Category: Civic Leadership

Jan 09 2014

Sir John A. Macdonald

Press Release

In celebration of the 199th birthday of Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister, the Friends of Sir John A. Macdonald are hosting a party on January 10 at Hart House, University of Toronto.

The sold-out event will be attended by more than 200 guests representing different generations, political stripes, and backgrounds, who will be treated to cocktails, dinner, political conversation, and other entertainments. Attendees will enjoy remarks from the Honourable David C. Onley, lieutenant governor of Ontario; the unveiling of a new bronze bust of Sir John A., created by Canadian sculptor Ruth Abernethy; the premiere of two Heritage Minutes from Historica Canada; and a lively conversation between Sir John A. Macdonald and his political rival George Brown, played by Richard J. Gwyn and John Honderich respectively. The event will also mark the launch of a fundraising campaign to restore the Macdonald-Mowat House (63 St. George Street) and to rename Avenue Road in honour of Sir John A.

With the imagination and audacity of a great leader, Macdonald overcame many obstacles to shape Canada into a nation. He also worked to create the national railway, and he was the world’s first democratic leader to publicly support extending the vote to women. According to Gwyn, author of an award-winning two-volume Macdonald biography, “Macdonald wasn’t just the founder of a nation that otherwise, almost certainly, would not have survived. He shaped a nation that has thrived to a degree matched by few on this planet. This event is a celebration of both Macdonald and the country Canada is today.”

Manulife Financial is generously supporting this third annual birthday celebration. Guests have been invited to attend in period dress and participate in a costume competition, complete with prizes. Glasses will be raised in toasts, each of which will close with the campaign chant, “Sir John A., you’ll never die!”


January 10
6:30-9:30 p.m.
Great Hall, Hart House
University of Toronto
7 Hart House Circle


Nov 06 2013


We know that diverse leadership supports innovation and creativity, as well as connections to diverse markets, clients, talent pipelines and supply chains. Diverse leadership is good for business and it’s especially good for public organizations that serve our increasingly diverse population.

With this in mind, Maytree and the Greater Toronto CivicAction Alliance launched a series of projects with the aim of changing the face of leadership in the Greater Toronto Area.

With DiverseCity Counts, we set out to put some numbers to our intuition. Over the years, we have looked at a variety of sectors in the GTA – elected officials, education, legal, the voluntary sector, the public sector, and the corporate sector.

What we have found is that our intuition was right. Our leaders do not look like our population. Just to give you one example, visible minorities make up 47% – nearly half – of the GTA’s population. And yet, when we look at governance boards, we see that visible minorities make up only 22% of government agencies, boards and commissions, 20% of education boards, 12% of voluntary sector boards, and a meager 4% of corporate boards. What’s more, these figures didn’t change much over the three years that we studied.

Now, we come to health care

Few values are as ingrained and widely shared by Canadians as our belief in and support for high quality public health care. On a societal level, physical and mental health are necessary for productive and engaged individuals and communities.

On an individual level, nearly all of us come into contact with health care services at some point in our lives, and most of us use these services throughout our lives.

Sometimes this is for preventative health care. Most often, unfortunately, we come to these services when we or our loved ones are sick. When we are sick, we are vulnerable. We are distressed. We must place an enormous amount of trust in the institutions that we turn to to care for us and to care for our families when we are in need.

This trust comes also with responsibility. The responsibility to recognize the needs of and serve all patients equitably and respectfully. The responsibility to reflect the community throughout the ranks of the institution. The responsibility to include the community in decision-making and governance.

While past Counts reports have focused solely on visible minorities, this edition broadens the scope of diversity to include sex/gender identity, visible minorities, disability, and sexual orientation.

