May 15 2015


Canada’s social architecture is showing its age. Many core programs and policies designed in the 1960s and 1970s have started to falter. Drawn at a time when there were fewer women in the paid workforce and when someone with a high school education could get a stable well-paying job with benefits, they no longer reflect today’s high rates of part-time work and fewer jobs with pensions and benefits.

Over the years, the safety net stitched together for a different era has become an intricate web, difficult to navigate and weak at places. While warnings about inadequacies in the system have been flagged by various think tanks, there has been no concerted action to renew Canada’s social safety net until now.

Researchers from four such institutions – the Mowat Centre, the Caledon Institute of Social Policy, the Institute for Competitiveness and Prosperity and the Institute for Research on Public Policy – have banded together to launch

Over the next two months this resource will highlight a series of short, issue-specific research reports by the partners to pressure-test the various weak links in Canada’s social safety net. “Changing patterns in the workplace are leaving gaps in the social safety net that could not have been predicted when we last redesigned our programs,” says Noah Zon, Project Director and a Practice Lead at the Mowat Centre.

“Canada’s social architecture has also failed to respond to other major social policy challenges that have emerged as significant concerns for Canadians,” says Sunil Johal, a co-author and the Policy Director of the Mowat Centre. “For example, there is very little support available for the 28 per cent of Canadians who act as caregivers for family members or friends with long-term health or disability needs. The increasing use of drugs in medical treatment presents a significant financial barrier to care for Canadians that don’t have coverage.”

Each paper will introduce the issue, examine what will drive change and present both stop-gap and transformative policy options for renewal. The first four have been released. The main report outlines the changes in the last half century and the ways they have put strains on the social system. The others examine caregivers, housing, and skills training.




Ranjit Bhaskar is Content Manager at Maytree.

May 14 2015

map of ontario with rural communities highlighted

Community Engagement so often relies on citizens feeling an affinity and commitment towards their local area or an issue, but what is unique about engaging community in a rural area? What methodologies can be used to increase participation? How can we ensure that all voices are heard? In rural areas it is often harder to focus on one shared issue and to unite a community when individuals are geographically dispersed and each encounters their own nuanced lifestyle and related issues.

From February 10-12, 2015, the Economic Developers Council of Ontario (EDCO) hosted its annual conference which included a session co-hosted by the Rural Ontario Institute (ROI) and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) entitled “Rural & Small Communities – Evolving the Competitive Edge: Rural Community Engagement.” I was invited to speak about Community Engagement and share ideas and tactics for deepening community engagement. Session participants then joined roundtable discussions to share success stories, resources and tools; discuss barriers to engagement; and to brainstorm solutions. Students from the University of Waterloo’s Local Economic Development (LED) program volunteered to facilitate the discussion and take detailed notes, resulting in a report entitled Evolving the Competitive Edge: Rural Community Engagement which provides an overview of the session and synthesis of the key findings and outcomes produced through the discussion.

What are the barriers to rural community engagement?

Through the roundtable discussions, participants revealed barriers to successful community engagement within rural communities. These challenges can be found during the initial consultation phase, as well as in subsequent phases as a project or initiative moves towards implementation.

Barriers identified by participants included:

  • Gaining initial traction can prove difficult if there is little political will
  • Public officials may see community engagement as foolhardy and may feel that they are elected to speak for their constituents. This view was most prevalent in communities where elected officials have been in office for a long time
  • Tensions may exist between newcomers, seasonal residents and established residents and reconciling the views of these distinct groups might prove difficult
  • In some rural communities, residents without deep local roots were viewed as outsiders
  • In communities considered “bedroom communities,” the level of interest amongst residents is often diminished because of the lack of a personal connection with their place of residence
  • Rural communities often face unique logistical challenges organizing community engagement sessions, particularly given the large geographical areas they cover. Lack of public transit can also be a barrier to participation
  • Municipal leaders may struggle with turning feedback into action
  • It may be necessary to manage public expectations about what is possible within financial and regulatory constraints
  • Municipal leaders and community members are often risk averse to participating in community engagement efforts

Being aware of these potential barriers is helpful. It is easier not to get stuck when you can foresee the potential tough points and assign resources and efforts accordingly. Even being in a room with others who had experienced similar barriers was a worthwhile step in sharing, commiserating together and generating options for effectively moving forward.

What does successful rural community engagement look like?

Participants were asked to think of organizations or groups within their communities who are demonstrating exceptional leadership in community engagement, and to share what success looks like.

