Feb 04 2016

Report cover and protest sign

Whether you’re seeking employment, need to access learning materials online, or are looking to access government services, you won’t get around needing internet access at some point.

Unfortunately, access to the internet is not consistent for everyone and the growing need has highlighted a digital divide that is emerging between high- and low-income Canadians.

On February 2, ACORN Canada members in Calgary, Halifax, Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver organized a day of action to expose this digital divide. It also included the release of Internet for All, a report summarizing 400 testimonials from low-income Canadians about how vital yet unaffordable home internet is.

The report is part of ACORN’s campaign challenging the telecom industry and regulators to ensure broadband internet costs are accessible to everyone. It reveals that for low-income earners costs are prohibitive and can lead to hardship. Almost 60% of respondents said that to afford home internet, which they need for everyday activities, they are forced to take money out of budget items such as food and rent.

Access to the internet is a right

The United Nations has declared internet access a right comparable with freedom of speech. Countries such as France, Finland and Germany have declared it a legal right and have committed to achieving universal broadband access for their citizens. In fact, Canada remains the only G7 country without a national broadband plan.

“Access to the internet is a right,” says Marva Burnett, ACORN Canada president. “How can low-income families get out of poverty if they can’t apply for jobs, [or] can’t access government services? Libraries and coffee shops are not a solution.”

In light of the current telecom review, ACORN Canada recommends that the CRTC creates a subsidy mechanism so that low-income families can afford home broadband internet. With the CRTC presently holding focus groups in rural areas on this issue, ACORN is asking for the regulator to hold them in low-income urban communities as well, so that low-income urban families can present their views in person.

Solutions begin with community

While the numbers cited in the report are impactful, even more so are the testimonials from ACORN members.

Individuals like Kelly from Ottawa who can’t afford to have high-speed internet at home so she has to make a daily trip to a public library or coffee shop to connect. This means potentially having to pay for transit, spending time commuting or waiting for a computer, and being restricted to times when they are open.

Or Sarah from Toronto who states “As someone with a disability, the internet is essential in accessing disability supports. The internet is often the only contact point for companies and venues and I need that information to determine if they are accessible and/or can accommodate me. Also, things like paratransit bookings are often only done online.”

ACORN recognizes that to come up with sustainable solutions, people with lived experience need to be engaged from the beginning. That’s why they’re investing in building the leadership capacity of their members. This year, Maytree be working with ACORN to develop leaders through the National Leadership School in Ottawa. The school brings together 25-30 new ACORN leaders from chapters across Canada to focus on skills development and public policy analysis.



Tina Edan is Communications Manager at Maytree.

Jan 19 2016

Image of poverty reduction report covers from Toronto and Edmonton

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, and it was the age of wisdom… we had everything before us, we had nothing before us….” These are the words that open Charles Dickens’ epic novel A Tale of Two Cities.  These words also appropriately describe the vision and the pain surrounding the issue of poverty within the cities of Edmonton and Toronto in 2016.

The vision and hope now in cities right across Canada represent the “best of times.” The challenge of poverty is being tackled head on through engagement and community planning, and collective impact strategies are being developed to significantly reduce poverty in a growing number of Canadian cities.

People living in poverty represent the “worst of times” with thousands not having the means to live well, and far too many homeless and insecure.

What is particularly hopeful is that mayors are making poverty reduction a priority and many have included this commitment in their bid for election. Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson and Toronto Mayor John Tory are two of Canada’s most important and visionary mayors, and both have launched poverty reduction strategies in the first year of their mandates.

The story of Edmonton

One in eight Edmontonians lives in poverty. Many of them are children and youth, Aboriginal people, the working poor, newcomers, women, and persons with disabilities.

In March 2014, Mayor Don Iveson invited 21 community leaders to be a part of a Task Force with an ambitious goal: to end poverty in Edmonton within a generation. The City of Edmonton is supporting the Mayor’s Task Force, its related roundtables and working groups; and, through the development of a 10-year action plan, is ensuring that all Edmontonians achieve their full potential. On September 18, the Task Force unveiled their ambitious strategy. The community will now be consulted and their responses incorporated into a full-fledged governance and implementation plan next Spring.

Edmonton’s poverty reduction Theory of Change

Paint the picture. Set the goals. Kick start a movement.

