Apr 13 2015


With Ontario set to launch public consultations to review labour laws, the Workers’ Action Centre’s (WAC) new report, Still Working on the Edge: Building Decent Jobs from the Ground Up, is a good place to identify potential reforms.

The report brings to the table what is usually absent from policy discussions about precarious work and poverty: the voice of workers who live with the reality of low wages, income instability, and few employment benefits or protections.

It details further decline in labour standards since the release of its 2007 Working on the Edge study and how exemptions and gaps in the Employment Standards Act (ESA) have eroded wages and working conditions.

The report focuses on the ESA because not only is it “a central feature of labour-market regulation, but it is also an important social policy tool in fighting poverty.”

For the majority of workers, it sets the minimum terms and conditions of work, such as wages, hours, vacation, leave and termination. They reflect society’s norms about work standards in the labour market.

The ESA is supposed to establish a minimum floor for those who have the least ability to negotiate fair wages and working conditions. “But the floor is full of holes like Swiss cheese,” says WAC’s Deena Ladd on the poor protection it gives workers.

The report says the province’s labour laws, regulatory regimes and employment benefits are still based almost exclusively on an employer-employee relationship developed after World War II that linked decent wages, benefits, working conditions and job security to full-time standard employment.

‘It’s flexibility for employers… not us’

The changes that have been made to the ESA over the years have redistributed risks, costs, benefits and power between employers and employees, with the latter bearing most of the burden.

As one worker quoted in the report says, “It’s flexibility for employers; it’s not flexibility for us.”

While employers rationalize their practices as necessary to compete in an increasingly globalized world, workers’ experiences show that outsourcing, indirect hiring and misclassifying workers also take place in sectors with distinctly local markets: food and hospitality, business services, construction and manufacturing of locally consumed goods. And it’s not just the private sector that is doing this. The public sector is also patching together its social services with a primarily female, often racialized workforce in low-paid insecure jobs.

The report’s authors say exemptions and special rules disproportionately affect some groups, thus reinforcing existing labour market inequalities. For example, workers in agriculture, information technology and construction do not have the same protections afforded to hours of work and overtime that other workers have.

Plea for higher minimum wage

Apart from these active erosions of standards, not acting on issues has also undermined the ESA’s capacity to protect workers in low-wage and precarious work.

From the late 1970s until quite recently, Ontario’s minimum wage has been substantially below the poverty level. It remains at 17% below the poverty line, contributing to a low-wage labour market and prompting the report to recommend bringing “decency to Ontario’s minimum wage policy.”

Since the last recession, many of the full-time, better-paid jobs have been permanently lost. New full-time job growth is taking place in lower paid sectors of the economy. In 2014, 33% of workers had low wages compared to only 22% a decade earlier.

The WAC report suggests changes to the ESA to make the rules fairer for people in precarious work. Its recommendations include:

  • Broaden the definition of employee to include anyone who is paid to do work or supply services. The onus should be on the employer to prove a worker is not an employee.
  • Make client companies jointly responsible with temp agencies for implementing all rights.
  • Ensure same treatment and benefits for workers doing the same work but classified differently.
  • Repeal exceptions to overtime pay and paid emergency and sick leave.
  • Regulate renewal of contracts to protect workers’ benefits and job status.
  • Require two weeks’ advance posting of work schedules and minimum three-hour shifts.
  • Ensure employees have a right to a workplace free from psychological harassment.
  • Ensure protection from wrongful dismissal by setting up a procedure for making complaints.
  • Develop a proactive system that compels employers to comply with the law.
  • Raise minimum wage to $15 per hour and repeal occupational and age exemptions.
  • Establish provincial fair wage policy for government procurement of goods and services.


Links to reports

Links to opinions and media articles


Ranjit Bhaskar is Content Manager at Maytree.

Mar 24 2015


Sheryl Sandberg made waves when she told women to “Lean in.” It’s a neat two-word philosophy for what the Facebook executive wants women to pursue: the will to lead.

Pursuing diversity also takes the will to lead. It requires leadership, effort and time. Only then can we proceed from aspiration to concrete action.

Here is where the Global Diversity Exchange comes in. With thought leadership, policy innovations, research, and ideas to serve a variety of stakeholders – the public, governments, employers, institutions and communities.

A caveat. Diversity is a big word. Technically it embraces all of us because we are diverse, all different from each other. GDX will focus, at least for the first while, on the diversity that is a result of global migration.