Key findings:

  • Women are well represented in leadership – Women make up the majority (61%) of senior management teams, and 40% of governance board members.
  • Visible minorities are under-represented, but this varies widely between institutions – Only 16% of senior management and 14% of board members were reported as visible minorities. Four in ten institutions reported no visible minorities in senior management, as did nearly one-fifth of boards.
  • Few people with a disability in leadership – Across the health care sector, in senior management and on boards, only 1% of leadership was reported to be people with a disability.
  • Few lesbian, gay, bisexual or queer (LGBQ) individuals in leadership, with a few exceptions – About 3-4% of leadership were reported as LGBQ individuals, though this includes a few institutions that reported many individuals, and a majority of institutions that reported none.

Why it matters

It is incumbent on our health care institutions to reflect the public in its services, in its decision-making, and throughout their organizations. In fact, leading health care institutions are doing just that.

In 2010 nearly 80% of Ontario hospital boards reported board recruitment practices that aimed to reflect the diversity of the communities they serve (Governance Centre of Excellence, 2012). In this report, we looked at the current state of diversity in leadership in health care institutions in the GTA.

These leading institutions recognize the importance of understanding and responding to diversity in their patients. They have innovated and adapted their services to meet the needs of patients in various demographic groups – for example, by providing multilingual and/or culturally appropriate services. Similarly, many recognize the benefits of diversity among their staff, and have made great progress in hiring and integrating diverse employees into their institutions.

Increasingly, health institutions are turning their attention to diversity in their leadership – that is, in senior management and on the governing boards of these organizations. Leadership in health care institutions plays a critical role in setting mandates and priorities, and shaping services to help meet the needs of patients and providers alike. It is the leadership, for example, that has the influence and authority to recognize and acknowledge needs, approve systemic changes, and prioritize and commit the resources necessary to respond.

Read the full report, A Snapshot of Diverse Leadership in the Health Care Sector (PDF), or download the summary of the research (PDF).


Marco Campana is a communications expert living in Toronto and Maytree's former content manager.

Nov 06 2013

On October 25, I spent a day listening to academics, researchers, politicians, activists and civil society groups on the issue of representation, more specifically, visible minority representation in our political landscape at the federal, municipal and  local levels.

Organized by the Institute for Research on Public Policy and Samara, “Electoral and Civic Involvement of Canada’s Immigrant Communities” brought together a small group of individuals to weigh the evidence, analysis and trends as presented by academics and researchers, on the one hand, and to consider institutional and community-based responses, on the other. All this, motivated by a common understanding that Canadian institutions must be more responsive to changes in our demography and that political institutions and parties in particular need to perform to a higher bar of representation and accountability to better serve their constituencies.

The evidence presented told a common story across the country. Our nation and in particular our cities are diverse, but the political leaders who are elected to represent the people are not. There are some variations on the local scene, with representation in Vancouver being at the highest level. By and large, however, representation lags behind the demographic share of visible minorities in the population.

School4Civics_collageI came away with the following observations:

Acceptance matters: Professor Bilodeau, drawing on his Quebec-based research, concluded that feelings of acceptance are a foundational pre-cursor to political involvement and engagement. The greater the discrimination that visible minorities face, the lower is their feeling of acceptance.

Race matters: Candidates who run for political office bear a heavy weight if they are racial minorities. It is often assumed that they can only represent the interests of their particular community and are not qualified to act in the larger public good.

Place matters: Growing visible-minority-dense ridings (particularly in the outer suburbs of the GTA) – where all parties run candidates who are minorities – pose a different kind of dilemma or opportunity. Does this mean that these are the only places where visible minorities have an opportunity to put forward their candidature? Is this yet another expression of color-coded postal code discrimination?

Time matters: We were reminded that it was not so long ago that women could not vote, and it was normal for people to participate in the Orange (anti-Catholic) marches. Time solves many problems and perhaps time will be the healer here too, but I was left with a lingering doubt about the mitigating effect of time.

Winnability matters: We heard a powerful argument that political parties, even when committed in different ways through different approaches to representation of different kinds, will eventually select candidates who can win ridings – because in an election campaign, winning matters most. This led to an interesting comment about the intersection of representation and winnability.

Political and electoral arrangements matter: The absence or presence of a party machinery at the local level, riding distributions, at-large and free votes, etc. all have an impact on muting or amplifying the voice of underrepresented groups. It was noted that the creation of 30 new ridings federally, some in visible minority dense neighbourhoods, may provide a breakthrough for candidates.

