Sep 28 2015

Maytree conversation on income supports and poverty reduction

By Poverty Comments Off on Maytree conversation on income supports and poverty reduction

income supports (photo illustration - Maytree)

On September 10 Maytree convened a group of key thinkers from policy, government, advocacy, labour and academia on the issue of income supports. The following highlights some of the themes we heard.

The discussion began by looking at the concept of guaranteed income, why it is so popular right now, how it might work, and what some of the challenges are with implementing it.

Support for guaranteed income

The push for guaranteed income can be seen in the work of activists, academics and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) across the political spectrum. There are campaigns by activists and NGOs in health, housing, food and other sectors, arguing in favour of some kind of guaranteed income for all Canadians.

To understand the popularity of guaranteed income, we need to look at the retreat of the federal government as a leader in the social services. The promise of a single solution seems alluring. In many ways, the embrace of guaranteed income is consistent with a turn towards emphasizing the responsibility of the individual. It considers the individual as best suited to figuring out how to spend his or her finances.

How guaranteed income might work

In terms of how guaranteed income might work as a social policy, there are at least two delivery mechanisms.

The first is negative income tax (NIT).

Basically, NIT works in the following way: if someone has no income, they would get a certain amount of “guaranteed income” each month. However, if they earned $1,000/month, the guaranteed income they receive each month would be reduced by a certain amount.

The infrastructure for NIT is in place, and it is something the federal government could do quite easily. However, while there are many advantages to NIT, there are also problems – what do we do when things go wrong? For example, in Ontario, recipients of social assistance face the threat of claw backs and loss of medical and other benefits as soon as an individual begins to earn upwards of $200 a month.

If the NIT were implemented, accountability measures would be key. There would need to be a transparent, accessible way for people to appeal or dispute claw backs, and the system would need to be less punitive.

The second mechanism is basic income. This means everyone receives a certain amount without a means test or work requirement, say $10,000 a year (18% of GDP approximately). In Canada, the concept was tested in Dauphin, Manitoba between 1974 and 1979 when the provincial and federal governments provided funds towards a guaranteed annual income for residents. However, the test “ended without much analysis or a final report.”

One of the major problems with both of these delivery mechanisms is that they are still tied to the tax filing system which does not reach everyone, especially those individuals living in poverty.

Poverty is not just about income

Not everyone is supportive of the idea of guaranteed income. One of the issues that emerged in our discussion is that poverty is not only about income; it’s related to employment status, cost of housing, cost of child care and access to decent food.

By focusing on guaranteed income, we may miss out on a chance to talk about other factors that contribute to income security such as employment. The precarious nature of twenty first century work, for example, is very different than it was in the industrial era. Solutions that address this change will not happen through the introduction of guaranteed income.

We also need to understand that there may be trade-offs. What kinds of programs would we lose if we adopted guaranteed income? People also receive other services; if guaranteed income were a reality, would they lose access to these services?

Challenges to existing income supports

In the context of income supports that already exist, it is best to think of guaranteed income as a technology or tool with which to design effective policy. We can look for a modest series of guaranteed income-type programs that are already in place, and improve or ramp them up. There are many programs already out there that make a difference. Examples include the Canada Child Tax Benefit, Old Age Security pension, the refundable GST credit and the income-tested Child Disability Benefit.

But there are challenges faced by current income supports.

There’s the challenge around how the supports are designed. While we have good programs, many were designed in another era. We need to consider modernization.

For instance, Employment Insurance was developed in the 1970s when most workers tended to spend their entire career with one employer. Now, Canadians are more likely to work at multiple jobs over their lifetimes. We have also seen structural changes that have led to the decline of certain sectors such as the manufacturing sector. A modern, well-designed Employment Insurance scheme should have common eligibility standards and identical benefits across the country, rather than benefits that are calculated based on unreliable local employment rates, which may not reflect the reality of work for many individuals in the community.

Another challenge is in how supports are delivered. We need to ensure that the delivery mechanism is straightforward and easy to troubleshoot. For instance, as supports are designed, we need to ask how a cheque will be received and what will happen if there is a problem. As well, there is a need to reach non-tax filers, as they are often the people living in poverty and might get missed if the delivery mechanisms are based on taxes filed alone.

A third challenge that was identified is around implementation. We need to consider the basic rights of people in poverty. The question to answer is how we implement income supports in such a way that those living in poverty can access their basic rights.