Around the world there are 214 million people on the move. Put them all together and you have a country larger than Brazil. As it gets easier to move people, capital and ideas around the world, migration takes on new forms. Many people move to stay permanently in their country of destination, yet others come and go and come again, or stay for a short time before moving on to somewhere else.

Whatever their motivation, the sheer numbers and ebb and flow of people across the globe add a dynamic, charged dimension to that movement. Diversity – some call it hyper-diversity – follows the great urbanization of the world. Today there are probably more cities that are new hands at managing migration and diversity than old ones. They are in the global north and in the global south, where the majority of the world’s migration occurs. Here diversity is the new norm.

Can diversity bring more trade, more talent, more innovation and more prosperity? We think it can. The evidence linking diversity and prosperity is strong and growing, bolstered by new voices, new research strategies and forms of collaboration, and more effective story-telling. Like them, we see diversity as an asset and not simply a demographic footnote.

We know that our task is not easy. We know for instance that simply being located in a diverse place does not always lead to utilizing diverse talent. We know that a diverse community does not necessarily translate into responsive institutions and neighborhoods. We know that a highly diverse city can also be a highly divided one. And we now know that where there is significant inequality or isolation, alienation and disengagement can follow and can lead to unrest and deplorable acts of violence.

But we also know that for every problem, there are good ideas in policy and action that can offer solutions. Whether these ideas are transformational or incremental, institutional or community-based, local or global, we are optimistic they can help shape and develop more prosperous communities.

GDX will identify, amplify, document and disseminate these links between prosperity and diversity resulting from global migration. We focus on important institutional levers and success factors that link the two concepts: employment, entrepreneurship, diversity in leadership, and – on the frontlines of integration – cities. Through thought leadership, research, and action, GDX aims to be the go-to home and space for new ideas, new instruments and strategies for how we live and work together in our hyper-diverse world.

Over time, we aim to lean in to places that are most relevant and ripe for change: small and large employers, public institutions, civil society organizations, national, state and local governments, and the neighbourhoods and communities where problems and solutions often surface first.

We have hit the ground running at our new home at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University, which boasts Canada’s most diverse student body. In our new home, our flagship programs are reaching new and different audiences. DiverseCity on Board, already internationally recognized, will now expand from Toronto to six other cities in Canada. Hire Immigrants, our successful interface for Canadian employers will now become global. Cities of Migration will connect drivers of social innovation to new audiences and geographies to enhance its collection of good ideas in immigrant integration. In the fall, our first book, Flight and Freedom, a compelling look at stories of escape to Canada, will hit the bookshelves.

Our formal launch will take place on May 7, 2015 in Toronto with an Inaugural Annual Lecture featuring renowned philosopher and global citizen Pico Iyer, whose theme will address the oldest and most enduring expression of our collective identity: culture.

Diversity drives prosperity, but only if we lean in.

Lean in with us.

Originally published on the Global Diversity Exchange website.


Ratna Omidvar is the Executive Director of the Global Diversity Exchange and former President of Maytree.

Mar 23 2015


The paper, Fulfilling the Philanthropic Contract: Mutual Benefit for the Public Good, was developed from a speech I gave in New Zealand in 2006 to a group of people associated with the Community Trusts that exist throughout that country. I was asked to speak about Maytree’s approach to grant making and to give my view on trends in philanthropy from my experience in Canada, the US, and UK.

On rereading it now, I’m taken with how little I would change if I were writing it afresh. Of course, I would update some things: the City Parochial Trust in London is now known as The Trust for London (and its wonderful leader Bharat Mehta has changed his title from Clerk to Chief Executive). When I write in the paper about some Maytree ideas for capacity building in the community sector, I would add subsequent activities like the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council, Cities of Migration, DiverseCity onBoard, School4Civics, and Building Blocks. And I am no longer chair of The Philanthropic Initiative in Boston. But these are not substantive changes.

My comments in the paper seem to fall into two camps: the cheerful and the grouchy. On the cheerful side, I note an interest among donors in a more strategic approach, an attention to the scalability of effective work, a business-like approach to managing organizations and getting results, an interest in affecting public policy as one of the biggest levers for change, a recognition of the importance of capturing and sharing the knowledge we are generating in our work, and the value of developing and using our power to convene the wide cast of actors needed to work effectively in community.

I still see all of these being employed as I look around me. Not employed by everyone, but by enough to remain cheerful. And there is always the hope that the good cheer will spread as others pick up these useful practices.

