Aug 31 2015


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

Working with evidence

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

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

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

Being a good collaborator

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

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

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

Building support for your issues

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

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

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

Finding the right support from your board and volunteers

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

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

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

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

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

See you in September!


Markus Stadelmann-Elder is Communications Director at Maytree.

Aug 28 2015


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Alejandra Bravo is Manager, Leadership and Learning at Maytree.

Aug 25 2015


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tina Edan is Communications Manager at Maytree.

Aug 06 2015


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interested in learning more? Check out:


Hadley Nelles is the Senior Manager at Evergreen CityWorks

Jul 28 2015


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

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

That is, until now.

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

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

Some organizations alter our physical city.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information:


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

Jul 22 2015


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Kate is the Lead for Policy and Research at Maytree

Jul 14 2015


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

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

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

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

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

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

Learn more:


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

Jun 24 2015

Days of Dialogue chart notes

Toronto has just released its Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy — one that was shaped by thousands of Torontonians. At its foundation is the notion that every community member, including those living in poverty, should be able to shape processes that impact their lives.

To develop the strategy, the City of Toronto and United Way Toronto created an approach that recruited, trained and deployed community animators in the city-wide consultation process. It’s an approach that could well be carried into future city consultation work.

Creating opportunities for engagement

As city staff began to develop its Poverty Reduction Strategy, some individuals with lived experience were included as part of the formulation of Phase One engagement. But the City clearly heard that broader communities of people experiencing poverty need to be heard to inform the process.

With that direction, the second phase of engagement was designed to target people with lived experience.

Working closely with United Way Toronto, City staff developed an outreach approach that put people with lived experience of poverty in leadership roles as table facilitators (who were supported by staff note takers) while bringing engagement opportunities to communities experiencing poverty.

Putting people at the centre           

Community leaders with lived experience of poverty were identified and invited to take part in the consultations through United Way Toronto member agencies. They were trained as facilitators and paid for their work.

In February 2015, with the goal of capturing the view of people who experience poverty, they facilitated ten Days of Dialogue on Poverty Reduction and additional conversations in the community to inform the priorities and principles of the Poverty Reduction Strategy.

Success built by community

Reflecting on and evaluating their experience in the Days of Dialogue, the community animators spoke of feeling proud and empowered by their role in the process. They felt good to be the face of something positive, while learning and building new skills. In particular, they noted the impact their participation made in the community.

All agreed that city staff alone would not have been able to channel the information from community members, who opened up in conversations facilitated by their peers. They found people wanted to have conversations. Most importantly, they wanted to discuss solutions. The animators felt they helped to build a more authentic relationship between the City and its citizens, broadening the definition of civic engagement through the process.

While there are things that could be modified to improve the process (i.e., consistency in outreach, and additional facilitator training), this is a constructive model for community engagement.

Considering some of the key learnings, imagine if:

  • Resources assigned for engagement could be allocated to support community capacity building, investing in the people and neighbourhoods that need it most;
  • Community animators were engaged to provide networks, community outreach capacity and on-the-ground intelligence on a regular basis;
  • A standing reference group composed of people with lived experience, active and engaged in their communities, was developed;
  • A trained, skilled pool of people able to provide support to other city departments was engaged on an ongoing basis;
  • Accountability was embedded in any type of engagement to ensure that organizers lived up to their commitments; and
  • More experimentation with an outside facilitator (in the case of the Days of Dialogue provided by Maytree) could further provide lessons for the community sector on how to better prepare people in their emergent leadership.

The City of Toronto could act as an incubator for this kind of approach for public policy development that connects the community to government. One small intervention has contributed to shifting how the city engaged with community, building excitement and momentum for the development of the Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy.

Imagine if this were the case with all city initiatives.


Alejandra Bravo is Manager, Leadership and Learning at Maytree.

Jun 18 2015

Unequal stacks of coins - iStock

The following article first appeared in issue 8 of Philanthropy Impact Magazine.

I recently wrote that the problem with poor people is they don’t have enough money. That sounds like a quip but in fact it is true.

As attention is being focused on inequality, the wealth gap between the top and bottom has been exposed to a wide audience, beyond the normal poverty analysts and policy wonks. The now famous One Percent at the top has been in the spotlight.

Various remedies have been offered to moderate extreme CEO pay packages, tax high incomes, or urge the rich to robust philanthropy. In all likelihood though the impact of such measures to remediate the wealth gap would be modest. But attention is beginning to shift to what is the basis of the problem, and that is too many have too little money, even many fully employed people. Many of them are victims of decades of driving down wage rates as a way of finding efficiency in the production of goods and services. Often the price of a 99 cent burger or a $5 tee shirt is the 99 cent or five dollar wage. Perversely, this is the low-end analog to the observation of Henry Ford a century ago that he wanted to pay his workers well enough that they could afford to buy one of his automobiles. Now we pay them little enough that they can only afford the bargain burger or shirt.