Assumptions about income supports

There is a lack of a coherent narrative or framework around why we have the income supports that we do. Instead of focusing on the dignity of the individual, we focus on the morality (and immorality) of the poor. These assumptions guide public policy, political rhetoric and the delivery of many social programs across the country. Challenging these beliefs will mean including the lived experiences and voices of those on the margins and confronting old stereotypes about the poor.

The following assumptions are present, implicitly and explicitly, in many of our current income security supports.

  • People should have to jump through hoops to get income supports. The process we put people through in applying for social assistance is difficult. There are numerous forms to fill out and government offices to visit. The implicit assumption seems to be that people will lose the incentive to work if they are treated too generously by the state. In reality, many people living in poverty do work, and many of those that do not, would like to do so.
  • Tax is a four-letter word. We need to change the way we think about taxes. There was an anti-tax revolution under U.S. President Regan and U.K. Prime Minister Thatcher, and it was picked up by many other countries, including Canada. The volume of taxes is what matters – it’s not just about taxing the very wealthy 1%. Taxes should be progressive (when possible), and they should be paid by everyone.
  • The labour market works for everyone. There are some people who cannot work for a variety of reasons, such as disability, family circumstances and other factors. Others, while they may be able to work, will need additional supports. There needs to be more imaginative thinking about what a compassionate and responsive approach might be to include all Canadians in the economy.
  • Money spent on the poor disappears. In reality, money that ends up in the hands of middle and low-income families goes back into the economy. When people buy goods and services, they contribute to the economy. There is an assumption that money or benefits that are distributed to the poor disappear into a black hole. Instead, money and support for the poor go back into the local economy through spending on food, housing, services and more.

The connection between income supports and rights

By using a rights-based approach to frame income supports, it is possible to draw attention to questions of accountability, such as the construction of various programs, and whether they actually allow people to claim their rights. Perhaps an ombudsperson or rights tribunal might be an effective way to address rights claims or violations. We also need to know what progress looks like: we need to be able to measure poverty. To do this, we need more and better data. There is also the issue of access: who are we trying to reach with certain income supports? Who is being excluded? Who has access to these programs in practice? Finally, a rights approach calls for the creation of programs that are grounded in the lived realities of peoples’ experiences.

Continuing the discussion

While our current income support system has some positive aspects, we can see the challenges and potential of creating and sustaining income supports that will lift people out of poverty and make better lives for themselves and their children. However, if we look at the current system with a rights-based framework in mind, we can see a better roadmap to improvement. Any discussion around improving our current income supports must consider the impacts on the people living in poverty in a way that recognizes their dignity and experience. As we wrote in the May 2015 Maytree Opinion, “Time for a system upgrade,” accountability, transparency, measuring progress, access and participation will be essential hallmarks to improving our social supports system and to fighting poverty.

Additional resources:


Kate is the Lead for Policy and Research at Maytree

Sep 25 2015

Be informed and engaged (iStock photos)

With the October 19 federal election approaching, we’ve been compiling resources related to Maytree’s work. From an in-depth look at issues and recommendations on what questions to ask candidates, to initiatives for voter engagement and highlights on what charities should be paying attention to, there are many ways to stay informed and engaged.


  • Vote Rights 2015: a resource by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) encouraging Canadians to #VoteRights. Content includes sample questions for candidates, non-partisan fact checks, and more.
  • Good for Canada: a platform highlighting the high cost of income inequality by telling the personal stories of real Canadians and offering practical progressive policy solutions.
  • Housing and Homelessness Election Guide 2015: a non-partisan, independent, research-based resource created by The Homeless Hub which analyzes the platforms of the four major parties running for office.
  • Eat Think Vote: an initiative of Food Secure Canada and its partners to engage citizens and candidates on making food an election issue and a national food policy a reality in Canada.
  • Canada Votes: a series of fact sheets and questions for candidates on 14 social issues developed by Social Planning Toronto.
  • Up for Debate: addresses the absence of women’s issues in the election through interviews with federal party leaders.
  • Strengthening Canada’s Hometowns: a roadmap for strong cities and communities developed by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

Voter engagement

  • Jane and Finch Votes: a non-partisan voter mobilization project focused on increasing voter turnout from youth and their parents.
  • Vote Promise: an initiative of the Democracy Education Network (DEN) to encourage voter turnout in all elections across Canada from 2014 to 2017.
  • Vote PopUp: a kit created by Samara that allows community groups to simulate the voting experience to foster interest in the election and demystify the voting process for first-time and infrequent voters.
  • A Guide to Voting: a resource created by ABC Life Literacy to help literacy practitioners engage adult learners in civic literacy in advance of the election.
  • Be the Vote: a non-profit organization led by a group of young Canadians passionate about getting youth to vote through outreach, raising awareness and sharing information.
  • Apathy Is Boring: a non-partisan charitable organization that uses art and technology to educate youth about democracy.
  • CIVIX: a non-partisan national charity that creates experiential learning opportunities to help young Canadians practice their rights and responsibilities as citizens.