I am also seeing another reason to be cheerful that I missed in the original paper. I see a whole new cohort of younger people becoming active in the community sector who are communicating easily with the broad range of donors in private and community foundations, corporations, and government and bringing real innovation into play. Many of the ones I see are working on urban issues: affordable housing; the provision of transit and transportation, which enables people to get to work, school, and play; the quality of public spaces; good jobs; and the ability of people to participate in our democracy (despite federal government efforts to exclude them). They are working closely with donors and changing the ways donors think, often relaxing our perceptions of risk while increasing our engagement.

Then there is the grouchy side of my paper, where I found myself wagging a finger at what I portrayed as dangerous practice. Most of this was based in what I described as a power imbalance between donors and applicants/recipients. I cautioned us donors from exercising that power inappropriately, in ways that served our interest more than those of the charity or, worse, its clients. I saw dangers in too liberal an exercise of “venture” philanthropy, where we encouraged risk taking, which usually meant risk to someone other than us. I expressed a fear that we might interfere in complex situations without the depth of knowledge required.

In retrospect, I’m still grouchy on these matters. I think these represent a big risk for donors, a risk that gets played out on others with less resilience than us. Whenever I hear a donor in search of charitable innovation say something like, “You have to break some eggs to make an omelette,” I know they are talking about someone else’s eggs.

In terms of trends in the last few years, I’m seeing less inclination for donors to look either to partnering with government or developing something that they hope government might adopt. There is a thought by some that governments are too poor to take on new things, an attitude encouraged by some governments. There is also a thought that governments should do less and that private money should do more. This, as I note in the paper, is an expensive opinion. In fact, there isn’t enough private money aimed at community needs to solve the difficult issues of human suffering and deprivation. We need government, and we need to help it succeed. Its large fiscal capacity is one of the keys to scale and sustainability. Helping government do the right things remains a critical role of philanthropy.

If I’ve changed in any significant way since the paper was published, it is probably salutary in that I’m less inclined to opine on philanthropy generally (this brief comment I was invited to do by The Philanthropist aside). At Maytree, we are much more inclined to define ourselves as activists these days, all within the confines of Canada Revenue Agency guidelines, you’ll be reassured to know. Other voices are much better to offer advice to philanthropists, and no doubt will. But, revisiting one’s past sins from a distance is always bracing, and helps think about the path forward.

Originally published on The Philanthropist, a free online journal for practitioners, academics, supporters and others engaged in the nonprofit sector in Canada.


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

Mar 19 2015

Program cover: 2015 DiverseCity onBoard National Launch

The launch of the DiverseCity onBoard program nationally across seven Canadian cities on February 24, 2015 opened a new chapter in the evolution of a small yet practical local idea. The program’s origin can be traced back to 2005 when Maytree developed a solution to address the lack of diversity in governance positions at public agencies, boards and commissions in the Greater Toronto Area with the launch of abcGTA. But like all good ideas, the incubation started much earlier at the turn of the century.

Highlights of the national launch

The following timeline gives an insight into how the DiverseCity onBoard program came to be.

Participants from the Making Our Voices Count program

Participants from the Making Our Voices Count program

Identifying the issue

2000 to 2003

Two initiatives contributed to the thinking behind what was to become abcGTA. Making Our Voices Count was a program that encouraged newcomer parents to become more involved in their children’s school lives; for instance, by sitting on a school council. At the same time, Maytree funded the Canadian Centre for Political Leadership to train visible minority immigrants on leadership issues with the goal of having them participate on boards and in political office. The results of these two programs led Maytree to recognize that there were systemic issues that needed to be addressed before visible minority leaders could successfully participate on volunteer boards and in politics.

Deciding to create a new program


Maytree decided to develop a new program to be called abcGTA – for agencies, boards and commissions in the Greater Toronto Area. The initial goal was to launch the program with a roster of 100 candidates.

There were three priorities:

  1. A commitment to quality – Maytree had to be able to stand behind the quality of candidates. A well thought-out screening process was put in place to ensure that every candidate was interviewed personally.
  2. The roster of candidates was based in competencies to improve the quality of skill levels on boards.
  3. To handle a large number of candidates, an online database was needed – searchable by skills and experience required by boards.
ABCGTA launch event photo
Leolyn Hendricks, Regine King and Maytree’s Marjan Montazemi – abcGTA launch, May 2005

Launching abcGTA to address the leadership gap


abcGTA was launched in May with a roster of 100 qualified candidates. The stated goal was to assist provincial and municipal governments, universities, hospitals, schools and community colleges in finding qualified volunteers to sit on their agencies, boards and commissions.