In Canada a number of people have pointed out the folly of wage practices that result in two-thirds of the population being unable to participate in the economy, essentially living paycheque to paycheque or always on the edge of financial insecurity. There is a very real risk of falling into poverty, as a result of a failed employer, an injury or illness, a marriage break-up, or another piece of bad luck. This results in a tremendous dead weight on the economy that hurts everyone.

Another factor depressing wages is the decline of collective bargaining. The aggressive assault on labour unions by the corporate sector and conservative governments in recent decades has achieved their goals of reducing the number of workers covered by union contracts, and depressing wage rates resulting from collective bargaining.

A significant proportion of the poor population in any country are people living with disabilities, including physical and mental health issues as well as diseases, including addictions. These disabilities prevent people from getting and holding jobs, and often exclude or push them to the margins of the labour market. They appear in high numbers on welfare rolls.

As do single parents, mostly women, who must place the care of children over working in the paid labour market.

These conditions have led to low levels of family income. For Canadian families, dreams of an iPad, a warm winter vacation, or a new car become reality for only about a third of the population. Ambitions to own a home within a reasonable distance of work become attainable at later and later ages for most in our biggest cities because it is taking longer to accumulate the needed savings.

Many countries have income support programs to boost low incomes. In Canada we have benefits aimed at children, seniors, people with disabilities, and other specific populations. When these programs are designed, a target is identified, either explicitly or not, which would remediate the low income problem in question. What would it take for a family to raise a child successfully; how much does a senior need to live out life in dignity? But in most countries, those targets are unmet. For example, in Canada the Canada Child Tax Benefit is funded at only 65% of its target, even 20 years after its inception; the Working Income Tax Benefit, aimed at the “working poor,” is funded at only 25% of its target.

Despite being underfunded, we know that most of these benefits work. The CCTB has reduced child poverty by 40%; the Guaranteed Income Supplement component of the Canada Pension Plan, aimed at low-income seniors, reduced senior women’s poverty from 68% to 16%, and senior men’s poverty from 56% to 12%. The Ontario Child Benefit, a provincial component of the CCTB, has reduced the percentage of single women on welfare rolls from 50% to 15%.

Good public benefits work best when they are income tested. “Refundable” tax credits work as tax deductions for those with taxable income, gradually disappearing as incomes rise, and as income supplements for people without taxable income. A fully funded refundable tax credit is a powerful instrument to raise people out of poverty and enable them to participate in the economy. And they provide resilience to someone who has tumbled into poverty through one of life’s vagaries (bankrupt employer, accident, etc.), preventing them from having to strip their assets as they get back on their feet. As such, they are effective contributors to a dynamic economy. Leveraging the large fiscal capacity of governments for prosperity is good public policy.

Other measures can also be effective.

Around the world, the “Living Wage” movement is addressing incomes at the lower end. In the UK, the non-profit Citizens UK has led the charge to get employers to set their wage rates well above minimum wage rates. They get employers to sign up to participate, and make a commitment to “rolling out the Living Wage in the supply chain.” One prominent champion is London Mayor Boris Johnson who has said that “paying the London Living Wage ensures hard-working Londoners are helped to make ends meet.”

In Canada, community groups are leading the push for a living wage. In Vancouver, Hamilton, Guelph, and Toronto, campaigns are underway, with more and more cities coming on board. Living wage was one of the topics at May’s poverty reduction summit in Ottawa where Canada’s provinces and territories, and over 100 cities were working together on their poverty reduction strategies.

In the US there are “living wage ordinances” where cities mandate that businesses under contract with the city or, in some cases, receiving assistance from the city, must pay their workers a wage sufficient to support a family financially. Cities include San Francisco, Sante Fe, Albuquerque, Boston and Baltimore. New Zealand also has a living wage campaign. Also critical to raising the lower end of the wage scale is the protection of workers vulnerable to unscrupulous employers. The Workers’ Action Centre in Toronto is an effective agency which urges governments to improve their monitoring of workplace abuses such as withholding pay or firing workers just before the end of a pay period and refusing to pay them knowing the worker is unlikely to pursue them in court. Such abuses are disappointingly common, and governments under fiscal constraints have often cut back monitoring and enforcement of labour laws.