We also heard powerful and encouraging examples of new arrangements and instruments which must evolve over time to provide greater voice and participation in this arena. These range from electoral reform at the local level such as enfranchising non-citizen permanent residents in local elections to grassroots efforts to demystify running for political office and training for interested candidates.

Finally, we talked about what more we need to know and do. Ideas floated included measuring not just the share of visible minorities in elected office, but also their share in the back-rooms of political power, because it is here that many decisions are made. This could be the next frontier for gathering evidence.



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

Oct 17 2013

Board diversity is a hot topic of discussion these days – especially following the Ontario Securities Commission’s public consultation on the requirement for companies to disclose the number of women on their board and in senior management.

But how do we move beyond talk?

On October 8, 2013, the Institute of Corporate Directors hosted a panel of experienced board directors to talk about what they have learned about putting board diversity into action.

The panel was moderated by Lisa de Wilde, CEO of TVO and included:

  • Maureen Kempston Darkes, director of CN Railway, Brookfield Asset Management, Irving Oil, Enbridge Inc., and Balfour Beatty plc.
  • John M. Thompson, director of the Thompson Reuters Corporation, past chair of TD Bank, past Executive Vice-Chair of IBM Corporation
  • David M. Williams, Chair of Toronto Hydro Corporation, director for Mattamy Homes Corporation and Aastra Technologies Inc.

Panelists agreed that focusing on women is a fine place to start, but they all suggested that we move to a broader definition of diversity – one that would include visible minorities, geography and skill area, for example. Further, all agreed that leading companies are already looking at diversity using this broader lens.

Throughout the discussion, the panel pointed to practical tips to increase the diversity on boards:

Focus on candidates with a track record of success – Often, boards require that new members have CEO or board experience. This severely limits the pool you have to choose from. Instead, look for candidates who have demonstrated success through different kinds of leadership or executive positions.

Specify what and who you are looking for – State that you aim to consider qualified candidates from under-represented groups. When working with a search firm or headhunter, specify that you want to see visible minorities or recent immigrants, for example, among the group of candidates they present to you.

Be flexible with your board structure – We often talk about term limits as one way to ensure regular turnover and opportunities to introduce new board members. In addition, consider that most boards can be flexible in size, so you can add new members without having to wait for a director’s term to end.

Finally, panelists acknowledged the critical role that senior executive diversity “champions” play in removing barriers and ensuring an inclusive talent development strategy within an organization.



Bonnie Mah is Policy and Communications Officer at Maytree.

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Oct 02 2013

vitalsignscoverYes, we’re getting some of the big things right, but Toronto is also facing big challenges. This could be the short summary of the Toronto’s Vital Signs Report 2013 released by the Toronto Community Foundation on October 1.

For many of us who live in this city, it doesn’t come as a surprise that The Economist ranked Toronto as the fourth most liveable city out of 140 from around the world; or that we have the lowest rate of police-reported crime among Canada’s top 33 metro areas. It is a good place to live – with many parks, cultural activities, and clean beaches.

But we cannot ignore the warning signs.

In particular, the report highlights the following:

  • Youth face dismal job prospects. In 2012, the Toronto youth unemployment rate averaged 20.75%, and for recent immigrant youth in Canada less than 5 years, it was 29%.
  • More than one million Torontonians live in low-income neighbourhoods and the polarization of wealth and poverty is deepening. Parts of Toronto experienced an even more pronounced shift. In 1970, 96% of Scarborough neighbourhoods were middle-income. Today, they account for only 13.6%.
  • One in 8 households in the Toronto Region (12.5%) experienced food insecurity in 2011. The growing problem of food insecurity – running out of food, compromising quality or quantity or even going days without meals – has complex causes, but is primarily rooted in lack of money to buy food.
  • Food insecurity remains a challenge as food bank usage in Toronto is still close to a million visits this past year. There is a particular challenge in Toronto’s inner suburbs where usage increased 38% from 2008.
  • The Toronto Region still ranks as “severely” unaffordable in a survey of 337 housing markets. A standard two-storey house in the Toronto Region averaged $640,500 at the end of 2012, requiring a qualifying household income of over $130,000. 62% of a median household income would need to be spent on housing costs. 30% is considered affordable.
  • These changes are especially challenging for Toronto’s population of seniors (65 +). This population is projected to grow by one-third – from 376,570 in 2011 (14.4% of the total population) to almost half a million (17% of the total population) by 2031.