Principles for success include:

  • Always use multiple channels for engagement to capture a diversity of perspectives and reach all corners of your community. The mechanisms for outreach and engagement have expanded rather than changed, so social media and other technologies need to act as a complement to rather than a replacement for traditional outreach and engagement techniques, especially in rural areas.
  • Successful community engagement requires organizational and political leadership. Having political leaders visibly involved in the engagement process helps dispel the common perception that politicians may withhold information and allows for the engagement to be more sincere, open and transparent. Local officials are also able to set clear objectives and goals to help guide public participation and engagement that is aligned with other activities.
  • Successful community engagement also requires public leadership. Utilizing local social capital is vitally important, and allowing citizens to take on such roles not only increases the level of public impact, but frees up local staff to take on other projects.
  • Feedback and follow-through are critical. The public wants to know that their voices mean something and that the time they have invested has made a difference and has had an impact. Participants should know what stage of the planning process they are stepping into so they can provide appropriate input. This also helps to manage expectations around how much the community can affect the outcome.
  • Smaller scale efforts can often achieve greater results since citizens or key stakeholders may only have an interest in certain aspects of a project. Use targeted, smaller scale events, surveys, and meetings that all connect into a larger project or issue.

Read the full report to learn more about the unique barriers, successes, and tools for community engagement in rural communities and be inspired by two case studies of successful rural community engagement initiatives.

Learn more:

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


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

May 07 2015

Impact & Excellence book cover

Most communicators in nonprofit organizations understand the importance of data and reporting back to our stakeholders about what we’re doing and how our programs are succeeding.

We have to communicate not only our outputs: how many people we served; how many shelter beds we offered; or how many meals we served. We also need to have a good understanding of the outcomes of our work so we can communicate our impact: whether there have been some real changes in how people feel about our services; how they moved from being homeless to being able to stay in their own place; or how they are no longer dependent on food banks. How can we put the foundation in place so we have the right data for communicating impact?

What follows is a review of a new book that can tell us just that.

Let’s start with how I would have described the outcome of a program I worked on many years ago:

In the last year, our recreational program has supported 100 youth with a disability.

Now compare the above to the following – how I could have described the same program:

Through our recreational program, 100 youth with a disability could experience the joy of participating in sports.

Over the full year, 95% of the youth showed up at least twice a month and participated in the activities offered.

From follow-up interviews, we learned that all youth felt healthier and their quality of life improved.

Wouldn’t you agree that story #2 has more impact and you’d be more inclined to support that program?

That is the premise behind Impact & Excellence: Data-Driven Strategies for Aligning Mission, Culture, and Performance in Nonprofit and Government Organizations by Sheri Chaney Jones.

Nonprofit communicators must start communicating impact

The point that Jones wants to make: In today’s climate of diminishing funds, your organization needs to embrace a data-driven culture and learn how to measure and communicate impact and outcomes to build stronger relationships with stakeholders. As it becomes more difficult to raise funds for your programs and other activities, only the highest-performing organizations will continue to be successful at doing so.

Jones is well placed to write this book and give us advice. As president and founder of Measurement Resources Company, she’s been advising government and nonprofit organizations for the last 15 years on how to take their organizations to the next level by becoming more accountable and focused on data-driven decision making.

Building a culture of data and measurement

Based on her own research of 200 government and nonprofit organizations, she found that only a small number of organizations have a culture in place that values data and measurement. But such a culture is needed. Those organizations that have such a culture ensure better organizational outcomes and allow them to do more good in the communities they serve.

Five elements of a data-driven organization

Over 250 plus pages, through case studies, templates and study questions, she makes a strong case for data driven change – to collect, organize and use impactful data and information.

In her mind, to become a data-driven organization, five elements need to come together; what Jones calls the five “Cs”.

  1. First, your organization needs to have the right culture and leadership in place.
  2. You will need to be able to clarify your organization’s mission and link to what is important to those you serve. As public policy consultant Barbara Riley writes in the foreword: “Remember, you serve not just the consumers of your direct service, but also the funders, the decision makers, the general public, and the staff who work with you and share your vision.” (p. ix)
  3. Next, you need to capture impact – based not only on your outputs but also the outcomes of your work. Adds Riley: “[T]he process does not end with data collection, or even data analysis, but puts the data to use in making decisions about what you will continue to do, what you will change, and what you may choose to abandon.” (p. ix)
  4. Then you will have to communicate value – that is, you will have to share what you’ve learned.
  5. Finally, taking your learnings into account, you may have to change how you do things; that said you also want to celebrate your successes.

Jones puts much emphasis on having the right culture in place – one that appreciates the importance of measuring outcomes. At the same time, Jones insists you can only measure (or find what to measure) if you are clear about what it is that you want to accomplish. Of course, this should be obvious, but unfortunately, so often it is not.