With so much attention turned to income inequality, it is important to focus on solutions. Many of them will require that governments and employers do more to boost incomes either through wages or through income supports like benefits and pensions. Some will cost relatively little such as improving labour law enforcement.

What has become crystal clear in recent years is the costs of doing nothing. We now have massive piles of evidence on the bad social outcomes of poverty which only increases the costs across society in health care, the criminal justice system, education, and labour market absenteeism and turnover.

While some are keen to discipline excessive salaries at the top of the range, the real problem is the low incomes at the bottom, and that is where the solutions must begin. The good news is that we have many promising ideas that are ready to be implemented.

What is the role of the philanthropist? One thing is certain: philanthropy itself is not the answer. All of the assets held in charitable and foundation funds combined in any country would only narrow the inequality gap marginally, even if the holders of those assets were inclined to act. It is doubtful many would be so inclined, in that much of the assembled capital likely came from the same paradigm which produced the inequality.

But some would be inclined to act, and they would be best to aim their funds at system change. First target might be to have government income support programs fully funded to help people and stimulate the economy. (Low-income people spend money in the economy on the necessities of life like housing, food and clothing, so a dollar in is a dollar recirculated.) Or they might encourage local governments to adopt living wage policies to govern their arrangements with suppliers and contractors.

A second target might be the employer community, encouraging them both to pay their lowest earners a living wage, and to lower the ratio between their lowest and highest salaries. In this regard, large philanthropic capital pools might align their social purpose and their investment portfolio to make sure they are investing in companies who are “walking the talk” on inequality.

Someone once remarked that the problem charitable donors have with “mission based investing” is that few of them have missions. It would be wonderful to think that there is a growing number of donors willing to make the remediation of inequality their mission. I am keeping my eye peeled for them here in Canada.

Issue 8 of Philanthropy Impact Magazine asked: Are Poverty and Inequality the Defining Challenges of our Time? According to the authors the answer is: it would appear so. The magazine brings together the voices and initiatives of the corporate and third sectors in the their efforts to tackle poverty and inequality through corporate sector responsibility, inclusive capitalism, philanthropy, social investment, incentivised giving programmes, human rights activities, cross sector partnerships, and more. Download the issue.


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

May 27 2015


As cities and towns across Canada attract more newcomers and become more diverse, giving permanent residents who are not yet Canadian citizens the right to cast a municipal ballot has become a growing concern. A recent Toronto Star editorial argues that extending the voting right is a matter of fairness and a way of bridging urban divides. It may even open up the democratic process and help more visible minority candidates win elected office.

As the Toronto Star editorial points out, around a quarter-million newcomers live, work and play, and send their kids to school in Toronto. They pay taxes and, as consumers of goods and services, contribute to the economy of the country’s largest city. However, they do not get to elect their local representatives because they are not yet citizens. As they tend to settle in communities with very high concentrations of permanent residents, this results in a diminished political voice for entire neighbourhoods.

At Maytree we have been advocating for the need to extend this right by echoing the legal and constitutional case for it made by Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) and by supporting City Vote, a Canada-wide campaign championed by Desmond Cole.

CCLA believes the right to vote is so fundamental to a democratic society that there must be an extraordinary reason to deny it. City Vote’s mission, with its tagline of “Live here. Work here. Vote here,” is to ensure that hundreds of thousands of permanent residents across Canada get to vote for their mayor, city councillor and school board trustee.

The mission now has a new urgency because a sharp increase in processing fees, longer residency requirements and the processing backlog could add more years to gain citizenship. Also, changes to the citizenship test have made it harder to pass, with pass rates dropping from 83 per cent in 2011 to 73 per cent in 2012.

The Toronto city council was among the first to recognize the need for change. In June, 2013, it passed a motion to extend voting rights to permanent residents. While it is awaiting approval from the Ontario government, several other councils across the province are doing the same. In May 2015, North Bay city council became the latest to vote in favour.

Toronto’s city council vote has also inspired a movement outside of Ontario, particularly in Atlantic Canada. Both Halifax, Nova Scotia, and St. John, New Brunswick, have voted to ask for provincial legislation allowing permanent residents to vote in municipal elections.

At the time of the Toronto vote, Maytree’s Alan Broadbent and CCLA’s former General Counsel, Nathalie Des Rosiers, said in an op-ed that the council’s move was good public policy in line with legal principles and Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

They argued that “Democracy is enhanced when people participate. It is not a game to be played only by those who wield the power to make the rules. Voting is a right. Extending the vote to permanent residents is the right thing to do.”



Ranjit Bhaskar is a Toronto freelance journalist and former content manager at Maytree.