In November, when nonprofit boards began calling to seek candidates, the mandate was expanded to include the voluntary sector as it had players influential enough to make a meaningful difference to the ways in which board positions were filled. Also, serving a nonprofit board was seen as a bridge between smaller or ethno-specific boards and serving larger, more sophisticated boards such as municipal and provincial ones. Recruiting additional people for the roster became the immediate challenge as the first 100 candidates were looking for the next level of governance, having already served on community boards in the past.

The program grows


Maytree received funding from the Government of Ontario in March under its initiative to strengthen volunteerism to deliver three main activities:

  1. Expand the roster to meet the new demands.
  2. Market to volunteer boards.
  3. Provide governance training to candidates.

It quickly became clear that success could only happen with close relationships with decision makers and that the personal touch would prove more valuable than the database. Boards are risk averse by nature and needed to trust Maytree and its process for selecting candidates.

Appointment numbers began to grow slowly, with some success among large institutions, the City of Toronto and the province.

In July a full-time manager was hired for the program. Activities now included:

  • More public speaking engagements to promote the program;
  • Tapping into Maytree’s networks; and
  • Doing intensive work with candidates interested in municipal appointments (there were municipal elections that year).

A the same time as Maytree worked on municipal appointments, the City of Toronto Council passed a new appointments policy that put a focus on diversity. This new policy targeted under-represented groups such as women, young people and visible minorities. About 25 candidates from the abcGTA roster applied to City boards and committees, and ten were appointed. By December, the program had over 150 candidates on the roster and had facilitated over 70 board appointments.

photo: City of Toronto award winners

City of Toronto, award winners. L to R: Michael (Mike) Colle, MPP for Eglinton-Lawrence; Joe Mihevc, Toronto city councillor; Alan Broadbent, Maytree Chairman; Janet Davis, Toronto city councillor; Adam Vaughan, current MP for Trinity-Spadina and then Toronto city councillor.


The first annual Diversity in Governance Awards were held with funding support from the Government of Ontario to:

  • Recognize agencies and boards that had shown leadership on this issue; and
  • Identify good ideas in diversity and governance that could be shared more broadly.

Early in the year,  the first Toronto City Summit also identified the lack of diversity in leadership as an important local issue. The call for more action on diversity was heard across conversations on issues like housing, health and education. After the late civic leader David Pecaut met with the Ontario Premier’s office, the province committed $1.5 million to a new initiative – DiverseCity: The Greater Toronto Leadership Project. (Read story on the DiverseCity project.)

DiverseCity onBoard steering committee members at the program launch - November 26, 2008

DiverseCity onBoard steering committee members at the program launch – November 26, 2008

DiverseCity onBoard is launched


In May abcGTA was rebranded and re-launched as DiverseCity onBoard. It was one of eight initiatives under the broader DiverseCity: The Greater Toronto Leadership Project with the goal of identifying 1,000 candidates and 500 appointments by March 2011.


While the technology now supported the processing of a greater number of candidates, every single candidate continued to be interviewed in person. Program staff ramped up outreach to the nonprofit sector to increase appointments and Maytree staff and its then president, Ratna Omidvar, continued to seek public speaking opportunities to boost the program’s profile.

DiverseCity onBoard recognized as a scalable program


In December, DiverseCity onBoard was awarded second prize in the Intercultural Innovation Awards by the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations and the BMW Group, recognizing the program as smart, simple, and – most importantly – scalable. Due to its success, the program received the attention of increasingly diverse cities in Canada as well as in Europe, the United States and New Zealand.

Participants in the DiverseCity onBoard Learning Exchange - October 1-3, 2012

DiverseCity onBoard Learning Exchange – Toronto, 2012


In October the first DiverseCity onBoard Learning Exchange was convened in Toronto to address the growing interest in diversifying leadership. Twenty organizations – including from Atlanta, Barcelona, Berlin, Boston, Copenhagen, Dublin, Oakland, Sydney and Vienna – learned how to replicate the program in their communities.


The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation gave a new grant to assist Maytree’s replication efforts in cities across Canada. The funding allowed partner cities outside of Ontario to start their own local DiverseCity onBoard programs and facilitated the creation of a central office to provide support, advice, training, and coordination to these Canadian partners.

DiverseCity onBoard Learning Exchange - Berlin, 2014

DiverseCity onBoard Learning Exchange – Berlin, 2014


In June,the second DiverseCity onBoard Learning Exchange was co-hosted by Citizens for Europe, Bertelsmann Stiftung and Maytree in Berlin, Germany. Sixty-five participants from 25 cities including Auckland, Copenhagen, Calgary, London, Luxembourg, Stockholm and New York were in attendance.