As Jones writes:

“If an organization attempts to establish a measurement culture without a clear mission in place, it runs the risk of measuring the wrong outcomes. Such a mistake can prove costly, taking the organization further away from its desired state. A clear mission can guide the appropriate activities and measures needed if the organization is to advance to greater impact and excellence.” (p. 145)

The fourth C, to communicate value, to communicate what you’ve learned, obviously speaks to the communicators among us. As Jones writes, “Regardless of the strategies employed to successfully capture impact, an organization must follow a clear plan to communicate results.” (p. 193).

Introducing the chapter on communicating value, she writes:

“Every government and nonprofit organization that embraces a high-performance measurement culture adopts established measures to collect and evaluate quality information. When this information is communicated, it leads directly to greater impact and excellence. The measures themselves are not responsible for success. Rather, success is driven by a social sector leader’s ability to accurately gather, interpret, and convey information, applying it across the organization, and drawing from it to tell the organization’s story in a compelling manner. … Clearly communicated outcomes further enhance the potential these organizations have to attract new donors, increase public awareness, and shape positive attitudes toward their cause.” (p. 194)

It will take time to become a data-driven organization. You will have to show endurance and passion. Most importantly, you have to be a good communicator.

The lessons, value and role for nonprofit communicators

You need to communicate to the inside of your organization – and keep everyone engaged in the process. And you need to communicate to the outside to let them know about what you’ve achieved, what the achievements mean to your stakeholders (your clients, funders and supporters) and what you’ve learned from your outcomes.

It’s not an easy book to implement. The details may overwhelm you – but it is worth your time. While you may not be the main driver for your organization to adopt a high-impact measuring culture, you can be an important influencer. And others in the organization will depend on you to tell a relevant story. Once you are a data-driven organization focused on excellence, you will be better equipped to face the challenges (and changes) that you are guaranteed to encounter.

Further reading:

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


Markus Stadelmann-Elder is Communications Director at Maytree.

May 04 2015


Calgary’s Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who was recently awarded the 2014 World Mayor Prize, will address 370 provincial, territorial and municipal leaders at a national summit dedicated to reducing poverty in Canada.

The Poverty Reduction Summit, taking place in Ottawa from May 6-8, will bring together representatives from every Province and Territory around the vision of reducing poverty for one million Canadians over the next four years. Summit participants will also work to strengthen communication, increase the alignment of poverty reduction activities, and learn about strategies that are achieving the best results.

“Mayor Nenshi has been a real leader in ensuring that poverty reduction is seen as an important social and economic issue in Calgary,” said Jeff Loomis, Executive Director of Momentum Community Economic Development Society. “We have learned that cities play a meaningful role in reducing poverty and when they share their approach with other cities, the impact is even greater.”

Also speaking at the Summit is Edmonton’s Mayor Don Iveson, who launched the EndPoverty Edmonton Task Force last year; the Honourable Deb Matthews, Ontario’s Minister responsible for poverty reduction; and Senator Art Eggleton, of the All-Party Anti-Poverty Caucus.

“This summit is a key moment in our history, and we all have a role to play in bringing the issue of poverty reduction to the forefront,” said Brock Carlton, CEO of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. Currently, every provincial and territorial government across the country has, or is considering a poverty reduction strategy, and approximately 114 cities across Canada are working towards poverty reduction strategies at the local level.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi, the Honorable Deb Matthews, and Senator Art Eggleston are all expected to make major announcements at the Poverty Reduction Summit about their strategy and commitment to poverty reduction efforts.

The Poverty Reduction Summit is hosted by Tamarack Institute and Vibrant Communities: Cities Reducing Poverty – a network of 100 cities who are creating comprehensive poverty reductions strategies to impact the lives of one million Canadians living in poverty.

For more information contact Lisa Attygalle at 226-220-6242 or, and visit


About Tamarack: Tamarack Institute for Community Engagement is a Canadian charity that develops and supports learning communities to help people to collaborate, co-generate knowledge and achieve impact on complex community issues. Our vision is to build a connected force for community change.


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

Apr 24 2015


Reimagining schools as community hubs is a sharp and practical idea that surfaced in recent consultations Maytree hosted on how to reduce poverty in Toronto. We heard from a wide range of thought leaders about the levers available for change in our city. The clear consensus that emerged was around the importance of place-based strategies, and there was a strong endorsement of developing hubs as a critical community asset.

Although Toronto has a strong neighbourhoods strategy, we are short on anchors for activity in neighbourhoods. But the current review of underutilized schools presents a unique opportunity.