Edmonton’s poverty elimination strategy has 28 priorities under five primary pillars. They are:

  1. Toward true reconciliation
  2. Justice for all
  3. Move people out of poverty
  4. Invest in a poverty-free future
  5. Change the conversation: Build a movement to end poverty


  • An accessible Aboriginal culture and wellness centre that provides a one-stop shop of wrap-around services
  • People-first and trauma-informed policy and practice
  • Implementation of a community witness program, keeping history based on oral traditions and maintaining relationships face-to-face
  • Eliminating racism
  • Decriminalizing poverty – changing local policy and by-laws that keep those in poverty in a perpetual cycle
  • Building sustainable livelihoods and assets
  • Advocacy to the provincial government to support culturally relevant curricula and school-based wrapped services

Six game changers

After a deliberate and intensive research process, six game changers were chosen for inclusion in the Edmonton strategy. The game changers are those areas that will have the most realizable impact in addressing poverty in Edmonton:

  1. Eliminate racism
  2. Livable incomes
  3. Affordable housing
  4. Accessible and affordable transit
  5. Affordable and quality child care
  6. Access to mental health services

Read more about these game changers in the full End Poverty Edmonton strategy.

The story of Toronto

Between October 2014 and September 2015, staff in Social Development, Finance and Administration, and Toronto Employment and Social Services worked with a community advisory committee, resident animators with lived experience of poverty, United Way Toronto & York Region, and a variety of community groups to engage over 1,950 residents from across the City. This engagement took place through:

  • Eleven city-wide public meetings
  • One hundred and seventeen community-led conversations
  • One full-day multi-sector dialogue
  • Four roundtable discussions with sector experts
  • Two online questionnaires for residents

In September 2015, as per Council direction, the Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy was considered at 11 Standing Committees, Budget Committee and the Boards of the Toronto Public Library, Toronto Public Health, and the Toronto Transit Commission. An additional 117 residents shared their thoughts and experiences through this process.

Toronto’s poverty-reduction vision

“By 2035, Toronto is a city with opportunities for all: a leader in the collective pursuit of justice, fairness and equity. We want to be renowned as a city where everyone has access to good jobs, adequate income, stable housing, affordable transportation, nutritious food, and supportive services.”

Three overarching objectives

Toronto’s Strategy sets out three overarching objectives focused on the effects, trajectories, and causes of poverty, namely:

  1. Address immediate needs: Ensure that essential services are effective, well-funded, coordinated, and meet the needs of those living in poverty.
  2. Create pathways to prosperity: Improve the quality of jobs in the City, attract investments to low income areas, and ensure that City programs and services are integrated, client-centered, and focused on early intervention.
  3. Drive systemic change: Create a more accountable and participatory government, where reducing poverty and inequality is an integral part of day-to-day business.

Six issue areas

Toronto’s Poverty Reduction Strategy is focused on the following six issue areas:

  1. Housing stability: The City needs more quality affordable housing so that individuals and families with low incomes do not need to sacrifice basic needs to live in decent conditions.
  2. Service access: Not all residents find the services they need when they need them; the City can do more to make services available and effective.
  3. Transit equity: Public transit needs to be affordable and reliable; it needs to take residents to opportunities and bring opportunities to neighbourhoods.
  4. Food access: Torontonians, especially in many low-income communities, need better access to affordable, nutritious food.
  5. Quality jobs and livable wages: Toronto cannot achieve its vision of being an equitable and inclusive city while so many residents are unable to find quality jobs.
  6. Systemic change: Mobilizing an entire city to reduce and ultimately end poverty will take new ways of thinking and new ways of working.


TO Prosperity contains 17 recommendations. Each recommendation is linked to a set of actions to be carried out over a four-year period. Combined, these recommendations and actions comprise the 2015-2018 Term Action Plan.  This plan reflects key concerns and issues prioritized by Toronto residents during a broad engagement process, as well as knowledge of best practices to address poverty in Toronto and other jurisdictions. Recognizing that priorities, knowledge, and economic landscapes constantly evolve, the City will evaluate and revise the Action Plan every four years.

Annual work plans will identify key City initiatives to address poverty and deliverables expected in the short term. An annual progress report and a revised work plan will be brought to City Council for consideration each year.

Access Toronto’s Poverty Reduction Strategy.


Dickens ends A Tale of Two Cities with these words: “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done….”  Mayors and cities are living examples of this sentiment – as Edmonton and Toronto are demonstrating – to commit to building, implementing and mobilizing bold poverty reduction strategies.

Learn More:

Originally published in Engage!, Tamarack’s free monthly e-magazine.


Paul Born is President of Tamarack – An Institute for Community Engagement.

Jan 05 2016


At 1:45 a.m., you get a text:

Need 2 talk to u. I need help. U busy 2morrow?