  • Imagine Canada Election Hub: a resource by Imagine Canada to help charities stay informed and up to date about the issues that affect them.
  • Election rules for non-profits explained: a summary of frequently asked questions developed by Samara to help non-profits pursue their mission and communicate with clarity and confidence during the campaign.

Reports and data


Tina Edan is Communications Manager at Maytree.

Sep 18 2015


In response to a growing need and continuing gap in self-employment programs for women surviving violence, Women’s Habitat, in close partnership with Scadding Court Community Centre, has developed the Women in Micro-Enterprise project. This new initiative provides low-income, marginalized women surviving violence the opportunity to develop the business skills and experience necessary to make a better life for themselves and their children.

Economic instability is one of the many harsh realities faced by women surviving violence. Access to the job market is frequently hindered by barriers such as inflexible or inaccessible childcare, a shortage of meaningful and secure jobs, a lack of work experience or education, low self-esteem, and stigma surrounding low-income individuals. Faced with such obstacles, women in these circumstances are increasingly turning to self-employment as a means of creating sustainable economic livelihoods.

With the Women in Micro-Enterprise project, we are currently supporting a group of six women to run a collective marketplace housed out of a shipping container at Bathurst and Niagara streets. Working as a collaborative under the name Toronto Women’s Collective, they share rent and overhead costs, provide emotional and professional support for each other and share skills and knowledge. The model provides the flexibility necessary for women having to juggle numerous responsibilities.

The transition from poverty to economic stability can be long and arduous. Recent statistics show that the average time a family will receive social assistance is approximately 36 months. Making the transition off social assistance can be challenging for people who want to become financially independent. Rules embedded within Ontario Works legislation – including the threat of clawbacks and loss of medical and other benefits as soon as an individual begins to earn upwards of $200 a month – mean that people are not only discouraged from trying to create a financial safety net for themselves but are in fact nearly prevented from doing so.

A collective business model is not typically possible for individuals on Ontario Works as its system is based on an individual case management model. Ontario Works is not structured to support individuals seeking to pool their resources and work collaboratively.

The Women in Micro Enterprise model was developed to create a supportive environment for women to grow their businesses, setting them on track towards financial independence. If women come out of the program feeling self-confident, with practical business and life skills, and with significantly enhanced social capital, that will represent success.

We want to demonstrate that the Women in Micro Enterprise model is an effective means of addressing and reducing poverty in our city. To do so, we have partnered with organizations across sectors such as Maytree, the Learning Enrichment Foundation, St. Stephen’s Community House, Rotman School of Business, and numerous others which, through unique expertise, are contributing to the development of a robust program.

Part of the project has involved examining possible policy alternatives. We have already seen buy-in from United Way Toronto & York Region and interest from the City of Toronto. This demonstrates that there is a will to change the way things are done with regards to social assistance.

Our goal is to demonstrate the benefits of collaborative business models for people living on low incomes, including those receiving social assistance. This model could be an important example of a new way to support low income people transitioning to the world of work.

The Toronto Women’s Collective pop-up shop is located in the Minto West Side Market, at Bathurst St. and Niagara St. in Toronto.

Come check us out for one-of-a-kind items!


Susannah Ireland is a Community Development Worker for Women’s Habitat of Etobicoke

Aug 31 2015


Coming back from my summer vacation, I feel re-energized and ready to take on my list of projects for the fall. To start, I’m reviewing some of the good ideas that surfaced as part of last season’s Five Good Ideas series. In case you don’t have time to watch videos of the lunch-and-learn sessions you may have missed before our new season launches on September 21, here are some highlights from last season.

Working with evidence

To do our work well, we need to have access to good, relevant and clear data. At the same time, we also have data that could be of importance to other organizations and their work – if only we were willing and found ways to share.

Harvey Low, Manager, Social Research & Analysis Unit, Toronto Social Development Finance & Administration Division, City of Toronto, talked about how to use, share and contribute to Open Data. He provided five ideas on how the non-profit sector can communicate its priorities to government, in particular local municipalities, around what types of data it needs. At the same time he suggested ways that the sector could position itself as a source of open data to support public policy.