With the pro-bono support of Accenture, a social enterprise model was developed to ensure long-term sustainability for the program. As well, Maytree started the development of a new board-matching database and the DiverseCity onBoard Campus offering affordable, quality online governance training to all individuals and sectors across Canada. Both database and Campus will be shared by programs across Canada.

Founding of the Global Diversity Exchange

In August 2014, Maytree announced the creation of the Global Diversity Exchange at Ryerson University, with DiverseCity onBoard as one of its programs.


DiverseCity onBoard is now part of the new Global Diversity Exchange housed at the Ted Rogers School of Management’s Diversity Institute at Ryerson University in Toronto. The association with Ryerson University allows the program to move from a community-based initiative to become part of an institution with a deep research capacity and expanded reach.

Nationally, the program is being replicated in Calgary, Hamilton, London, Ottawa and Vancouver and adapted in Montreal. To date, in the GTA the program has facilitated more than 720 board appointments and over 650 organizations and 1,700 individuals registered on its database. Over 1,450 board positions have been posted so far.


Ranjit Bhaskar is Content Manager at Maytree.

Mar 17 2015


In the late 1990s key leaders in Waterloo Region began dreaming of a different future for their community. They came together to create Opportunities 2000 with the bold aim of moving 2000 individuals out of poverty by the year 2000. The leaders represented many different sectors and wanted to work differently together. Little did they realize that their bold vision would not only change the lives of citizens in Waterloo Region, it would also spark a national movement of cities reducing poverty.

Opportunities 2000 inspired a further thirteen Canadian cities to meet the challenge of reducing poverty. In each city, collaborative roundtables with leaders from business, government, community organizations and citizens began working together to tackle this complex issue. Each city adopted a unique strategy but were joined together in a pan-Canadian learning network. This was a bold experiment that was supported by the deep engagement of Tamarack – An Institute for Community Engagement, the Caledon Institute of Social Policy and The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation.

Over the course of the next ten years, these cities began to witness real changes for their citizens. Affordable transit passes, housing subsidies, neighbourhood revitalization programs, and increased access to affordable childcare are just some of the many successes they collectively generated. At the same time, provincial and territorial governments across Canada also began taking up the challenge of reducing poverty by adopting their own strategies.

After nearly fifteen years of collaboration and collective effort, Vibrant Communities is pausing to reflect on this unique point in Canada’s history and hosting a Poverty Reduction Summit from May 6 – 8 in Ottawa.

The Poverty Reduction Summit: Every City, Province and Territory Working Together will bring together people from across Canada to align their efforts and merge their passion for poverty reduction. This unprecedented gathering will strengthen communication, increase the alignment of poverty reduction activities and will motivate collective action leading to poverty reduction for one million Canadians.

The Summit will highlight what’s working in poverty reduction activities, celebrate strong community examples and provincial/territorial strategies, and will outline what each holds in common so that we can clearly see the points of alignment that already exist.

The Summit’s learning agenda will focus on:

  • Key poverty reduction strategies and those that are having the best results
  • Policy changes in cities and provinces that are making a difference in reducing poverty
  • The role of business in poverty reduction and stories of great success
  • High impact strategies for organizing for impact – governance models for success
  • How the idea of Collective Impact is permeating the poverty reduction efforts of cities with amazing results
  • How provinces and cities are supporting each other toward common success

We invite you to join us in this unique three-day learning event.

Learn more:

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


Liz Weaver is the Lead for Vibrant Communities Canada - Cities Reducing Poverty and Tamarack's Vice-President.

Mar 10 2015

Opportunity Equation cover

What happens when all Torontonians don’t have equal access to opportunity?

That’s the focus of our groundbreaking new report – The Opportunity Equation. Our research shows us that rising income inequality in Toronto is undermining fairness and causing a divide between Torontonians who are doing well financially – and those who are not.

Opportunities to build a good life – including quality jobs, affordable housing and meaningful social networks—aren’t equally available to everyone in our city.

According to the study – conducted in partnership with EKOS Research Associates and the University of Toronto – income inequality has grown faster here than in other major Canadian cities, outpacing both provincial and national averages. From 1980 to 2005, income inequality has grown by 31% in Toronto, more than double the national rate of 14%.

In 2000, Toronto’s income equality rate surpassed that of other major Canadian cities, and by 2010 found itself in the unenviable top place. People are also worried about this growth, with 86% of our survey respondents indicating that they feel the gap between those with high and low incomes is too large.