So, what should be done?

The Toronto Star in its editorial, “Toronto needs strong leadership to stop its decline,” writes:

Toronto and the province need a more aggressive approach to combating youth unemployment, to speeding up job-creating infrastructure projects including affordable housing and transit, and to encouraging cash-hoarding businesses to invest. Without dynamic and creative leadership no city can prosper.

At the report release, Rahul Bhardwaj, President & CEO of the Toronto Community Foundation, challenged the attendees to move Toronto forward in five areas:

  1. Ensure connectivity between neighbourhoods
    While we are a city of unique neighbourhoods, we have to look at them as a network of neighbourhoods. Over the long term we all rise or fall on the strength of the network. Thinking and acting like a network is key to Toronto’s future success. This also means to have public transit that works and connects.
  2. Have an affordable housing strategy
    We need to find new ways to encourage private participation in affordable housing development so that the supply of affordable housing is meeting the needs of households who currently face low vacancy rates, high rents and stagnating incomes.
  3. Create more public space
    While there are close 1,600 parks for residents to enjoy, more most be done to ensure equitable and affordable access to public space – so vital to building strong and healthy neighbourhoods.
  4. Put a dent in our youth unemployment
    We have to do better to connect Toronto’s young people to jobs. We need to look at other places, including Germany’s apprenticeship model, to figure out what could work here and get a commitment from all levels of government, employers, community colleges and others to find a solution.
  5. Build the Toronto Brand
    To remain an attractive place to live, work and visit, we have to clearly understand and communicate who we are as a city and what we stand for.

While none of the solutions will come easy, and will require collaboration by all sectors, we have no choice but to act.

The Toronto Star editorial concludes:

As [foundation chair John MacIntyre and CEO Rahul Bhardwaj] write, Toronto needs change, a reboot. The status quo isn’t an option. “The real peril lies in staying the course,” they point out. Granted, no city can solve every economic problem on its own, without buy-in from higher levels of government. But the creative thinking can begin here, where the people live and work.

The Vital Signs report should be a call to action for those who recognize that we need to keep building this city. In the run-up to next year’s municipal election, we have a lot to talk about.



Markus Stadelmann-Elder is Communications Director at Maytree.

Sep 25 2013

managing diverse workforceThe Ontario Securities Commission (OSC) is consulting the public on a proposal to require some companies to disclose the number of women on their boards and in senior management. Efforts to encourage and increase the number of qualified women on corporate boards and senior management are welcome and needed. But they are not enough. Read Maytree’s response and submit your own written comments to the OSC by October 4, 2013. The OSC will post all comments on its website.

Below is the Maytree response to OSC Staff Consultation Paper 58-401.

Dear Secretary,

Efforts to encourage and increase the number of qualified women on corporate boards and senior management are welcome and needed. But they are not enough.

Ontario is a highly diverse province and any initiative that aims to reap the rewards of this diversity must broaden its definition beyond gender to include visible minorities and other under-represented groups.

We need a broader view of diversity in governance

As you write in your consultation paper, “decision-making benefits from a diversity of opinions and viewpoint. This diversity is enhanced when leadership roles are filled with individuals who have different professional experience… and individual qualities and attributes such as gender, age, ethnicity and cultural background.” (p.3)

In addition to better decision-making, diverse leadership can also bring links to new local and international markets, customers, talent pipelines and supply chains. In other words, companies that are confident and competent in diversity improve their business.