It’s Sadia, a student mentor you work with in your after-school program. It’s late and you’re foggy, but you reply:

8.30 good for you?

In the morning, you go into your program’s space to meet Sadia. She sends a few more messages:

On my way

Gonna be a lil late

2 much stress…

When Sadia walks in, she looks like she hasn’t slept… for a week. You ask her:

“You hungry?”

“I can’t even eat these days.”

“So what’s going on? Talk to me.”

“If I even knew where to start. I’m trying to just finish school, but I can’t even think about my classes right now.”

From there, the conversation moves to many themes: housing, employment, immigration, criminal justice, food and transportation. Despite her desire to focus on school, these issues make her vision of graduation fuzzy at best and, at worst, completely out of reach.

Your assessment of the situation before meeting with her: she needs to get some tutoring in her core subjects, to catch up on missed assignments, and to go to class more.

Her assessment: she needs a job, she needs money. If she had money, she thinks, everything else would work itself out.

You could set her up with a social worker to help her navigate the non-academic issues. You’ve done that many times for many different students. But how long before you get the next middle-of-the-night text from someone else facing similar problems?

The achievement/opportunity gap in education

This reality is at the heart of the achievement/opportunity gap in education; significant differences in educational attainment and academic outcomes between groups of students based on demographic factors that include race, income, geography, gender, sexual identity and immigration status.

In 2014, 84 per cent of students in Ontario graduated within five years, up from 68 per cent in 2004. Despite this improvement, certain demographic groups are graduating at rates closer to 50-60 per cent.

High school graduation is the most obvious, and most often discussed, measure of the achievement/opportunity gap. But the gap stretches across metrics, including standardized testing, suspension/expulsion, post-secondary entrance and completion, and access to scholarships and bursaries.

While this gap in achievement and opportunity shows up in the classroom, it is not created in the classroom alone. Undoubtedly, we have major issues within schools that we need to address. But what if all of the education-based responses we know are needed were accomplished? Our teachers were more representative of our students, class sizes were smaller with differentiated instruction, teacher training was improved, well-being was supported and resourced in schools, and curriculum was updated through an equity lens – would the gap be closed? Would those improvements erase the impact of having a low income, a weak social network, a neighbourhood with inadequate infrastructure, and limited access to opportunity?

Would you still get that text at 1:45 a.m.?

Mapping opportunity for students in Toronto

In Toronto, we have tools that show us what the layers of lived realities in our city look like. Let’s look at three in particular.

First, David Hulchanski’s “Three Cities” map shows Toronto through the lens of income: high income in the core of the city, a drastically shrinking “middle class,” and a ring of low-income neighbourhoods framing the city.

Second, the City of Toronto mapped the long-term distribution of infrastructure investment in Toronto’s 140 neighbourhoods and found gaping inequities in the areas of education, employment, transportation, green space and health investment.

Third, the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) uses its Learning Opportunities Index (LOI) to assess where it needs to invest to address external challenges affecting academic achievement. These variables include median income, level of social assistance, and level of adult education.

Put these three maps together and you’ll see an overlap. The low-income neighbourhoods in the “Three Cities” map are the same ones that the City’s maps show are lacking in infrastructure investment generally, and the same ones that the Learning Opportunities Index identifies as needing more investment in education specifically. Overlay this with TDSB data on test scores, graduation rates, and other key academic measures and the most concerning outcomes again fall in the very same spots on the map.

These maps beg more questions: what would happen to attendance, lateness and after-school engagement if every high school in Toronto had bus routes that made getting to and from school easy? What would happen if students that live in Toronto Community Housing lived in places in a “decent state of repair” and didn’t have to worry about broken plumbing or inadequate heating? What would happen for our most vulnerable young people — those who end up incarcerated while still of school age — if courts and the police made decisions that accounted for the impact their decisions will have on that young person’s education?

Social determinants of education framework

Historically, we have seen the achievement/opportunity gap as the sole purview of the education sector. But we can no longer ignore the role of the social determinants of educational achievement that tools such as these maps show us. We need a broader set of stakeholders — including those working in the areas of green space, walkability, employment, housing, transportation, policing, food access, and recreation (to name a few) — to see themselves as direct stakeholders in closing this gap.

Together, we must develop a Social Determinants of Education Framework to communicate, measure and account for all of the work we do to improve equity of opportunity for all students.


Chris Penrose is the Executive Director at Success Beyond Limits Education Program

Dec 16 2015

On December 10, 2015, International Human Rights Day, Maytree held Connecting for Change, a conference designed to enhance our collective antipoverty work.