In his session about survey research, Keith Neuman, Ph.D., Executive Director, Environics Institute for Survey Research, presented his five ideas on how to think about and conduct surveys and ask the right questions. He pointed out that the primary task of survey design and analysis is “translation”: transforming your organization’s questions into a language that is meaningful to those you want to hear from, and then reinterpreting what they tell you to answer those questions.

Being a good collaborator

None of us can achieve real change by working alone. We need to work with others – be it in well-established partnerships or loosely arranged collaborations.

In her session about collaboration, Anne Gloger, Director, East Scarborough Storefront, explored some fresh ways of thinking about working together and discussed how to create inspiring and successful collaborations. Her ideas ranged from taking responsibility for choices and respecting choices of others to ensuring that you create an enabling environment.

According to Matthew Thomas, Managing Director, Prospect Madison, some of the most complex challenges facing Canadian communities today – from youth unemployment, barriers to accessing social services, and environmental degradation – can only be addressed by civil society working in partnership with government and business to develop sustainable solutions. In his session about cross-sector leadership, Matthew looked at the type of leaders (and leadership) needed to lead across sectors and to ensure successful collaborations to solve the complex problems in our communities.

Building support for your issues

As we think about the changes we’re working to make, we also need to think about how – and to whom – we communicate our issues. This means effectively engaging media and public policy stakeholders.

In his session, Robert Steiner, Director, The Fellowships In Global Journalism, Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto, explained that non-profits that know how to help news media cover a public issue are now in a better position than ever to engage the public. Instead of just pitching story ideas or experts, he suggests working with media partners to help them cover our issues consistently, and deeply.

Pedro Barata, Vice President, Communications and Public Affairs, United Way Toronto, offered his five good ideas on how to get our issues on the public policy dance floor. His five good ideas answered important questions about how to get our policy solutions implemented, including what we can do to bring the worlds of theory and practice together and what we should be thinking about to make our ideas shine.

Finding the right support from your board and volunteers

Many small non-profits rely on volunteers, both to serve on their boards and to help them in their day-to-day work.

In his five good ideas on how to engage today’s volunteers, David Allen, Executive Director, Volunteer Toronto explained that while today’s volunteers still possess a strong desire to make a contribution to the community, they also seek experiences that respond to their personal goals and interests and can showcase and develop their job skills. He suggests, among other things, to invest significant time to understanding what motivates each of your volunteers and to match them to the right role.

Robin Cardozo, Chief Operating Officer, SickKids Foundation, looked at how to engage your board effectively. Together with Jehad Aliweiwi, Executive Director, Laidlaw Foundation, Earl Miller, Board President, West Neighbourhood House, and Jini Stolk, Board Chair, Ontario Nonprofit Network, he explored the question how you can build a sense of passionate and committed engagement in the space of a few hours each month. His ideas included planning for an orientation schedule that is more than just a single event and to actively plan for meaningful conversations at every meeting.

Registration is now open for the first two sessions of our 2015-16 season.

  • September 21: Five Good Ideas about Collective Impact
    With Liz Weaver, Vice-President, Tamarack – An Institute for Community Engagement. Register online
  • October 23: Five Good Ideas about Public Speaking
    With David Leonard, Director of Events and Special Projects, The Walrus. Register online

See you in September!


Markus Stadelmann-Elder is Communications Director at Maytree.

Aug 28 2015


It was the afternoon of one of the hottest Mondays this summer. I was on a bus to an industrial area of Mississauga in search of a mosque where I was invited to facilitate a meeting. What I found were 25 young, diverse and progressive Muslim professionals ready to make an impact during this federal election race.

We spent the evening identifying key issues that should be on the election agenda – issues such as civil liberties, immigration, jobs and income security. The group discussed how to promote voter participation and provide civic education leading up to election day. And they started to plan for a debate on September 18.

As we get closer to the federal election, meetings like this are happening in communities across the Greater Toronto Area. Here are just a few that I’ve come across:

  • North York Community House launched a pre-federal election effort in mid-July and is now planning a targeted get-out-the-vote effort with local leaders in the Lotherton community. This builds on a successful drive during the municipal election.
  • Scarborough Civic Action Network, working with a number of organizational partners, is bringing together residents from across Scarborough to talk about the impact of poverty and, more importantly, how they can get involved in the federal election (and the City of Toronto’s Poverty Reduction Strategy) to make sure that our elected representatives are creating and implementing the policies we need to move more people out of poverty and into prosperity.
  • LatinXVote is hosting events to educate the Latin American community on the electoral process and to find and discuss solutions to the experience of social and economic exclusion. They have created a social media campaign and Spanish-language tools which are available at meetings they are hosting in the community.