The numbers also tell us that hard work is not seen as a guarantee for success. People feel that circumstances beyond individuals’ control, like one’s postal code, family income and background, have become barriers to a good future. Inequality is also deflating our hope for the future. More than half of us worry the next generation will be worse off than their parents.

The result? Entire neighbourhoods fall behind. Our city’s youth face an increasingly uncertain economic future. And the social fabric of Toronto is threatened.

Leveling the playing field for everyone in our city will require the commitment of multiple partners including government, the private sector, labour groups and community organizations.

Our Blueprint for Action lays out three goals and eight priority areas to address the issue of income inequality and its impact on opportunity in Toronto. This includes creating partnerships for youth success and ensuring our city’s young people have the education and employment opportunities they need to build good futures.

It also means leveraging economic development for community benefit, ensuring fairness for all workers and building tools to help promote quality jobs. A renewed focus on affordable housing, poverty reduction and building strong neighbourhoods will also help ensure we can remove barriers to opportunity based on background and circumstances.

The time to act is now. Working together we can restore hope, fairness and opportunity in our city. Learn more here and join the conversation on Twitter and Facebook using #buildingopportunity.

Originally published on Imagine A City, the official blog by the United Way Toronto.


Michelynn Laflèche is Director of Research, Public Policy and Evaluation at the United Way Toronto.

Feb 23 2015


For over ten years, CivicAction, Maytree’s partner in the DiverseCity project, has been building a pipeline of emerging leaders, preparing them to lead the change that the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) is ready to see. CivicAction takes pride in its community of civic leaders, which is made up of engaged, passionate, emerging leaders as well as established individuals who have committed their lives to making the GTHA a better place for all.

This was evident at the MetroNext event on January 21, 2015, which brought together an eclectic mix of civic leaders spanning a generation or two. The two inaugural awards presented at the event acknowledged the good of the past and the energy of the present.

The Lifetime Achievement Award for David Crombie, former Mayor of Toronto, recognized his commitment to city-building and civic engagement. The Emerging Leader Award for Andrew Graham was an acknowledgement of his outstanding leadership to date.

“CivicAction lives and breathes leadership and knows the importance of growing strong civic leaders for today and tomorrow. MetroNext is about shining the spotlight on some extraordinary, engaged young leaders who are the new boots on the ground impacting change in their communities,” said Sevaun Palvetzian, CEO, CivicAction.

Andrew is the co-founder of Toronto Homecoming, an initiative incubated by CivicAction’s Emerging Leaders Network (ELN). The initiative, to attract and retain top talent in Canada, connects Canadians working abroad with opportunities in the Toronto Region.

In an interview with Yonge Street, Andrew, who moved to Toronto in 2008 after living abroad, quipped that he got involved with CivicAction to stay out of trouble outside of work hours. “My girlfriend of the time, now wife, was not in the same city the first few years I was here. So I always joked that I was looking for ways to stay busy.”

Toronto Homecoming is one among the many city-building projects supported by ELN and DiverseCity Fellows, another CivicAction leadership program. These projects include the Aboriginal Professional Association of Canada, which is dedicated to advancing Aboriginal leadership across Canada, and the Pan Am Path, a multi-use path to connect Toronto’s ravines for the 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games.

ELN is now a network of more than 900 emerging leaders who inspire and motivate each other to take action. The network offers over 30 events each year to build their skills. DiverseCity Fellows, fashioned as a “civic MBA” program, provides 100 hours of intensive leadership training to around 25 rising stars each year. So far, over 130 individuals who have graduated from the program continue to put into action learnings from one of North America’s leading urban fellow program.

Fellows include individuals like Nouman Ahmad, Executive Director of CanLeads, an organization that trains future political leaders. Nouman is leading the development of a first-of-its-kind Nominations Playbook to demystify the federal nominations process and design interventions to support first time under-40 candidates. “I believe Canada’s future prosperity lies with a new generation of leadership and responsible capitalism with a long term focus,” says the 2014-15 DiverseCity Fellow.

As seen through its ELN and other initiatives, CivicAction thrives on collaboration and is always encouraging new players to come to the table. To maintain its role as “neutral sandbox,” CivicAction will continue to bring together senior executives and rising leaders from all sectors to tackle some of the GTHA’s toughest challenges.


Ranjit Bhaskar is Content Manager at Maytree.

Feb 19 2015


I recently had the opportunity to visit the city of Melbourne, Australia. I must say it came as no surprise to subsequently learn that Melbourne had been named by The Economist Intelligence Unit as the most liveable city in the world for the fourth year in a row.