The day included more than 300 activists, policy-makers, journalists, academics and representatives from non-governmental organizations from across sectors. It focused on creating connections, exploring systems change, and approaching poverty from the perspective of human rights.

Here is a summary of the conference highlights.


Welcome remarks by Alan Broadbent, Chairman, Maytree [Watch the video]



Introduction to a rights-based approach to poverty reduction by Elizabeth McIsaac, President, Maytree [Watch the video]

policecarding Police Carding: A matter of rights, a time for change [Watch the video]

The panel looked at recent community mobilization and action on police carding in Toronto and how the issue can serve as an example for movement building.


  • Desmond Cole, journalist
  • Gordon Cressy, former Toronto City Councillor
  • Sandy Hudson, Black Lives Matter organizer
  • Jamil Jivani, Osgoode Law School Professor
  • Sukanya Pillay, Executive Director and General Counsel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association

doesitspark Does it spark? Testing the connections

A panel of experts from media, public policy, funding, community organizing and digital organizing analyzed and provided feedback on the strategies proposed in the breakout sessions.


  • Karim Bardeesy, Deputy Principal Secretary, Office of the Premier of Ontario
  • Alejandra Bravo, Director of Leadership and Training, the Broadbent Institute
  • Chris Cowperthwaite, Founder and CEO, Groudforce Digital
  • Joan Melanson, Executive Producer, CBC Radio
  • Colette Murphy, Executive Director, Atkinson Foundation


Maytree Staff

Dec 03 2015

istock image - people and microphones

Media events are important and popular to attract publicity. And there are many potential reasons for a nonprofit to hold a media event, including:

  • announcing the release of a report with some ground-breaking new findings;
  • celebrating the opening of a new building that will offer housing to low-income people;
  • showcasing the talent of your best volunteers at an awards ceremony; or
  • opposing a new law by staging a protest in front of city hall.

There is no denying that media events are hard work. However, they are also great opportunities to use, and experiment with, all of your communications skills and tools.

You’ll get to:

With all of these in play, you’ll be the master behind the scenes of the show.

Five good ideas on planning a successful media event

Over the years, I’ve learned my lessons (and I’ve made my mistakes). However, the one thing I have always known is that what all good media events share is newsworthiness. Your event must speak to the media and their audiences.

Before starting the planning process, consider newsworthiness as much as the time and day.

Make the event compelling enough that it can’t be missed, that journalists have to be there. At the same time, plan for the fact that not everyone can show up. Don’t take it personally – just provide those who can’t attend with any valuable content afterwards.

Once you’ve determined your event is newsworthy, you can begin planning.

Here are five ideas to get you started:

1. Decide what kind of event you’d like to host

With new technologies come new opportunities. Media events no longer have to be held in hotel meeting rooms or community centre gymnasiums. You can now hold a media event online. When I first started my job at Maytree, I suggested holding the media conference for a report release online via a webinar. This meant that we could invite people from across Canada.

Organizing an event online also allowed me to spend more time on putting together a detailed media list with journalists across the country. For those who did not hear about the webinar in advance or who were not able to attend, we still received calls from those curious enough to speak to the author of the report.

2. Expand your media reach

There’s much talk about the changes in our media landscape. And it’s true: much has changed. With fewer journalists working in traditional media, it’s harder to convince them to come to and cover your event.

But there’s a whole other world of media out there. There are freelance journalists, bloggers and other social media writers. Also, don’t forget about the many speciality newsletters, journals and company papers. Many may be interested in hearing from you (and covering your event). Don’t discount them. Invite and provide them with the same access you would any other journalists.

3. Mix up your spokespeople

When media come to your event, they will expect to find someone to talk to. Make it easy and interesting for them.

Identify and prepare people who can talk about your subject. If, for example, you are releasing a report on child poverty, you could invite a researcher, someone with a lived experience of poverty, or a community worker to be spokespeople. It doesn’t always have to be your executive director or a member of your board, but it should be someone with an engaging style or willingness to be coached on how to speak with media.

Make sure all of your spokespeople are well prepared and briefed about the event. Never think that they will be okay just because they know the subject area and won’t need your support.

4. Make sure there’s an audience at the event

You will have to work hard to make sure that people show up to your event. While no one will really notice when the media is not there, the media will take note when they’re the only ones attending. While the camera crews may be able to interview spokespeople, events with sparse audiences will not lend themselves to crowd and background shots. So if you promise excitement and crowd shots, be sure to deliver on the promise.