Supporting initiatives like these so all communities can participate in the political process is an extension of Maytree’s work started earlier this year. With the goal of inserting poverty-related issues into local federal election races, we’ve developed and tested a training and facilitation model for engaging communities and leaders active in reducing poverty in the city.

We equip individual leaders with the tools they need to understand systems, how to influence decision-making processes, as well as shape, lead, and participate in campaigns. This includes articulating their needs, framing questions, shaping the narrative and building a base for change.

While working on their campaigns leading up to the election, some groups have already started to discuss how they can remain connected to exchange knowledge that advances their organizing and public policy change agendas more effectively.

Maytree will continue to support these efforts and I’m looking forward to seeing what will happen in these communities after October 19.



Alejandra Bravo is Manager, Leadership and Learning at Maytree.

Aug 25 2015


The inner suburban neighbourhood of Kingston Galloway/Orton Park (KGO) is transforming. The East Scarborough Storefront (The Storefront) has made an important contribution to this change by engaging local residents, businesspeople and academics in working together to build a strong community. The result? A vibrant neighbourhood where residents can access the services they need, connect with local employment and engage in civic action.

A key part of The Storefront’s success is that collaboration, learning and reflecting are all part of its change process. In June with support from Maytree, Janet Fitzsimmons and Munira Abid, two staff members, joined representatives from community-based organizations from across Canada at the Neighbours, Policies & Programs Conference organized by Tamarack – An Institute for Community Engagement. The goal of the conference was to explore the role of organizations in constructing a common vision and making positive community change.

We asked Janet and Munira to share some of their insights on collaboration and learnings from the conference.

Janet, one of the topics discussed at the conference was asset-based community development. What did you share with other conference participants about The Storefront’s successes on this topic and what did you learn?

At the conference, John McKnight, a founder and co-director of the Asset-Based Community Development Institute, said that the foundation of community development lies in asset-based community development: beginning from a place of “having” instead of a place of “needing.” That’s certainly part of it. Coupled with that is the simple need to connect. We are meant to be connected: to allies, to systems and to each other. Those of us in attendance at the conference benefitted greatly from the chance to connect with peers and find synergies between our work and the communities we are working in. I was keenly aware of the difference between my experience, working to connect residents to systems and networks in a large municipality, and that of some of my peers from smaller communities. I sensed, from speaking with them, that in smaller communities the gateways to participation are often easier to access, but the challenges are very similar in terms of actually motivating resident participation.

Munira, as a frontline worker, what does collaboration look like in your work?

Collaboration is key in all of my work. My main role is to help community members achieve the career goals they set for themselves. This often requires me to work with different people including employers, other social service organizations, businesses, Toronto Employment Social Services and any other group that could potentially benefit the community member. Additionally, The Storefront has many partner agencies who come in and provide a variety of services to residents in the community of Kingston-Galloway/Orton Park. In addition to employment, I often work with these partner agencies to ensure community members receive wraparound supports. Most importantly, I am fortunate to be a part of a strong team that is also a result of collaboration. Members of the Local Economic Opportunities circle work closely to further support every community member who is seeking assistance.

Janet, collaboration can contribute to significant positive change but it can also be a messy business. What can organizations do to prevent collaborations from going bad?

Organizations entering into collaboration are often motivated to start by outlining purposes and distributing tasks. But from our experience at East Scarborough Storefront, the most grounded collaborations begin by articulating shared values and developing a common vision for the work ahead. These are the things that will ultimately support the collaboration during the messiness and reorient the group to focus on what matters. It takes time to do this well, and involves a lot of upfront discussion. But without this solid foundation, collaboration can be very difficult.

Munira, how do you make the connection between your day-to-day work and the long-term changes you would like to see in the community?

As a frontline worker, I often feel a disconnect between the specific focus of my day-to-day work and the big picture of which it is a part. I can feel disconnected from the bigger picture that creates lasting impact and meaningful change. The simple reason for this is lack of time for reflection. We often discuss this within our team and our manager makes an intentional effort to focus monthly team meetings on bridging this gap. Luckily, there is enormous organizational will to encourage frontline staff to really think about how we work and why.

However, though we have support organizationally, at times I tend to be bogged down by producing results within strict deadlines. This is when opportunities such as attending the Tamarack conference prove to be most beneficial. My personal goal for the two days was to concentrate on reflecting upon the work that we have been doing. And the way the conference was designed provided ample time for just that. I often find that by dedicating just a few hours to reflect on the work makes all the difference in making the connection between the day-to-day work and the long-term impact.