To construct this liveability index, every city is assigned a rating on more than 30 qualitative and quantitative factors across five broad categories: stability, health care, culture and environment, education and infrastructure.

Melbourne scored a perfect ranking for health care, education and infrastructure. But some other quality-of-life factors caught my attention as a visitor to this award-winning city.

There is abundant green all around. It is clearly a place where nature is protected and preserved within the bounds of the city itself. There are also many beautifully maintained parks whose immaculate grooming reflects the importance of these public spaces.

The built environment is equally well maintained. There is a sense that history matters − with heritage buildings taking their rightful place beside modern structures.

Walkability in the downtown core is enabled by dense design. A free light rail service in the core helps cover longer distances.

Melbourne is fostering its creativity. Public art and sculptures line pedestrian bridges and river walks throughout the city.

But international comparisons of liveability are interesting only to the extent that we can apply their lessons. On this front, we can say “no worries.”

Eight of the top ten ranking cities from 2014 are in Australia and Canada. Vancouver, Toronto and Calgary ranked third, fourth and fifth, respectively, on the international list. We should recognize and celebrate the quality of life that we enjoy in this country.

Unfortunately, international rankings often miss the mark in several important respects. No Canadian city would reach a perfect score on infrastructure, which needs serious investment − not just in terms of a major infusion of capital. An equally vital investment of time and effort is required to resolve a fundamental problem: current governance restrictions that hamper cities’ ability to independently raise and spend money to support their respective agendas.

Canadian cities also fall short on public transit. Progress has been made in several centres over the past few decades. In 2010, for example, the American Public Transportation Association named the city of Montreal as the best public transit system in North America.

But there is clearly a need to update and modernize public transit both into and within major urban cores throughout the country. Most drivers in major urban centres will tell you that they waste hours on a daily commute that could be far better spent caring for their children and elderly parents.

Liveability scales may not readily apply when it comes to affordability. Granted, the original purpose of the liveability index was to rank cities according to their attractiveness to expatriate executives. These individuals are unlikely to be concerned about price because they can afford to pay for expensive housing or are subsidized by their respective companies. But the reality is that the cities named most liveable in Canada are the least affordable in terms of housing – a serious and ongoing problem.

While liveable cities may offer a wide range of recreational and cultural programs, lower- and modest-income households may not be able to participate. Unfortunately, the children in these families miss out on opportunities from which they would benefit immeasurably.

Finally, there is not sufficient attention paid to questions of accessibility. The latter should be understood not only from the perspective of getting in the door. We need to ask who is getting in the door. Are community events and organizations inclusive? Do they reflect the face of the community? Are they sufficiently diverse in terms of race, income and ability?

I am proud that several Canadian cities ranked so highly on The Economist international scale. At the same time, it clearly is a scale tipped in favour of the well-off who already benefit greatly from the amenities that good-quality cities have to offer.

A liveability index ideally should be constructed on a foundation of inclusion. We need to ask more questions about the questions − before we can say that our cities have got it right.


Sherri Torjman is Vice President at the Caledon Institute of Social Policy.

Feb 12 2015


How can communities be active agents of change? What’s the process of creating an effective story? What’s the best way for a story to motivate action? In an age of fast communication – of snippets, of 140 characters, of 7 seconds to grab attention – it is easy to reach people, but how can we use stories to truly connect?

Since the beginning of time, stories have been used as an emotionally powerful and authentic way to articulate change and impact in a person’s life. And now, the technology to create, curate and share content is prolific and accessible. The Rockefeller Foundation recognized this opportunity at the intersection of storytelling and technology and launched a project to look at “the role that digital technology can play in elevating the practice of storytelling as a means to improve the well-being of the poor and vulnera­ble around the world.”

The project consisted of interviews, roundtable discussions, a technology platform assessment, and analysis of supply and demand, and resulted in a guide filled with insights, recommendations and tips for anyone who is looking to strengthen the practice of digital storytelling in the social impact sector.

The guide explores five key components of digital storytelling:

  1. Strategy – How can digital storytelling help social impact organizations advance their missions?
  2. Capacity – What resources and skills do individuals and organizations need to shape and share their stories?
  3. Content – What are the elements of compelling and motivating stories?
  4. Platforms – What technologies are available (or needed) to help people curate, house and share stories?
  5. Evaluation - What simple, effective and meaningful metrics can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of digital storytelling?

In digital storytelling, it is important to always start with a goal in mind – what is the impact we’re trying to achieve? Effective digital storytelling needs clear goals, identified target audiences, and specific objectives in capturing the stories. Creating stories is a meaningful form of community engagement and there are techniques to guide someone through telling their story in their own way while prompting them to share the parts of their story that connect with the goals of the initiative.