Ontario’s population is highly diverse. Visible minorities make up 26% of Ontario’s population. Immigrants make up 29% of the provincial population, and Aboriginals make up a further 2%. One-fifth of Ontarians are 20-34 years old; 16% of Ontarians live with a disability. And according to a recent poll, 5% of Canadians identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT).

Yet, we do not see corporate boards taking advantage of this diversity. In 2011, in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) – where nearly half the population are visible minorities – only 4.2% of corporate board members are visible minorities.

Women are not the only group underrepresented in the ranks of corporate leadership. In any consideration of diversity in leadership, we must look at a wider range of underrepresented groups. To do otherwise would not only institutionalize the idea of diversity as gender, it would also set a precedent for other institutions who are beginning to act on diversity in governance. Using an expansive and progressive definition of diversity, on the other hand, will accelerate movement towards a system that capitalizes on the full range of talent in Ontario’s population.

Public support for greater diversity

A recent poll of GTA residents by Nanos Research shows that most want to see a more balanced representation in their leadership. Further, residents recognize the benefits that diverse leadership brings. They link diversity to economic and social prosperity, and so welcome it.

Our experience demonstrates that when presented with the right tools, forward-thinking organizations will start to diversify their governance boards. For example, Maytree’s DiverseCity onBoard project matches public and non-profit boards with qualified candidates from visible minority and underrepresented immigrant communities. The project won a United Nations-BMW Group award for intercultural innovation in 2011 and is now being replicated in cities across Canada and internationally.

Investors, too, care about diversity. In the United States, companies report on the composition of their board using an open definition of “diversity.” Yet, as the consultation paper points out, “investors have made it clear that they are particularly interested in board policies regarding gender, racial and ethnic diversity” (p.10, emphasis added). We are certain that Canadian investors will feel the same way.

Rather than wait, only to undergo similar, lengthy processes for other demographic groups in the near future, we must act now.

Ontario should move to the forefront

Other jurisdictions are already taking a broader view of diversity. Australia, a country with a similar social composition and similarly-sized economy as Canada, has chosen to require companies to establish a policy on diversity, which includes gender, age, ethnicity and cultural background. Similarly, the European Commission’s approach is to consider diversity broadly, rather than gender alone.

It is not enough for Ontario to merely catch up to other jurisdictions and our demographic reality in a piecemeal fashion. In many ways, Ontario is already ahead on issues of diversity. For example, Ontario and Canada are leaders in welcoming and integrating new immigrants into our communities. But we are falling behind by failing to ensure that our diversity is expressed in our leadership.

We need clear action to encourage corporate boards to make use of the full spectrum of diverse talent that Ontarians bring to their businesses.

We urge the OSC to expand its current consideration to include visible minorities and other underrepresented groups, and to help move Ontario to the forefront of diversity in governance.


Alan Broadbent

Ratna Omidvar



Bonnie Mah is Policy and Communications Officer at Maytree.

Jul 22 2013

Politics often gets a bad rap. Many Canadians see politics as something that other people do and not really relevant to our day-to-day lives. Samara’s latest Democracy Report, “Political Participation Beyond the Ballot Box,” confirms that fewer Canadians are now participating in formal politics, including joining or donating to political parties, and even voting.

samara_key_messageBut when we have 60 people coming out to a weekend session at a School4Civics workshop, there is clearly interest in becoming more actively involved.

Consider this:

  • While 55% of us volunteer our time, only 10% volunteer in an election.
  • While 84% donate money to a charity or nonprofit, only 10% donate to political candidates or parties.
  • While 58% are active in a group or association, only 10% are members of political parties.

Being politically active matters

People who are involved in politics also tend to be involved and active in their communities – be it volunteering or organizing a community event, among others.

But, for many, participating in politics automatically means joining a party which can be seen as a very partisan decision. This makes it difficult for people who are community-involved to make that transition. There needs to be a more thoughtful way to sell participation than “wear the team colours.” Parties need to figure out a new pitch and new means to get more of those people, who are already active and engaged in other ways, involved in formal politics.