Janet, we know that community change cannot happen in silos. What advice do you have for organizations looking to collaborate with businesses or other institutions in their communities?

At East Scarborough Storefront we work with a diverse set of partners, from local businesses to academic institutions to architects and urban planners. We work hard to ensure that everyone’s perspective is understood and a common vision and values are identified. In addition to this, we work with all partners in the collaborative to define what role they want to play and to what extent. We have them rate their preferred participation as light, medium or heavy, and work as a group to define what each means in terms of the work of the collective. Communities are strengthened by partnership with a diverse set of players, each bringing a unique perspective.

For more background on collaboration, have a look at the Five Good Ideas session on collaboration by The Storefront’s Director, Anne Gloger.


Tina Edan is Communications Manager at Maytree.

Aug 06 2015


Cities are central to our national prosperity. Ensuring a well-connected, responsive and supported system of civic assets will strengthen our collective resiliency. Recently, a group of Toronto organizations and individuals came together to build a shared understanding of the value, potential and possible approaches to re-imagining our city’s assets.

Civic assets are the physical assets that make up a city’s civic infrastructure. Taking a civic assets approach may include looking at civic spaces and places such as parks, libraries, community centers, or public squares and their potential to shape and re-shape our neighbourhoods, communities and cities.

In many cities these traditional assets are no longer as relevant in their current form or serve as important a role as they once did. You only have to look at shifting demographics in some neighbourhoods that have led to schools that are only half full or changing consumer behaviour that leaves post offices with fewer users.

So how might we re-imagine the places and spaces that make up our cities, that allow us to access the services we need and connect with one another? In many cities this work is well underway. In Toronto, for instance, Artscape and the Centre for Social Innovation are two organizations with different approaches to revitalizing physical assets and creating new re-imagined spaces that bring community together.

But we could go further. The white paper “Re-Imagining the Civic Commons,” published by the Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS), asks: “What if a city invested in ways to connect its civic assets across systems – public, private, institutional and community?”

On June 11 and 12 MAS convened five cities to explore civic assets and the city system they are part of (aka “the Commons”) to share common challenges and tested approaches to revitalizing civic spaces and underutilized community assets.

Joining delegates from Montreal, Philadelphia, Boston and Chicago, twelve Torontonians traveled to New York City to explore how cities might better build, use, enhance and preserve the local civic commons.

The Toronto delegation, led by Evergreen CityWorks, included leaders from across the city who have worked on different aspects of civic assets, e.g., parks and community hubs, and included practitioners and policy influencers. Through a combination of site visits, case study presentations and working sessions, we explored the meaning of civic assets and collaborated on the potential opportunities for local strategies. As “Re-Imagining the Civic Commons” states:

Cities should recognize the tremendous opportunity to harness the potential of their existing civic assets by looking for ways to reinvent them as part of a hyperconnected, integrated, adaptive civic commons—to create a connected, aligned, strategic network of assets delivering new value in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

But what infrastructure is needed to realize such a connected and strategic civic assets framework? We know it includes policy design and financial tools that allow new kinds of ownership and partnership models. Emerging and existing technology will significantly influence new approaches as well. And a civic assets framework must be built around community-identified needs and be responsive and adaptive for long-term sustainability.

For the Toronto and Montreal delegations the Canadian civic assets space is an exciting and vibrant place with an emerging confluence of opportunities. In Ontario, for instance, we have strong leadership in both the non-profit and public sectors including the Premier’s Community Hub Framework Advisory Group. Appointed in March, this group is reviewing provincial policies to develop a framework for adapting existing public assets to become “community hubs.” These hubs might be a school, a neighbourhood centre or another public space that would offer coordinated services such as education, health care and social services to local communities.

In Toronto, Evergreen CityWorks along with the organizations that traveled to New York, have committed to further exploring what these influencing factors are locally and to building a civic assets strategy for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. Over the coming months we will work to engage a broad group of stakeholders who work in the civic assets space to better define what the local realities are and how we might collectively re-imagine Canada’s vital civic spaces.

Interested in learning more? Check out:


Hadley Nelles is the Senior Manager at Evergreen CityWorks

Jul 28 2015


The City of Toronto is booming – and not by accident. For the last decade, city building and civic leadership have emerged from vibrant and innovative private firms, public institutions, non-profits, and cultural sector organizations in Toronto’s wider civil society.

What has been missing is an easy and accessible way to find those organizations and to connect with them. And for organizations involved in urban issues to connect with one another to build on each other’s expertise and identify opportunities for collaboration.