5. Create an event guide – and keep it close (for once, sweat the small stuff)

To run a successful media event, like any type of event, you will need to pay close attention to details. Start with a detailed project plan listing all activities, responsibilities and deadlines.

As you prepare for the actual event, go one step further and put together your personal event guide. In this document you should include:

  • Detailed event schedule, including speaking and technical/AV notes.
  • List of who requires speaking notes (and bring an extra copy for every speaker).
  • Equipment checklist and task list – so you won’t forget to test the microphones and bring the batteries! Also, you want to note who will mic the speakers if you have a panel discussion during the event.
  • Photography shot list (even if you don’t have an official photographer). You want to leave with the right pictures taken.
  • Checklist of what food and drinks will be available, who will put water out for the speakers (and where to get it if it’s not part of the catering).
  • Emails and phone numbers of everyone involved in the event (since you’re not in the office, you may not have access to your database). That way you know how to reach anyone if there’s a change in schedule – or you are stuck in traffic.

With everything written down, you will be able to focus on the actual event and won’t have to worry about forgetting anything of importance.

Additional tips and tools to make your media event a success

There is no single formula for running a successful media event. Your existing skills and tools will be great assets. And, in case you’re interested, here are a few additional resources:

  • Public Relations Toolkit. Published in 2003 by the Ontario Trillium Foundation to help grantees fulfill their grant recognition requirements and create successful public relations plans and programs, the toolkit contains a detailed step-by-step guide to run a media event. While some of the information may be dated (especially when it comes to social media), the information is still valuable. In fact, this one document probably helped me more than any other when I started my career.
  • Your own rolodex. Don’t forget about your peers. In our sector, most of our peers are more than happy to help you with their experience and approaches. Just reach out (best a few months before the actual events) and ask for help. I know that I do!
  • Nonprofit MarCommunity blog. Among other things, you’ll find great resources on running events and media relations.
  • Newspapers, radio and TV news. As a communications professional, you should spend time reading newspapers, listening to the radio and watching TV. Find out what gets covered, how it’s been reported and who gets quoted. Then try to follow their lead.

Originally posted on the Nonprofit MarCommunity blog, an online space for nonprofit marketers and communicators.


Markus Stadelmann-Elder is Communications Director at Maytree.

Nov 17 2015

Fairness Means Paid Sick Days for All

It is 8:00 a.m. and you step onto the bus on your way to work. Prompted by the driver’s instruction, you move further back, one inch at a time. There is hardly any room to breathe — which makes it so much worse when the person beside you starts sneezing.

Why didn’t they stay home?

Don’t they know that it is flu season and they are putting everybody around them at risk?

Well, they probably do. After all, the Ministry of Health keeps telling Ontarians: stay home if you are sick.

The problem is, millions of workers simply can’t.

The relationship between our health and our employment is clear. Access Alliance has documented how precarious jobs lead to health problems such as a 40% increased risk of coronary heart disease.

The Wellesley Institute has reported that 1 in 9 Ontarians are unable to fill their prescriptions because they cannot afford them. We know precarious jobs with insufficient hours and wages have damaging effects on the health of all Canadians.

Now that flu season is upon us, we must face the fact that bad jobs not only make workers sick — they also keep them from recovering.

Under current law in Ontario, no worker has the right to paid sick days.

Not a single day. Not a single one of us.

This includes countless workers in part-time, temporary or casual contracts earning low wages, as well as workers in full-time positions. In many cases, workers have to choose between a day’s pay and their health. Furthermore, the 1.6 million workers employed in small businesses do not even have job protection if they take an unpaid personal day.

The Public Health Agency of Canada has found that many early childhood educators, food handlers and health care workers continue to work while sick because they cannot afford to take time off. This is a concern for all of us.

Physicians such as Dr. Andrew Pinto, who spoke to CBC’s As It Happens earlier this month, are calling on the Ministry of Labour to fix Ontario’s paid sick day policies. They see the impact of our outdated laws in their clinics and emergency rooms every day.

Lack of paid sick days increases the transmission of illnesses such as influenza, heightens the risk of worsening minor conditions, and lengthens recovery time. Add to this the unnecessary burden placed on the health care system by employer-required sick notes, and it is clear that our current sick day policies are making us sicker and preventing the health care system from working efficiently.

The good news is that we have an unprecedented opportunity to change this. The Ontario Government is reforming our employment laws under the Changing Workplaces Review. Healthcare providers and advocates are mobilizing across the province to call for legislated paid sick days as part of the Fight for $15 & Fairness campaign.