The most meaningful stories come from people with lived experiences of the issue, even though they may not be skilled storytellers. By giving people a voice, stories can help move the needle on community issues by helping people to:

  • Be aware of the need
  • Care about the cause
  • Understand the problem and solution
  • Feel a sense of urgency
  • Know how to help

Storytelling in Action

Community Story Strategies works with organizations to help groups and individuals create and share personal stories that send a powerful message. One ongoing campaign, It Starts with You, It Stays with Him developed by White Ribbon Canada and Le Centre ontarien de prévention des agressions, aims to inspire men to promote healthy, equal relationships with the boys in their lives. They used digital stories as a way for men to explore the experience and choices that shaped their identity as men. The stories were then used as a classroom education tool to prompt discussion on topics such as societal pressures for young men and boys to conform to stereotypical and rigid ideas of masculinity; the importance of gender equality and the impact of violence against women and girls (and men and boys); fatherhood; and homophobia. See the Digital Stories and Discussion Guide.

Digital storytelling is powerful way of sharing personal experiences in a way that can communicate social impact. Effective digital storytelling needs clear goals, identified target audiences, and specific objectives in capturing the stories. The most meaningful stories will be personal, authentic and offer insights and experiences that can articulate and measure change and impact in a person’s life.

Learn more:

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


Lisa Attygalle is Director of Engagement at Tamarack – An Institute for Community Engagement.

Feb 10 2015

Al Etmanski - IMPACT

Have you ever wondered what cherry blossoms in Vancouver taste like?

I didn’t have the imagination to even conceive of such a question let alone answer it until I attended a dinner hosted by Elementa a collective of young culinary talents in Vancouver last spring. Not only did they serve a cup of frozen aerated cherry blossoms (It was like tasting cherry bubbles) to cleanse our palette, they also offered their rationale for presenting authentic regional tastes. Elementa chefs believe in honest food that is both true to the place where it is grown or raised and true to the people who prepare it. “Our grapes, hops, produce and game should remind us of who we are and where we come from. We shouldn’t be trying to make our food taste like food from elsewhere,” said one of them.

The integrity of these young chefs challenged my thinking. Was I importing social innovation concepts from elsewhere and ignoring Canada’s rich heritage of social change?  Was I trying to make Canada’s social change experiences “taste” like those from other countries and ignoring fundamental differences of values, heritage and culture?

At the time I was finishing my new book on social innovation and these questions led me to realize that more than half of its draft content was either a wholesale importation or adaptation of social innovation concepts and methods from elsewhere.

After the Elementa dinner the course of my book writing changed directions. I cut out 30,000 extra words to get to Canadian bedrock. Today, Impact: Six Patterns to Spread Your Social Innovation is as close as I can make it to celebrating Canada’s social innovation “terroir.” Commonly associated with wine, I loosely translate “terroir” as “a sense of place,” or the interaction that geography, environment and heritage has on the characteristics and qualities of products and processes. “Terroir” doesn’t imply we ignore insights from elsewhere, only that we make sure we appreciate what we are tasting belongs.

Impact explores the paradox of short-term success versus limited long-term impact. Many of us have had the frustrating experience of running a successful campaign, pioneering an effective social program or changing a law only to see their transformative edges eroded, isolated or forgotten.

We can learn a lot about durability from Adelaide Hoodless. Her social innovation, the Women’s Institute, was recently chosen as one of the top ten in the world. Alas Women’s Institute is better known in other countries than it is in Canada.

Women’s Institute was founded in 1897 in Stoney Creek Ontario in response to children dying because of poor hygienic practices in food production. Today they have a combined membership of nine million in 65 countries and are credited with ushering in the first wave of feminism.

That’s the kind of impact we want isn’t it? And that’s what my new book is about.

Impact presents six patterns being used to achieve lasting social, economic and environmental justice. Download the introduction to Impact here.

The six patterns are:

  • Think and Act Like a Movement
  • Create a Container for Your Content
  • Set the Table for Allies, Adversaries and Strangers
  • Mobilize Your Economic Power
  • Advocate with Empathy
  • “Who” is More Important than ‘How’

During an interview for the release of his album “Les Noise,” Neil Young was asked the source of his creativity. His answer was enigmatic, “I don’t make up my music, I remember it.” Perhaps like Neil Young we don’t “make” social change by paying attention to how others do it as much as by remembering how we do it. When we do, we’ll find that social change, like cherry blossoms, tastes like home.

Learn more:

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