That is, until now.

The Ryerson City Building Institute, with the support of the province of Ontario, Maytree and the Metcalf Foundation, has just connected these organizations and changed city building with the release of its new online database, Citylinx.

Citylinx identifies and categorizes leading organizations advocating for excellence in city building, with the goal of improving awareness of city building initiatives and building the capacity of civil society. With more than 170 organization already listed, it shows the breadth and range of city building going on in the region.

Some organizations alter our physical city.

Artscape, under the leadership of Tim Jones and a talented staff with dedicated volunteers, is not only recovering neglected assets for repurposing. It is also making sure artists and arts organizations are not pushed out in the gentrification process.

At Evergreen Brick Works, Geoff Cape has created a dynamic magnet in the Don Valley. Programming is attracting people from across the city to engage in activities related to Evergreen’s core environmental mission.

Other organizations are creating the social city or healing system fractures.

The Toronto Public Library (TPL), the busiest library systems in the world, is in every neighbourhood, with up-to-date technology for the information age and culturally appropriate materials. It is a model that business could learn from in how to understand your customers and their preferences. With a long-time commitment to architectural quality, it has built real gems that add much to neighbourhoods.

CityWorks is focusing on housing, both through the Housing Lab and Tower Renewal. Housing is a critical issue, not just a social justice issue but a vital economic issue related to our productivity and prosperity. Led by John Brodhead, the organization is putting the necessary players together to create affordable and liveable housing.

We also have to acknowledge the commercial players: developers like Daniels and Diamante who include community in the way they conceive and execute development. Financial institutions like TD who focus on city building issues, or Manulife and RBC who pay attention to the settlement and inclusion of newcomers in our cities.

Governments are also important. However, most of us now understand that we can’t wait for governments to act. They are not typically first-movers.

They are important because they have big budgets that can do things at scale, and they have law-making and regulatory powers that can change behaviour and mandate outcomes. And they have a lot of smart people who are looking for ways of solving problems and creating success. But they need someone else to be first-mover and to “de-risk” situations. Working to make government more effective is in all our interests.

Now that we have this Ryerson database through which we can know each other, the challenge for all of us in our organizations is to find ways to work together, and to magnify our impact far beyond what we can achieve alone.

You know the analogy of the shoe store owner who sees another shoe store open across the street. His first reaction is anger, and a competitive urge to destroy the intruder. Before he can act on it, a third store opens on the same street, and then another. Before he realizes it, the street becomes the place in town to buy shoes, and people are coming from all over. He is selling more shoes because his market has expanded to include the whole region, not just the immediate neighbourhood.

That is what we should be interested in: building the market rather than just competing for market share. We can help each other succeed, and celebrate each other’s successes. One group’s funding doesn’t take away from us, but helps create something to build upon.

In his letter introducing the Institute’s annual report, executive director Tanzeel Merchant writes “This is an exciting time for city building. There are many organizations actively engaged in research and advocacy efforts aimed to improving the quality of urban life with the Greater Toronto and Hamilton city region.” I agree and, as time goes by, I expect that the database will grow and become even more useful. It’s open to everyone interested in furthering effective and collaborative city building.

For more information:


Alan Broadbent is Chairman and Founder of Maytree, and Chairman and CEO of Avana Capital Corporation.

Jul 22 2015


In June, like many young people, Dalu celebrated a graduation. He also gave the valedictory address. What’s unique about Dalu is that he has not yet finished his undergraduate degree; in fact, he just finished his second year of his Honours Bachelor of Arts in Human Rights and Equity Studies at York University. This graduation ceremony was held to celebrate the successes of Dalu and his peers – all Maytree refugee scholarship recipients.

On June 26, Maytree scholarship alumni, along with friends and supporters, gathered to recognize the most recent group of scholarship recipients. Part of the event included a celebration of culture – a fashion show where participants wore traditional and modern clothing from their countries of origin and a dance show which incorporated dance moves from all of their homelands – from Namibia to Burundi to Jamaica and beyond.

In her speech, Maytree Vice-Chair and founder of the scholarship program, Judy Broadbent, spoke about the passion, kindness and dedication of the graduating students. She also mentioned past students’ success, professionally and also personally, and their great loyalty and commitment to Canada.

Dalu focused his speech on the creation of a supportive group dynamic amongst the Harmonious Nine, the nickname for this year’s graduating scholarship class. He touched on the contributions of each of the students, and their personal transformations over the course of two years.