We must act now to change Ontario’s ailing sick day policies and improve everyone’s health.

To learn more about why we need paid sick days for all, take a look at this video to hear workers share their own stories.


Nil is an Organizer at the Workers' Action Centre

Nov 05 2015


If you work in the non-profit sector, chances are you’ve had this experience:

You invest months of staff time planning an event down to the last detail. Or you spend hundreds of hours of research and evaluation time creating a new report and then crafting an announcement about your very important evidence-based initiative.

You send the press release. You make follow-up calls. You let journalists know you are available to do interviews.

You wait.

You hope.

You read the paper furiously to see if your efforts have been fruitful. But you can’t seem to get the coverage you need.

What you may not have considered is how members of the media experience your story, and how it fits in with the forces that shape their coverage.

Last week I spoke with Rob Steiner, director of the Munk School Fellowships in Global Journalism and former Wall Street Journal correspondent, who shared some insights on what’s happening in newsrooms today, and the opportunities they reveal for us as non-profits.

Realities in the newsroom

The average mainstream newsroom receives hundreds of story leads a day, and it’s up to editors to make decisions about what is interesting and important to their audience. Increasingly, budget cuts are among the factors affecting these decisions.

According to Rob Steiner:

Large media have had to lay off a lot of their most expensive journalists, many of whom cover the most in-depth stories. At the same time, they’ve had to address the growing appetite for niche news by developing deeper content.

In response to this tension, news organizations are giving over more of their space to experts in different fields. They are training experts to not just describe their opinion but to report news stories in their field – this is a whole other discipline.

Some good news for non-profits

Rob understands that our communications reality often straddles two goals:

Many non-profits have two mandates: one is to deliver service; and the other is to raise awareness of the issue in which they are working. That can be for policy, fundraising or both. Different non-profits balance on different sides.

He is interested in helping professionals with expertise on a given issue using the tools of journalism to raise the profile of their issue on the public’s agenda. For him, journalism is “deepening an honest understanding of the world around us in live-time.”

As an expert in your field, you can help to deepen the public’s understanding of your issue.

Rob explains:

If you have the right reporting skills, you can now shape the agenda in a way that simply writing your opinion does not. Putting new, relevant information in front of an audience is the best way to shape a political or policy agenda.

Getting your issue covered

In his Five Good Ideas session, Rob offered tips about how non-profits can benefit from the media revolution. During our conversation, he added a few more ideas on how non-profits can get their issues in the news:

  • Understand how the agenda on your particular issue gets set and who is setting it. This means knowing which media the influencers in your field read, watch or hear – and which journalists in those media cover your field.
  • Identify important stories that those media haven’t yet reported.
  • Call up journalists and offer them this new kind of story. This is slightly different from traditional public relations. You are not calling to promote your own organization or your own service — you’re calling about an issue.
  • Give them something they can work with. Most journalists are skeptical of advocates. If you just call with advocacy, most journalists and editors will not fully believe what you’re saying – they need to hear other sides. Get a sense of the whole story and where your advocacy fits in with other legitimate opinions. Offer a 600-word piece on the overall issue and highlight where your voice fits in.

Training a new kind of journalist

In response to the changing realities of how news is produced, Rob started the Fellowship in Global Journalism at the Munk School of Global Affairs. As an alternative to traditional journalism school, the program trains subject-matter experts to report on their area of expertise. Through intense mentoring and live reporting, the eight-month program partners with major media in Canada and the United States to give fellows the opportunity to investigate issues, break important stories, and develop working relationships with editors. In only three years, major media have published and aired more than 400 stories that Fellows reported while they were still in the program. It is currently accepting applications for 2016.

At the core of this successful program is Rob’s belief that if you have the story, the relationship will follow:

The essence of [media] relationships is around the stories. If you can produce compelling stories, you have effective relationships. It’s not about taking people out to lunch.

For more information about the Fellowship in Global Journalism visit: http://munkschool.utoronto.ca/journalism/.


Tina Edan is Communications Manager at Maytree.

Oct 26 2015


The only way Kelly can afford internet access at home is to take money out of her food budget. Like so many urban, low-income Canadians, she struggles to afford access to a service that is essential to education, employment and government services. If she could get internet access at home for $10 per month, Kelly explains, “[she] would buy healthier food and maybe shop someplace other than [second hand stores] for clothes.”