Schools are valuable real estate in city neighbourhoods. While this space may not be maximized now, they offer real potential for re-purposing. Here we have a blank canvas on which we can imagine, create and solve some of the challenges that communities are facing; and it is here that we can look seriously at the opportunity for community hubs. This is not a new idea, but one whose time has come.

Within the Toronto District School Board alone, 68 schools are under review. If they were to close, there is legitimate fear that key community assets currently used by many residents could be lost forever. By converting these schools to community hubs instead, the spaces remain designated to community benefit, and could be re-purposed again if neighbourhood demographics change in the future and a new generation of students needs those schools.

Community hubs provide an opportunity to take city hall and city institutions to local neighbourhoods. The City could offer services and points of access, like city offices, in neighbourhoods that are currently excluded, shifting power and wealth into them. This is already practiced in Seattle where a Director of Neighbourhoods makes sure to spread out the effect of city hall. The City of Hamilton has just picked up this idea as well. Schools are a natural place for becoming such points of access.

By being present in every neighbourhood, the City could learn how to tackle the opportunity gap that is growing in our city. It could even think of itself as an incubator for innovation in how services are delivered and opportunities are created for people living in poverty. This approach could harness energy, resources and investments in neighbourhoods – like child care or pathways to jobs – testing what works and providing proven models for provincial and federal government action.

The immediate and real challenge is that Ontario and its school boards need to find savings. Closing schools is not only about creating efficiencies within budgets, it’s also a potential, albeit one time, revenue generator. In fact, the Ontario Education Act, Regulation 444/98 stipulates that the sale, lease or other disposition of school properties must be at fair market value. There are exceptions related to nursery schools and other child development services, but they don’t take into account the potential schools hold. A first step is to review whether this regulation serves the public interest.

A second step is finding common ground among school boards, municipalities and the province about the purpose and potential of surplus school properties. As there is no forum to do this, these three orders of government should create one. To craft a truly effective partnership that serves the public, community organizations must also be included at the table.

And third, the school boards, province and the cities should together consider removing school ownerships from school boards and transferring them to municipalities with the goal of creating community hubs. The municipality would then be in a position to integrate these school properties into other land use planning decisions, making sure we keep these public buildings and spaces for changing neighbourhood uses. This can only happen if municipalities take a leadership role.

Every neighbourhood has a school. They’re used for learning by children, to be sure. But they are often also the only public or green space, or meeting point for people who live there. Moreover, learning is a lifelong process and involves mental, physical, social, emotional and cultural well-being. It is time we tap the unrealized potential of these community assets.


Elizabeth McIsaac is President of Maytree.


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

Apr 21 2015

Why is the story of poverty in Toronto so much a women’s story?

The second installment of The Stop’s Food For Thought speaker series, in partnership with Maytree, explored why women’s lives are consistently tied to poverty and how it affects their health and prospects and also that of their children.

To lift women out of poverty and transform the futures of families and entire communities, Dr. Ritika Goel, a family physician and health justice activist, Deena Ladd of the Workers’ Action Centre and Armine Yalnizyan of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives discussed which policy levers are most effective for the task.

Moderated by Alex Johnston of Catalyst Canada, the conversation was held at the Art Gallery of Ontario on April 1, 2015.


Ranjit Bhaskar is Content Manager at Maytree.

Apr 13 2015


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘It’s flexibility for employers… not us’

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

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

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

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

Plea for higher minimum wage

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

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

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

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

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


Links to reports

Links to opinions and media articles


Ranjit Bhaskar is Content Manager at Maytree.

Mar 24 2015


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diversity drives prosperity, but only if we lean in.

Lean in with us.

Originally published on the Global Diversity Exchange website.


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

Mar 23 2015


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Mar 19 2015

Program cover: 2015 DiverseCity onBoard National Launch

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

Highlights of the national launch

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

Participants from the Making Our Voices Count program

Participants from the Making Our Voices Count program

Identifying the issue

2000 to 2003

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

Deciding to create a new program


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

There were three priorities:

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

Launching abcGTA to address the leadership gap


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

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

The program grows


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo: City of Toronto award winners

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


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

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

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

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

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

DiverseCity onBoard is launched


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


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

DiverseCity onBoard recognized as a scalable program


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

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

DiverseCity onBoard Learning Exchange – Toronto, 2012


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


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

DiverseCity onBoard Learning Exchange - Berlin, 2014

DiverseCity onBoard Learning Exchange – Berlin, 2014


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

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

Founding of the Global Diversity Exchange

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


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

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


Ranjit Bhaskar is Content Manager at Maytree.