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 They see the impact of our outdated laws in their clinics and emergency rooms every day.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:


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:


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

Sep 25 2015

Be informed and engaged (iStock photos)

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


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

Voter engagement

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


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

Reports and data


Tina Edan is Communications Manager at Maytree.

Sep 18 2015


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Aug 31 2015


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

Working with evidence

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

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

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

Being a good collaborator

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

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

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

Building support for your issues

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

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

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

Finding the right support from your board and volunteers

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

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

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

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

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

See you in September!


Markus Stadelmann-Elder is Communications Director at Maytree.

Aug 28 2015


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Alejandra Bravo is Manager, Leadership and Learning at Maytree.

Aug 25 2015


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tina Edan is Communications Manager at Maytree.