According to Kelly, who is a member of ACORN, access to the internet has become a basic necessity. “Everything is moving online. You don’t get hard copy tax forms in the mail anymore. And information about social services is moving more and more online.”

Digital access matters

Countries around the world increasingly recognize access to the internet as an essential tool for participation in a modern democratic society. Access to reliable high-speed internet has become an important means of participating in economic, social and civic life.

Home internet access, digital literacy and capacity are increasingly presumed or required by educators (for homework and access to learning materials), by employers (for job searching and employment applications), by governments (for information and services) and by businesses and social networks (for consumer and other social activities).

The digital divide

As civic, economic, educational and social environments become increasingly technological, a “digital divide” is emerging between high- and low-income Canadians.

Many low-income Canadians do not have internet access at home. According to Statistics Canada, 42% of households in the lowest income quartile – those which earn $30,000 or less – do not have home internet access. In contrast, nearly all households in the highest income quartile have internet access at home – a mere 2% do not.

Some public institutions, such as the public library, offer internet access at no cost to the user. This is important, but it is not enough. Consider what this looks like in practice: you have to pay $6 in round-trip transit fares to go to a public library; maybe you have to wait to use a computer for your 30-minute time slot; you have this short opportunity only on the days and during the hours that the library is open. It is not the same as having internet at home. It is not equal access.

Digital access is a right

Kelly is among the many ACORN members who believe access to high-speed internet is a right. The United Nations agrees. It now considers internet access a human right comparable with freedom of speech. Further, digital access is guaranteed as a legal right in several countries, and many more have publicly announced a commitment to achieving universal broadband access for all citizens.

Canada is not among them. In fact, we are the only G7 nation without a national broadband plan.

It’s time for us to close the digital divide!

What ACORN members say about digital access

ACORN Canada recently surveyed its members and found that 83.5% of respondents described the price of home internet as “extremely expensive.” Their responses break down as follows:

  • 67 people: “Extremely high; I can barely afford it”
  • 232 people: “Extremely high; I can’t afford it, but because I need it, I take money out of my budget for other items”
  • 30 people: “Extremely high and I can’t afford it, so I cancel my service from time to time” or “So expensive that I cannot afford it”

Here are just a few comments by ACORN members in the survey that highlight this digital divide:

“As someone with a disability, the internet is essential in accessing disability supports. The internet is often the only contact point for companies and venues and I need that information to determine if they are accessible and/or can accommodate me. Also, things like paratransit bookings are often only done online.” – Sarah, Toronto, ON

“It would save me a significant amount of time and energy and allow me to be a competitive player in the process of applying for employment. The time and energy I would save not having to go to the library would allow me to prepare healthy meals and eat at home which helps me to maintain my blood sugars, save money, eat healthier and feel better.” – Kim, Coquitlam, BC

“My children’s school WILL NOT OFFER the option of getting important notices on paper and will only communicate updates by email. I have no recourse in this matter and must have an email account I can check regularly. Without internet one cannot meet the expected level of communication and will miss out on many opportunities.” – Tifarah, Coquitlam, BC

“As my child gets older (she’s seven right now), more and more of her special education lessons will require the internet. Once she learns how to read and write by herself she will need [internet] access to further her learning, and I worry that she’ll fall behind because I can’t afford anyone’s rates.” – Wilma, Scarborough, ON

What can we do to ensure digital access for everyone?

Competition among internet providers may have once been considered a solution to bridging the digital divide. Unfortunately, this competition has failed to lower the price of home broadband access. The market in Canada is controlled by a small group of firms and prices remain prohibitively high for many low-income families.

Recently, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) launched a major initiative “to ensure that Canadians have access to world-class telecommunications services that enable them to participate actively in the digital economy.” This review, which started in June 2015, has three phases.

ACORN Canada has partnered with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre to create the Affordable Access Coalition (AAC) to develop an official submission and participate in the CRTC’s public consultations. The coalition includes the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN Canada); the Consumers’ Association of Canada (CAC); the Council of Senior Citizens Organizations of British Columbia (COSCO BC); The National Pensioners Federation (NPF); and the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC).

At ACORN, we believe that the Canadian government must enact regulations to ensure that low-income families have affordable access to high-speed internet at home. ACORN members have launched a campaign targeting the federal government and the CRTC to create a mechanism that ensures home broadband prices are affordable for low-income families.

Our campaign includes leadership development and planning with low- and moderate-income community members. We are advocating for $10/month high-speed internet (15 megabits/second or equivalent to the high-speed available in the area), as well as subsidized computers, for all individuals and families who are below the Low Income Measure (LIM).

