Strategy 2021 - 2026 that the VRG supports is yet to see the light of day, though it has been promised by the end of the year. Watch this space I guess.
And while gathering consumer input is part of a “best practice” approach, the whole thing won’t work without the guidance and support of those out in the field. Unless the ambition is to bring all service into the Veteran Central model with its hubs, 1800MILVET and so on? Again, the strategy is not clear, probably because there isn’t one yet.
In this era of announcables, one can understand the pressure to get things moving and whack on a catchy label. But the veteran services puzzle is not something that will be solved with off-the-shelf MBA101 stratagems and swanky PowerPoints. It’s a complex business and it requires an intelligent approach, and above all, a great deal of support from those who are in the thick of it.
Mark Schroffel is the Editor-in-Chief of Australian Veteran News. Mark is a veteran and has a day-job as strategy consultant and researcher interested in veteran support policies and transition programs. He designed and led the Melbourne Legacy sponsored ShoutOUT research initiative to gather insights and stories about post-1991 veterans and their families. Mark can be followed on twitter @MarkSchroffel
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