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.

May 26 2015


Built by the side of a railway track and tucked away from the main roads, Lotherton Pathway in North York, a 4,500-strong community made up of mainly visible minority immigrants, feels removed from its neighbours in Ward 15. This might be one of the reasons why its residents feel that their concerns about making change happen in their community need more support and urgency.

“If you are not heard by the politicians and the civic authorities, it is a problem,” says Beatriz Alas of the North York Community House (NYCH). The non-profit is working on raising awareness among the residents about civic rights and responsibilities, democracy and elections.

Displaying a “Lotherton Votes, Lotherton Counts” T-shirt, Beatriz says this was the core message they wanted to convey to the residents in the build-up to the 2014 municipal elections. “Only a few hundred of them had voted in the elections four years ago.”

As part of NYCH’s efforts to raise the level of democratic involvement, a Get Out the Vote outreach team of 15 trained volunteers spoke to over 400 residents and urged all of them to pledge that they would vote by signing a document. Around 350 voter education packages were also handed out.

“We could have reached more people if we had sessions late in the evening to connect with those out at work during the day,” says Beatriz. The need was also felt for more staff and volunteers who could speak to the Chinese, Vietnamese and Tamil residents in their first languages. “Speaking one-on-one seemed more effective than handing out translated material.”

Making a difference

On Election Day, children in the community drew chalk arrows, footsteps, and election symbols like checkmarks and ballot papers on pathways leading to the polling station. Adding to the festive atmosphere was the crafting of democracy bracelets and offers to apply themed henna and manicure.

One of the challenges the NYCH campaigners faced was people asking them who they should vote for. That was one piece of electoral advice they couldn’t provide because the outreach was non-partisan and limited to encouraging people to vote.

Not holding such a drive close to an election and making it part of other activities might stop people from asking the “who to vote for” question, says Beatriz. “We could, for instance, incorporate it into our community garden program and draw parallels with nurturing trees and democracy.”

Earlier, between 2012 and 2013, as part of Maytree’s Building Blocks initiative, Beatriz and her NYCH colleague Tara Bootan trained around 100 newcomers about government systems and public policy to become more active citizens. Workshops were also held at several NYCH locations as part of its efforts to encourage civic participation.

“It’s very important for residents to know about civic literacy,” says Tara. “They need to know who they can go to. They need to know why they can go to them. And they need to know how they can do it. Providing civic literacy education has been important for the community. It should be taught the way the three Rs are taught, it’s that important.”

So did the voter outreach this time around make a difference? “Our volunteers were among those eager for an answer,” says Beatriz. “After the City finally published the statistics for Ward 15, Subdivision 13, I can say our efforts were not wasted. Voting was up from 34% to 42.05%. Out of the 1,289 eligible voters, 542 voted.”

Of course, you can’t fully attribute the improved turnout to the outreach. Turnout throughout the city was higher than the 2010 election because of heightened interest in the mayoral race. For Lotherton, what matters is that the larger voter turnout proves that they too are keen to be counted and have a say in what their community wants.

In 2014 Maytree gave North York Community House $5,000 to undertake the Lotherton Get Out the Vote project. The money was used for project coordination, development and administration.


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

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 social-architecture.ca.

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 five 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, skills training and disability supports.



(Updated on May 26, 2015)


Ranjit Bhaskar is a Toronto freelance journalist and former 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.