It’s time to take these steps towards closing Canada’s digital divide.

Maytree is organizing a session on this topic in December 2015. For more information or to get involved, please contact Tina Edan.

ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) Canada is an independent national organization of low- and moderate-income families, with more than 70,000 members organized into 20 neighbourhood chapters in nine cities across Canada. ACORN believes that social and economic justice can best be achieved with a national active membership who are invested in their organization and focused on building power for change. To get involved email: canadaacorn@acorncanada.org.


Judy Duncan is Head Organizer at ACORN Canada.

Oct 08 2015

Understanding ideas together (iStock)

It usually starts with a brief conversation in the hallway – or a short email: “I’d like you to design a quick brochure for my program. I have an important meeting next week and would like to have something to share and leave behind.”

Great. You bring together your team (if you’re lucky enough to have a team) to come up with new copy and an interesting design. Or you will do it yourself.

A few days later you present your shiny draft to your colleague – your internal client.

“Hm,” she responds. “You know, this isn’t quite what I had in mind. I was actually looking for something more corporate, less nonprofity. The audience I’m trying to reach is rather different from our usual one.”

Sound familiar?

Well, this happened to me at the beginning of my career more often than I’d like to admit. I thought I understood the request. I might even have talked to my internal clients before starting the copywriting and designing. But it was a very brief conversation. In hindsight it’s clear that I often neglected to ask some pretty important questions about the project.

The solution? A creative brief.

On the website of Mohawk, a North American paper manufacturer, you’ll find an excellent description of a creative brief: “In the best cases, a creative brief is a document created through initial meetings, interviews, readings and discussions between a client and designer before any work begins. Throughout the project, the creative brief continues to inform and guide the work.”

Introducing the creative brief to your internal clients

It may feel awkward when you first start out. Your colleagues may look at you strangely when you mention to them that you’d like to put together a creative brief before starting the project. It’s not how you’ve done things in the past, and it sounds like a lot of work.

Explain that it’s simply a project description. You’re putting everything on paper to make sure that you understand their needs.

Here’s how to develop a creative brief

To put together a creative brief, I would try to cover the following:

  • Start with the background. Write down what the project is about and how it fits into the larger scope of your organization’s work. You want to know why you’re taking it on.
  • Find out who the target audience is. Is there someone specific the client has in mind?
  • Clarify the call to action. What should happen after the newsletter has been read? The annual report has been received? The message has been tweeted? Is there a specific action that your internal client is hoping for? Can you measure the outcome?
  • Identify the key benefit for the target audience. What is the most important take-away? Try to write it down in one sentence.
  • Be clear on the desired tone and feel. Is it corporate or playful? Does it need to follow certain established standards such as brand guidelines? Or can you go wild?
  • Identify whether there are any mandatory elements that need to be included. What about logos of partner organizations or supporters? Social media icons? Contact information?
  • Determine whether there is additional research or other background information that could be of use. If you’re starting a writing project for a new program, you may need to have some additional information to understand what it is about.
  • Find out what format(s) the final product will take. Will it be a print project? Glossy or matte? A PDF that can be downloaded from your website? Are there any concerns about accessibility you need to keep in mind?
  • Consider how you will distribute the product. How will you get the final product into the hands of the target audience? Via email? Via Canada Post? If so, do you have the budget for postage and are there any restrictions? Do you need to design an envelope that goes with it? Is that in the budget?
  • Once we know all this – how about timelines? When do they need it? Is the deadline firm? Will there be enough time to review the draft or final proof?
  • Determine the budget. A small budget may shift a glossy brochure to a PDF.
  • Be clear on the decision points. Who needs to approve the copy? Who has final sign-off? Will anyone be on vacation or away during this time? If so, what will you do?

Yes, this is a long list. But once you’re used to the format, it becomes almost automatic. And you find that you will be more creative because you won’t have to worry any longer about designing against expectation.

Your creative brief will become a key part of your work

Once the creative brief and initial approach have been discussed and approved by you and your internal client, you’re ready to start your design or write your copy.

Using a creative brief consistently will help you stay organized and on track. You’ll be better prepared to channel your ideas into great solutions.

If you’re like me, a creative brief will become a key part of your work. Your projects will hit the mark. You will be more creative for the right reasons. And you will earn the trust and respect of your internal clients because through your work, they will be more successful!

Originally posted on the Nonprofit MarCommunity blog, an online space for nonprofit marketers and communicators.


Markus Stadelmann-Elder is Communications Director at Maytree.

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