The Maytree Scholarship Program began in 1999 as a local and compassionate response to a flaw in the refugee system, namely that refugees were not able to access student loans. While no one had set out to bar refugees from getting student loans, the problem was that the language in the Canada Student Financial Assistance Act limited loans to Canadian citizens and landed immigrants.

Working with a variety of multi-sectoral actors, Maytree mobilized individuals and communities to change this. Maytree Scholarship students were very involved in the process, making the case for this change through their stories, presentations and travels to Ottawa to meet with parliamentarians. The result of the collective effort was a seemingly small but significant legislative change: the addition of the words “and protected persons” to the Act. These three words were what it took to allow protected persons to access student loans. In 2003, this change was finally included in the federal budget to the benefit of hundreds of young refugees across Canada. In 2004, most provincial governments made similar changes to their student loan programs to mirror federal changes.

Since its inception, the Maytree Scholarship Program has worked with over 200 students to support them along their educational paths. Scholarship alumni have graduated to become doctors, lawyers, accountants, technicians, engineers and nurses. Some work in human relations, in banks, in business, and with government. There is even an airline pilot, a paralegal, a landscape architect, a sports manager and a philosopher among the graduates.

While in the program, students receive and provide emotional support by participating in regular meetings where they get a chance to discuss major issues in their lives, from roommate troubles to school strategies to mental health and well-being.

Like many other Millennials, the current group of Maytree scholarship recipients are still figuring out what happens after they finish school. For this summer, though, many of them have been placed as interns in jobs that will allow them to learn more about their fields of interest. Arielle, who will enter her third year at York University’s Glendon Campus, has thought about law school and is interning at West Scarborough Community Legal Services and Justice for Children and Youth. As for Dalu, in addition to participating in a weeklong leadership seminar at Harvard Law School, he is working this summer as an intern at the Mosaic Institute, an organization that works to build a stronger, more inclusive Canada, and promote peace all around the world.

The graduation ceremony in June was an opportunity to celebrate the successes of the current class of recipients and catch up with many alumni. While Maytree will not be accepting new applicants, we will continue to support alumni as they move forward.



Kate is the Lead for Policy and Research at Maytree

Jul 14 2015


I became aware of the power of networks in the 1990s while working in the field of community economic development (CED) overseas and in Canada. While the majority of the micro-enterprise programs were supporting individual entrepreneurs to establish their own businesses to generate additional income for their households, the pioneers at the Appalachia Center for Economic Networks were weaving together small and medium enterprises into mutually supporting economic networks. The difference in revenue, profits and economic activity was dramatic: networks really exemplified the old adage that the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts.

The popularity and practice of networks has since exploded. People are building networks for every possible reason: from developing personal connections to mobilizing diverse organizations to address complex environmental, social and economic challenges. Policy makers use network frameworks to understand the resiliency of terrorist groups, and business analysts study networks to assess the buying habits of consumers. There are now a bewildering array of networking tools and techniques (e.g. network mapping software).

Despite the “mainstreaming” of network concepts and methods, there are few comprehensive resources to help practitioners attend to all the practical tasks of building and managing these productive webs. Until now. The book, Connecting to Change the World: Harnessing The Power of Networks for Social Impact by Peter Plastrik, Madeleine Taylor and John Cleveland, more than fills the gap. Drawing from diverse examples of urban sustainability, manufacturing, homelessness, and faith-based community-building, the authors have put together what may well be the best guide for practitioners to date.

It is comprehensive. The first chapter discusses the different wants that networks can add that can make a difference to would-be change-makers. Chapter Two reviews the eight key characteristics of networks (e.g., purpose, governance and operating principles). Chapter Three explores the art of weaving a network’s participants. Chapter Four lays out the phases of evolution of networks, while Chapter Five uncovers the key functions that network stewards need in order to manage the entire process. Chapter Six provides a clear framework for assessing frameworks, and Chapters Seven and Eight offer a (brief) summary of key challenges and simple things to keep in mind when the going gets tough.

Beyond this comprehensive content, the book is also a gold mine of resources. The appendices include lists of relevant websites, books, case studies as well as a number of sample tools (e.g., a guide to collaboration software).The book’s own webpage is one of the most generous I have ever seen for a book of this kind and includes regular updates to keep people coming back.

This book is a significant contribution to the field of social change. Whether your work focuses in the realm of creating policy coalitions, collective impact roundtables, social movements, or communities of practice, veteran and novice network builders will wonder how we ever managed without this rich resource.

Learn more:


Mark is President of From Here to There and an Associate of Tamarack – An Institute for Community Engagement.