Community-involved people shouldn’t fear being seen as partisan

Many people often have trouble choosing a particular party because they share a set of values that are associated with more than one party. They don’t want to risk being perceived as a partisan that can no longer be trusted. But, the more they are exposed to politics, the more they’ll see that a lot of effective community leaders are actually active in elections and can see this as a legitimate way to make change.

Party members in Canadian democracy have a huge amount of political power. They vote on the nomination of candidates, who may or may not become a representative in government. Party members are the ones filtering their neighbours’ choice for who’s going to run and represent everyone in a riding. They have the political power of shaping party leadership, party platforms and policies, etc.

That’s a significant reason to become a member of a political party. It can be a difficult choice, especially for community-involved people, but it ultimately results in a great deal more influence and power in the formal political process.

Formal engagement isn’t your only option

There are many ways that people can be politically active outside of formal engagement. Samara identified 20 activities across five broad categories: Online Discussion, Off-line Discussion, Activism, Civic Engagement and Formal Engagement.


Over the next few weeks, I will explore Samara’s report and what it means for our work and audience. Through School4Civics, we’re working directly with diverse leaders interested in becoming part of the formal part of political engagement. We will also explore other forms of political engagement, and how anyone, from youth to newcomers who aren’t yet Canadian citizens, can, should and need to get involved.



Alejandra Bravo is Manager, Leadership and Learning at Maytree.

Jun 20 2013

Recently, we had to say goodbye to Tony Coombes and Betsy Martin. Their passing leaves a great hole in Canada’s innovative and committed nation building communities. We remember them for who they were, the work they did, the inspiration they provided and the legacy they leave us.

tony-coombesTony Coombes

Tony Coombes died June 10. An architect and planner, Tony was the founding executive director of The Neptis Foundation. Neptis was founded by Martha Shuttleworth, Tony’s former wife, with the objective to combat sprawl and support sustainable growth in urban regions.

Tony realized that no effective planning was possible without a comprehensive understanding of the natural and built inventory. He knew that in the Toronto region particularly, there was insufficient mapping of that inventory, and one of the great projects of Neptis was to produce it. With his long experience, Tony knew what was needed, and Neptis made it happen.

Without this fundamental platform, Ontario would not have been able to produce Places to Grow, The Greenbelt legislation, and Metrolinx, the regional transportation plan. Together, they form a triumvirate that exists in few other regions of the world, and which will create benefits for generations to come.

Neptis stands as one of the great pieces of Canadian philanthropy, and Tony was a principal architect of that.

Tony was a friend of Maytree, and its sister organization The Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance.

Betsy Martin photoBetsy Martin

Betsy Martin died June 4. She had long professional associations with Community Foundations of Canada and various individual community foundations in Canada. In that capacity, she was instrumental in developing many key programs and activities as the community foundation movement grew and matured.

One such program was Vital Signs, now a signature for community foundations in Canada and elsewhere. Vital Signs was developed jointly by the Laidlaw Foundation along with Maytree and its sister organization Ideas That Matter (ITM). It is an indicators project that charts the health of communities on a range of issues. Laidlaw, Maytree and ITM knew they were not likely the ideal long-term home for Vital Signs, but that community foundations were.

Betsy clearly saw it as well, and because of her excellent relationships and skills was able to usher Vital Signs into the Toronto Community Foundation and into the wider community foundation network. As those reports come out annually in communities across Canada, we can pause for a moment and thank Betsy for being the vital link.


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

Mar 22 2013

Over the past 10 years Tamarack has grown to become a mature and active force for community change in Canada and beyond. We have built the nation’s largest learning community for collaborative leaders (more than 10,000 learners) and also the largest network of cities (39) who are working together to reduce poverty. More than 203,000 Canadians are less poor because of the impact of this network.

Building upon this solid foundation, in 2012 Tamarack took a dramatic turn. Going forward we will focus all of our attention on building Learning Communities for social change. We want to be deliberate about creating large scale change. We believe that when leaders learn together – building a common agenda and then sharing their insights, experiences and resources for social change with one another – we can accelerate the impact of this work. Tamarack’s role is to facilitate this co-generative process of learning and change. We will primarily do this through online and face-to-face learning activities.

This month’s issue of Engage! is our 2012 Annual Report Edition. In it we offer you an overview of our three distinct but inter-related Learning Communities. Each article includes a series of links that will enable you to go directly to specific places on our four Online Learning web sites to find more detailed information and enable you to further explore topics of particular interest. We also welcome your feedback and encourage you to share your own ideas and stories about the work of this Institute.

We are proud of Tamarack’s solid foundation and excited about what the future holds. We welcome you to join us in building a connected force for social change.

Learn More:


Paul Born is President of Tamarack – An Institute for Community Engagement.

Feb 15 2013

Collective Impact – defined as “the commitment of a group of actors from different sectors to a common agenda for solving a complex social problem” – is an approach that’s gaining considerable momentum. This is due in no small part to the excellent work of John Kania and his colleagues at FSG Social Impact Consultants who have written a series of articles about it – including Collective Impact (PDF) and Channeling Change: Making Collective Impact Work (PDF) – published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.

The underlying premise of Collective Impact is that no single organization can create large-scale, lasting change on complex social issues when they work alone. Strong organizations are necessary but not sufficient for achieving impact. Instead, large-scale social change requires a collaborative approach that involves those in government, civil society, and the business sector coordinating their efforts and working together around clearly defined goals.

This premise was central to the approach that Tamarack embraced more than a decade ago when we partnered with The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation and the Caledon Institute for Social Policy to champion Vibrant Communities (VC), a pan-Canadian action-learning initiative which supported and explored promising local solutions for poverty-reduction. VC’s first phase – from 2002 to 2012 – provided concrete evidence and a rich body of learning that affirms that significant progress can be made to alleviate the complex issue of poverty using a place-based, multi-sector, collective impact approach.

One of the unexpected benefits of FSG’s recent focus on Collective Impact is that it has served as a rallying point for a host of different organizations doing work in this way to find, learn from and collaborate with one another to accelerate the effectiveness of collective impact work. This was noted in a recent blog on the FSG website which observed, “People around the world, who were doing Collective Impact independently, have discovered that they are part of a community. Until now, they had no consistent way to describe their approach, no examples of success to substantiate their belief that this was a better way to work, no ability to learn from the thousands of others who were engaged in similar efforts without knowing it. All of a sudden, the experience that each person was slowly building up in isolation has become a field in which knowledge can grow exponentially. The name has helped foster a movement.”

I am excited to announce that FSG and Tamarack are now collaborating to accelerate capacity-build and knowledge dissemination in the emerging field of Collective Impact. On April 16-18 we will be co-hosting Champions for Change: Leading a Backbone Organization for Collective Impact in Toronto. This dynamic learning experience has been designed to provide leaders of Backbone Support Organizations with the knowledge, skills and resources they need to successfully fulfil their central role. With support from Maytree and The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, this event will also highlight some inspiring Canadian examples of collective impact in action.

Providing effective “backbone support” is identified as one of the five critical conditions for collective impact. Backbone organizations play a complex, behind-the-scenes role in the success of these collective impact initiatives. In fact, the effectiveness with which a backbone organization fulfills its role often determines the success or failure of the collective impact initiative as a whole.

The role of the backbone organization spans six major activities:

  • guiding vision and strategy;
  • supporting aligned activities;
  • establishing shared measurements;
  • building public will;
  • advancing policy change; and
  • mobilizing funding.

The backbone organization essentially keeps the collaborative on track and moves it forward.  Fulfilling this role requires a diversity of skills and is essential to maintain alignment across the partners.

If you are a leader of a backbone support organization or collaborative roundtable within a collective impact initiative, your participation at this event will contribute to the richness of this unique learning opportunity as we work together to grow the capacity in this emerging – and promising – field of community innovation.

We hope you can join us!

Related Links:


Paul Born is President of Tamarack – An Institute for Community Engagement.